We are grateful to all the members of the U.S. Congress who signed the Dear Colleague letter on Colombia to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concerning social leaders that Representatives James McGovern (D-MA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) are circulating. For those who haven’t signed, we strongly encourage you to do so by Friday, June 26. This letter will help advance protections for social leaders and help to prevent further abuses like those listed below from continuing to take place. Since our last urgent action on May 19 we received the following information:
Human Rights Abuses
Social Leader Killed (North Santander)
Carmen Ángel Angarita, president of El Hoyo village Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC) was murdered on June 23. Details of the incident that took place in Convención municipality are not yet known. Prior to her death, locals had expressed concerns about the presence of armed groups in the area. Local leaders assert that the intensification of forced eradication operations in the area is increasing violence. Indepaz reports that perpetrators have killed 140 social leaders since January 2020.
Social Leader Killed After UNP Reduces His Protection Measures (Bolívar)
On June 16, armed men shot and killed community leader Jorge Ortiz. They intercepted him and shot him seven times on Barranca de Lobas municipality’s main road. Jorge was targeted for denouncing corruption. The National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) granted him protective measures after he received multiple death threats. However, these were reduced before his murder.
Human Rights Activist Murdered (Cauca)
On June 4, human rights activist Julio Humberto Moreno Arce was murdered. Julio served as the president of the Foundation of the International Human Rights Organization (Fundacion Del Organo Internacional De Los Derechos Humanos, FOINDHC) and he was active in the People’s Congress. His body was found next to his motorcycle in Taminango located in northern Cauca.
Police Kill Young Afro-Colombian Man (Cauca)
Afro-Colombian youth Anderson Arboleda was murdered by the police in northern Cauca’s Puerto Tejada on May 23. According to an interview with his family in El Tiempo, Anderson ventured out during the lockdown to drop his brother off at a relative’s house. When reaching this house, the two policemen presented him with a summons. When Anderson protested the summons, the police hit him on the head five times. This injury was so severe that his family took him to a hospital in Cali where hours later doctors pronounced him brain dead.
Rural Social Leaders Killed (Córdoba)
Two rural social leaders, Arcángel Pantoja and Omar Agudelo, were murdered the night of June 1 in Puerto Libertador. Both men belonged to the Peasant Farmer Association of Southern Córdoba (La Asociación de Campesinos del Sur de Córdoba, ASCSUCOR). According to ASCSUCOR, the presence of illegal armed groups has grown in this area since 2017. Earlier that night there was an armed confrontation between these groups.
Army Kills Indigenous Leader (North Santander)
On May 31, the U’wa Association of Traditional Authorities and Cabildos (La Asociación de Autoridades Tradicionales y Cabildos U’wa, ASOU’WA) condemned the Colombian army’s murder of indigenous leader Joel Villamizar. Joel served as coordinator for ASO’WA. His murder took place during military operations in Chitagá municipality’s Río Colorado village. The military claims that they killed Joel because he is linked to the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación, ELN) guerilla group. ASOU’WA has made clear that these accusations are false, and that Joel was not linked to any armed group. WOLA, alongside 15 other civil society organizations, released a statement calling on authorities to investigate the murder as an extrajudicial killing.
Two Indigenous Leaders Murdered (Cauca)
On May 28, indigenous leaders María Nelly Cuetia and Pedro Ángel Troches were abducted and later murdered in Corinto. Witnesses recount seeing the two leaders taken away in a gray van without license plates. Hours later their bodies were found on the side of a road. Indigenous social leader turned Senator Feliciano Valencia is urging authorities to investigate this crime and to prosecute those found responsible.
Indigenous Youth Killed (Cauca)
On May 23, ten armed men entered the López Adentro indigenous reservation in Caloto to murder 21-year old Cristian Conda. According to Jorge Sánchez, political coordinator of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC), the men fired their weapons upon entering the reservation. The CRIC denouncesthis murder and calls upon the authorities to guarantee the protection of the rest of the civilians living in this area.
