Even as the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas and wind-down of Colombia’s long civil war continues apace, political violence targeting human-rights activists, trade unionists, and environmentalists ticks up. Between January 2016 and February 2017, there have been 134 assassinations of political activists, in addition to failed assassination attempts and other acts of violence. The rate seems to be accelerating. The first four months of 2017 alone witnessed the assassinations of 41 “social leaders,” many of them demobilizing members of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Between April 15 and April 25, for instance, two FARC activists and six FARC family members were killed. More than 300 social organizations are operating under increasing threats. Also on the rise is the number of “mass displacements.” According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Colombia in all of 2016 experienced 47 “mass displacements.” There have been 42 more just in the first five months of 2017. Tallied together, these 89 displacements have produced more than 20,000 refugees.
The violence is broadly, and more or less evenly, spread across the country, as this map reveals, though one report, here, identifies three key, if not surprising, patterns: First, “where municipal elections were highly competitive (with a low concentration of votes for any given party), killings of social leaders were higher than in municipalities with noncompetitive elections. Municipalities where leftist candidates won in 2007 were also more likely to experience attacks on social leaders than areas where moderate or right-wing candidates won.” Second, “relatively rich municipalities with high concentrations of land (more inequality) are witness to more attacks per capita against social leaders.” And third, there is significantly less repression in areas that had been controlled by the FARC than in those areas were right-wing paramilitaries established dominance. Human-rights groups say most of the repression is a result of a working alliance between paramilitary groups and state security forces.
The past is prologue, and nothing foreshadows Colombia’s current peace process more than what happened in the 1980s, when peace talks between the government, the FARC, and other guerrilla groups led to the creation of the Patriotic Union (UP), which, according to The Washington Post, was “the most successful leftist party in Colombian history.” The UP quickly threatened the traditional oligarchy’s monopoly of political power. But not for long, as UP members were targeted by landlords, death squads, and narcos for execution. Thousands of UP members were murdered. More than 70 percent of all center-left presidential candidates in 1990 were assassinated as well. The murders were carried out by a relatively new alliance to the counterinsurgent scene: “a combination of drug dealers, right-wing paramilitary groups and members of the incumbent government and army.” The slaughter of these Colombians who mistakenly believed they would be allowed to participate in the political system led the FARC to remilitarize, and to step up the financing of that remilitarization through narcotics and kidnapping.