Colombia is militarising its territories instead of promoting peace

States must respect, promote and guarantee human rights; however, it seems necessary to remind Duque’s government of the existence of these international obligations.

Since 2016, when the Peace Agreement between the Colombian State and the extinct FARC-EP guerrillas was signed, violence against human rights defenders, land restitution leaders, social leaders, people in reincorporation process and, in general, rural communities, has gradually increased. 844 incidents of aggressions against social leaders were documented in 2019 alone, the highest in the last decade1. Between January and May 2020, 117 social leaders and 25 ex-combatants were murdered.

Different sectors of society have called for the State to address this problem, stressing that the provision of security in the territories will not be adequate if it is limited to enhance the presence of military forces. One of the most reliable strategies to promote safety in these areas is economical and social development, offering young people economic opportunities to stop being linked to war.

Nevertheless, the strategy of Iván Duque’s government has focused on the militarisation of the territories, which takes place within the framework of the State’s persistent disregard for the commitments made in Havana. 

The best example of this is the current strategy adopted to combat drug trafficking. The Final Agreement recognises that the definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs requires policies that address the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.

It can be done mainly by presenting alternatives that lead to improving the well-being and quality of life of communities across the country’s territories that have been affected by crops used for illicit purposes. An indisputable foundation of the definitive solution to the problem of crops used for illicit purposes is that it is voluntary and carried out by mutual agreement2, vision from which the Agreement prioritises the voluntary substitution of crops within the framework of the National Comprehensive Programme for the Substitution of Crops Used for Illicit Purposes (NCPS), allowing, subsidiarily, forced eradication activities.

As stipulated in the Agreement, forced eradication is only allowed in three cases: (i) when, in the context of the signing of agreements with the communities, some growers who do not express their decision to replace the crops, (ii) when the commitments made under the NCPS are not fulfilled and (iii) when there is no agreement with the communities for replacement. However, we are witnessing a blatant disregard for these provisions by the State.

The current government has not only decided to stop concluding voluntary replacement agreements with communities but has also prioritised forced eradication operations. These types of activities are not only carried out contrary to the provisions of the Agreement but are also producing situations of human rights violations.

Forced eradication operations have intensified, during the health emergency caused by the pandemic, in 8 departments of the country: Caquetá, Chocó, Sur de Córdoba, Catatumbo, Nariño, Putumayo, Meta and Guaviare. Communities have been protesting. Not only to defend the crops that constitute their only means of subsistence but also to demand that the government comply with the commitments made in the substitution agreements. This Agreement, they remind, were made in consultation with the communities within the framework of the NCPS.

During this period, repressive measures have been the government’s response to the demands of the peasants, leading to the assassination of at least three peasants and one indigenous person, in addition to several wounded. These facts are the result of excessive use of force by the army, which, without any commiseration or respect for human rights, fires bullets and uses stun bombs against unarmed communities.

These kinds of situations have taken place, for example, in Catatumbo, where 600 peasants protested to prevent the 800 eradicators sent by the government from lifting their crops and leaving them without means of subsistence. 

The peasants, as well as local authorities like the mayor, Assembly and Governor of the department, requested the Duque government to suspend these operations, at least during the health emergency produced by COVID-19, as well as the installation of dialogue tables with the communities to build exits that do not violate human rights. 

However, as has become commonplace under Duque’s government, the invitation to dialogue was ignored, and force was used, which not only deprived hundreds of families of their livelihoods but also led to the murder of 22-year-old, named Alejandro Carvajal.

A similar situation is taking place in the region of the Guayabero River, in the departments of Meta and Guaviare where, since May 20, around 2000 peasants have set up a camp as a form of protest, demanding the government to install dialogue tables to seek for solutions to the problem of illicit purposes crops. However, the only answer to their requests is the shooting. The aggressions of the public forces have been taking place since May 26; last June 3, at least six peasants were wounded due to the actions of the anti-narcotics police and the army.

Parliamentarians, NGOs, academics, local authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office raised the alarm about the forced eradication and its implementation during the health emergency. The Minister of Defense responded citing that operations are onschedule for 2020, the year in which 130,000 hectares are to be eradicated! So, why is there a timetable for forced eradication, but not for the signing of voluntary replacement agreements with communities? Moreover, why are resources allocated to forced eradication operations, but not to comply with the almost 100,000 families with whom the State has concluded replacement agreements and who are still waiting for the promised resources to be able to undertake other types of productive projects?

It is necessary to remark that half of the families linked to the NCPS are in Putumayo, Nariño, and Caquetá, three of the six departments where forced eradication operations have increased in 2020. 

Protests have a common demand: the fulfilment of the agreements signed with the families and the linking of thousands more who could not be linked to the substitution programs and who have expressed their intention to do so. It should be recalled that, four months after becoming president, Duque decided to stop concluding voluntary replacement agreements with the communities, which is a clear breach of the Agreement.

All this is taking place as a prelude to the arrival of 50 US military personnel in Colombia on June 1. Their actions will be focused on Tumaco, Catatumbo, and Chiribiquete, 3 of the five ¨Zonas Futuro¨ that Duque has been implementing and which reflects a model of militaristic stabilisation. ¨Zonas Futuro¨ overlaps with the areas that have been prioritised for the implementation of the Development Programmes with a Territorial-Based Focus (DPTF) set out in the Peace Agreement. It is clear that the State has stopped distorting the Final Agreement; now, it cynically ignores what it signed in Havana.

1 El espectador (23 mayo 2020). “2019, the year with the most attacks on social leaders in a decade”.

2 Acuerdo final para la terminación del conflicto y la construcción de una paz estable y duradera (2016) Page 105.