Army Murders Community Leader (North Santander)
On May 18, the Corporation for Peace and Alternative Development (la Corporación Para La Paz y el Desarrollo Alternativo, COPAZ) reported that the army killed social leader Emerito Digno Buendía Martínez in Cúcuta. During this attack, three other rural farmers named Miguel Hernandez León, Yimmy Alberto González, and Juan José Orozco, were injured. Rural farmers in this area are demanding that the government implement the National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS) and the Comprehensive Rural Reform, it had agreed to in the 2016 peace accord. The army’s deployment of troops and forced eradication forces is generating fear in the area.
Environmental Activist Murdered (Valle del Cauca)
On May 16, the 70-year-old director of the environmental project Biocanto, Jorge Enrique Oramas was murdered. According to Cali Councilor Alexandra Hernández, Joel was opposed to illegal mining in the Los Farallones nationalpark. Located in the mountains surrounding Cali, this is the natural area from which the water that flows from 6-7 rivers into the city originates.
Young People Caught in Crossfire (Cauca)
On June 24, 18-year-old Hilary Yulitza Tejada Ar and 21-year-old Ánderson Hurtado died from gunshot wounds. These youths died due to injuries related to a shootout that took place in the Antonio Nariño neighborhood in Puerto Tejada. Hilary was the daughter of renowned social leader Arlex Tejada Grueso.
Indigenous Guard Denounces Murders in Their Territories (Valle del Cauca)
On June 13, the Valle del Cauca Human Rights Council and Indigenous Guard condemned the murders of three rural farmers in Kwet Wala indigenous territory. Armed men murdered Humberto de Jesús Campo and Omar Ignacio Ipia Noscue while Leider Trompeta Chate was killed in his bed while he was asleep.
Civil Society Coalition Condemns Civilian Murders (Antioquia and Córdoba)
The Northern and Southern Cauca Rural Organizations Coalition condemned the killings of three people – William Perez, Camilo Sucerquia, and Carlos Barrera – outside the hamlet of Quebrada in Antioquia. It appears that the men were killed during fighting between the Gulf Clan and dissidents of the 18th Front of the FARC in Córdoba and Antioquia. Already 800 persons became internally displaced in February from the western border of these departments due these two groups. The organizations highlight that this egregious act marks a new phase of conflict in the area that developed after the FARC’s ex-combatant reintegration area was dissolved in Ituango, Antioquia.
Military Soldiers Rape Indigenous Minor (Risaralda)
On June 22, seven military soldiers raped a 12-year-old Embera Indigenous girl in the Santa Cecilia hamlet of Pueblo Rico. The victim is currently at a medical center receiving treatment. El Espectador reported that the soldiers attempted to bribe the minor’s sister and threatened to sue her if the crime was reported. The soldiers are Juan Camilo Morales Poveda, Yair Stiven González, José Luis Holguín Pérez, Juan David Guaidi Ruiz, Oscar Eduardo Gil Alzate, Deyson Andrés Isaza Zapata, and Luis Fernando Mangareth Hernández. On June 25, the prosecutor on the case charged the soldiers with sexual abuse of a minor, which brings forth a sentence of between 16 to 30 years in prison. The minor’s family, however, fears retaliation for bringing attention to the crime.
Police Attack Contagio Radio Journalist (Cundinamarca)
On June 15, Contagio Radio journalist Carlos Andrés Zea was attacked by the police while he filmed protests taking place at the Transmilenio San Diego station. The incident took place when Carlos was recording ten members of the National Police’s Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) hitting a young man. A police officer hit Carlos Andrés twice on his head with his shield which forced the journalist on the ground and prevented him from finishing his report.
MOVICE Urges Action on Disappearance of Young Woman (Cundinamarca)
On June 8, the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado, MOVICE) criticized the Prosecutor’s office’s handling of the Narly Gómez Jiménez missing person case. Narly went missing January 27 when she was last seen by her soldier ex-partner Ever Yobany Muñoz Imbachi. At the end of 2019, Narly reported an incident of domestic violence the authorities. Since the Colombian state did not grant her measures of protection her case was presented to the OAS. On April 22, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted Narly and her daughter precautionary measures. MOVICE believes the evidence in this case points to the involvement of the military. They urge the Prosecutors office to stop delaying the investigation.
Armed Conflict Escalating on the Pacific Coast (Cauca)
On May 30, the Coordination of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Grassroots Organizations of Black Peoples in Cauca’s Pacific Coast (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, COCOCAUCA) released a report detailing abuses that have taken place since January 2019 in their territories. These include humanitarian confinements, disappearances, kidnappings, threats, acts of intimidation, combat operations and murders in the municipalities of Guapi, Timbiquí and López de Micay. According to COCOCAUCA the armed conflict has significantly deteriorated in the past 17 months. They, therefore, urge:
-the ELN guerillas and FARC dissidents to implement a ceasefire.
-that the armed forces respect International Humanitarian Law.
-that the National System for Attention and Comprehensive Reparation of Victims (el Sistema Nacional de Atención y Reparación Integral a las Víctimas, SNARIV) and Victims Unit to restart their protection efforts.
-the Human Rights Ombudsman and Attorney General to assist victims of the armed conflict.
-the governor of Cauca and mayors of Guapi, Timbiquí, and López de Micay, to facilitate the requests they are making with the authorities.
-the international community recognizes that Cauca’s Pacific Coast is experiencing a humanitarian crisis.
Peasant Reserve Zones Association Headquarters Attacked (Cundinamarca)
On May 27, the Colombian Commission of Jurists (Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, CCJ) reported that the offices of the National Association of Peasant Reserve Zones (Asociación Nacional de Zonas de Reserva Campesina, ANZORC) was attacked. On May 23, unidentified individuals fired shots at the ANZORC headquarters in Bogotá. The CCJ urges the Attorney General, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Human Rights Ombudsman to investigate this incident and to punish those found responsible.
Rural Farmers Detained and Labelled Criminals (Meta)
On June 14, CONPAZ and the Community Action Boards of the Mapiripán neighborhoods expressed concern over the detention of six farmers from the Mapiripán. On June 10, the Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo announced that the farmers were captured because they were responsible for the displacement and death threats against social leaders. The men arrested include: Carlos Julio Betancourt Flores, José Isidro Martín Barreto, Carlos Julio Diaz, José Vicente Hernández, Norbey de Jesús Bustamante Cardona, and Luis Alberto Méndez. CONPAZ and the Community Action Boards say the men are rural farmers dedicated to their land and families. The men’s relatives are concerned about their safety in prison since they were moved to Villavicencio. Presently, 886 people in the city’s prison are infected with COVID-19. The groups are asking the Attorney General to provide further information on the detention.
Land Restitution Lawyer Target of Fake News (Antioquia)
On June 13, it was revealed that Gerardo Vega, the prominent lawyer and land rights activist in Urabá is the target of fake news. The media montage includes a fake WhatsApp conversation between Gerardo and Contagio Radio. According to the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP), this fake news story comes a few months after Antioquia’s Supreme Court ruled on a land restitution case Gerardo is involved in.
Rural Workers Falsely Accused of Causing Forced Displacement (Meta)
On June 7 and 8, six Mapiripán rural farmers were detained based on false accusations of belonging to an illegal armed group responsible for forced displacements. The CJIP reported that the police officers who arrested the men were dressed in black. They failed to identify themselves and did not present an arrest warrant.
Police Falsely Accuse Social Leader (Valle del Cauca)
On May 19, Jean Pierre Valencia, social leader with the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space (Espacio Humanitario) was forcibly taken to Lleras police station. Two officers approached Jean Pierre and ordered him to lower the volume of his music. In response, Jean Pierre explained that the music was coming from another house, but the officers dismissed him. The police then handcuffed Jean Pierre and took him to the police station. The police did not permit anyone to communicate with Jean Pierre who was forced to stay the night at the station. During the night, the officers made derogatory remarks against other social leaders from the Humanitarian Space Orlando Castillo and Nora Isabel Castillo. They also accused Valencia of inventing fake attacks.
Accused Murderer of Afro-Colombian Leader Set Free (Atlántico)
On June 2, Victor Carlos Meriño Pereira, who three years ago was detained for allegedly killing social leader Bernardo Cuero Bravo, was set free. Bernardo Cuero Bravo was an influential social leader who formed part of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES). Since April 9, 2019, the Court delayed hearings for formal accusations against Meriño Pereira on three separate occasions for questionable reasons that need justification. Bernardo’s family released a statement pleading that the Attorney General’s office publicize the evidence and the court explain the irregularities in Victor Carlos Meriño Pereira’s case.
Death Threat Flyer with FARC-EP Logo Includes List of Targets
On June 17, a death threat flyer with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC-EP) logo began to circulate. On this flyer, money is offered in exchange for the “heads” of a list of human rights defenders and politicians. Among those listed and declared to be military objectives are indigenous leaders from the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca— CRIC), Colombia’s National Indigenous Organization (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC), and the Indigenous Organization of Valle del Cauca (Organización Regional Indígena del Valle del Cauca—ORIVAC). The threat also targets rural farmers in Florida, Pradera, Jamundí, Miranda, Caloto, and Corinto. Others singled out by name are Albeiro Camayo, Aida Quilcue, Cristian Rivera, Alex Lulico, Raquel Trujillo, Emilio Valencia, Diego Pinzón, and Cristián Toconás.
Human Rights Groups Denounce Threats to Social Leaders
On May 20, the Association for Social Research and Action (Asociación para la Investigación y la Acción Social, NOMADESC) and other organizations condemned the death threats received by Senator Alexander López Maya, labor leader Hernando Hernández, Journalist Patricia Lara Saliva, and Ex Minister Carlos Bula. Another 13 social leaders, journalists and Senator Gustavo Bolívar are also under threat. According to the groups, since the March 24 quarantine, persons have taken advantage of the pandemic to kill at least 32 leaders and their relatives. Another 123+ persons were threatened, and various communities displaced. The organizations are urging that the State:
-make public the actions it is taking to prevent crimes against social leaders, human rights defenders, and political opponents.
-make public what actions they are taken to fulfill their obligations to the 2016 peace agreement.
-comply with its Constitutional obligation to respect and protect the activities of human rights defenders.
-immediately begins a rapprochement with the ELN so it can advance peace dialogues with this group.
-has the Attorney General investigate the threats.
-act to dismantle existing paramilitary groups who are restricting the movement of human rights defenders and threatening their lives.
San Jose de Apartado Peace Community Denounces Paramilitary Activity (Antioquia)
On June 22, the San José de Apartado Peace Community reported on-going violence committed by paramilitary groups in their region. They refer to the paramilitary activity as a ‘camouflaged pandemic’. They report on nine separate incidents involving these groups which include the murders of Jesús Alberto Muñoz Yepez, Yeminson Borja Jaramillo, and Rafael Guerra.
Attorney General Urged to Reopen Homicide Case Involving Police (Cauca)
On June 11, 20-year-old Bryan Erazo was murdered by two National Police officers in the San Rafael neighborhood of Popayán. The officers, who were not wearing uniforms, shot a series of rounds of gunfire resulting in fatal gunshot wounds. When other police officers arrived at the crime scene, they erased the security camera footage. According to the Justice and Dignity Corporation (Corporación Justicia y Dignidad) the officers responsible for the murder distorted the facts of facts by stating that they had probable cause to detain Bryan. The organization is urging for this case to be reopened.
Unionist Fighting for Better Working Conditions Dies of Coronavirus (Atlántico)
On June 9, Fabián Arturo Palacios Pulido, a nursing assistant employed by Barranquilla’s Cari hospital for ten years died of coronavirus. Fabian was a unionist with the National Trade Union Association of Health, Social Security and Supplementary Services Workers and Public Officials (Asociación Nacional Sindical de Trabajadores y Servidores Públicos de la Salud y Seguridad Social Integral y Servicios Complementarios de Colombia, ANTHOC) who advocated for better working conditions for health workers during the pandemic. He also protested workers’ payment delays.
Community Support Needed Beyond the Pandemic (Chocó)
On June 7, the High Community Council of the Integral Peasant Association of Atrato (Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la Asociación Campesina Integral del Atrato, COCOMACIA) and others express over increasing rights violations taking place in the Chocó due to escalating armed conflict. These groups are concerned that the pandemic is taking away attention needed to resolve the region’s historical violence, state abandonment, and corruption. The AGC and ELN illegal groups are imposing their law unto the communities and the State is not receptive to the communities’ proposals. They would like the Colombian government to do more than just issue quarantine related decrees.
Afro-Descendants Require Healthcare, Food and Infrastructure (Antioquia)
On June 4, the Lutheran Church of Medellín, From War to Peace (De la Guerra a la Paz), and CONPAZ sounded the alarm on the difficult situation Afro-Colombians are facing in Altos de Murrí because of the COVID-19 health crisis. These communities whom the State has abandoned are facing a very precarious health situation. To fix this, the groups are calling on the Colombian authorities to build a bridge on the Gengamecodá and Penderisco rivers and to provide the community with a functioning boat. They also ask authorities to implement food security projects, bring in health brigades that can provide differentiated healthcare for the children, and that it immediately provides food for 53 families.
Armed Group Consolidates Power During the Quarantine (Putumayo)
On June 2, CIJP reported on the increasing control that the armed group “La Mafia” has in Orito and other municipalities of the Putumayo Department. The group maintains control through threats, extortion, murder, and displacement. Within the last two weeks in Orito, Hernán Fajardo Figueroa, Jhon Jairo Guenis Vargas, and Gustavo Sánchez were killed. Armed groups are increasing youth recruitment.
Workers Union Criticize National Labor Laws (Cundinamarca)
On June 1, the Federation of Workers in the Energy, Mining, Metal, Chemical, and Extractive Industries and Transporters in Colombia (Federación Unitaria De Trabajadores Mineros, Energéticos, Metalúrgicos, Químicos, De Las Industrias Extractivas, Transportadoras y Similares de Colombia, FUNTRAMIEXCO) criticized the labor laws passed by the government during the pandemic. FUNTRAMIEXCO disagrees with the government’s claims that these laws are reforms that respond to workers’ efforts. The federation outlines a history of anti-worker measures in Colombia that were made with the same argument of “defense of employment.” FUNTRAMIEXCO expects little from the national government or their employers regarding this matter.
Violation of COVID-19 Safety Protocol Puts Workers at Risk (Bolívar)
On May 29, the trade union Sintrabiofilm-TI filed a complaint against Taghleef Latin America S.A. (formerly Biofilm S.A.) for not complying with the government’s COVID-19 sanitary and biosafety measures. The company does not properly disinfect high-traffic areas or the equipment. Safety measures are unclear to workers. The trade union demands that the company comply with COVID guidelines including acting to address asymptomatic virus carriers, so the disease does not spread to their family members.
Evictions During COVID-19 Pandemic (Cundinamarca)
On May 29, Noticias Caracol reported on the increasing number of families and individuals facing eviction due to unemployment related to COVID-19. On April 15, the Colombian government issued Decree 579 which suspended evictions until June 30. Despite the decree, some people are still being pressured to pay their rent and threatened with eviction. The Vice Minister of Housing, Carlos Ruiz, reiterated that evictions at this time are prohibited and urged families to contact the police if their landlord plans to evict them.
Human Rights Violations are Increasing During the Pandemic
The Ideas for Peace Foundation (Fundación Ideas para la Paz, FIP)’s latest findings show an upsurge of violence against social leaders. The group documents a 10% increase in threats and 53% increase in homicides in Cauca, Putumayo, and Antioquia. While at the national level overall homicides decreased by 16%, the group found that displacement increased by 5% in Nariño, Putumayo, and Antioquia. FIP notes that illegal armed groups are using the excuse of the pandemic to increase their control over populations.
COVID-19 Outbreak in the Misak Community (Cundinamarca)
On May 18, the Southwest Movement of Indigenous Authorities (Movimiento de Autoridades Indígenas del Sur Occidente, AISO) reported on the critical situation the Misak people are facing due to the pandemic. The Misak in Bogotá, namely in towns such as Fontibón and San Cristóbal, live in overcrowded households facing social and economic vulnerabilities. The pandemic is worsening living conditions for Misak people, leading them to issue a red alert regarding the survivability of their community. AISO requests assistance from the mayor’s office in securing a COVID-19 control plan. They also think an economic reactivation effort is needed for the Misak in Bogotá.
Local Nonprofit Issues Alert on Forced Eradication Operations (Chocó)
In June, the Weaving Hope Agricultural Foundation (La Fundación Agropecuaria Tejiendo Esperanza, Fagrotes) denounced the use of glyphosate in forced eradication operations in the Chocó. Residents in this region rely on natural water sources (rivers and rainwater) to survive. The use of glyphosate negatively affects the soil, water and ultimately the health of residents. Fagrotes notes that the forced eradication operations are a violation of what was agreed to in the 2016 peace accord’s drug chapter. The latter calls for participatory, differential, and voluntary efforts when it comes to coca crop substitution. They ask that the peace accord is implemented and that forced eradications are suspended.
Communities in Catatumbo Need Protection (North Santander)
On June 1, the Association for Rural Farmer Unity in Catatumbo (La Asociación por la Unidad Campesina del Catatumbo, ASUNCAT) and the National Network of Initiatives for Peace and Against War (La Red Nacional de Iniciativas Ciudadanas por la Paz y contra la Guerra, REDEPAZ) condemned abuses committed against coca and other farmers in the Catatumbo. Residents must contend with forced eradication and military occupation. Community leaders face stigmatization. ASUNCAT and REDEPAZ would like to work with the national, departmental, and municipal governments on implementing a Comprehensive Rural Reform. Such a plan must include the restitution of land to victims dispossessed by paramilitary groups.
Forced Eradication Operations Injure 3 Farmers (Meta)
On May 26, the Campesino, Ethnic and Community Alliance of Guaviare and South of the Meta – Guayabero River Region (La Alianza Campesina, Étnica y Comunitaria del Guaviare y Sur del Meta) expressed outrage against attacks by troops from the anti-narcotics police army and ESMAD. The attacks left at least 3 farmers injured in Vista Hermosa. The organizations urge the human rights ombudsman, the UN, the Attorney General, and other human rights entities to protect this group. Currently, over 500 farmers from different communities are protesting forced eradication.
Community Council Demands Suspension of Forced Eradication (Chocó)
On May 18, the Afro-Colombian community council of la Larga and Tumaradó River Basins (Consejo Comunitario de la Cuenca de La Larga y Tumaradó, COCOLATU) urged the national government to suspend forced manual eradication of coca crops in their communities. COCOLATU points out that the government has failed to comply with the agreements (social, productive, and infrastructure) it made to the communities.
Rural Village Seeks to Create Commission to Track Peace Agreement Process (Bolívar)
On June 1, the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) announced that it is planning to create Humanitarian Commission of Verification and Accompaniment in the village of Vallecito of San Pablo. The presence of armed groups and forced eradication efforts during the pandemic have led to the murder of 5 community members. CREDHOS demands that:
-the Colombian Military and the ELN to respect International Humanitarian Law.
-the Duque Administration and the ELN restart peace dialogues.
-the government speed up implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Reform (PDETs) and the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS).
-national, departmental, and local authorities to protect social leaders.
-that the international community continues monitoring the situation of human rights in Colombia.
Senator Discredits Victims of Sexual Violence (Cundinamarca)
The Network of Female Victims and Professionals denounced the accusations made by Senator Paloma Valencia on May 18 during a Senate plenary session. Senator Valencia questioned the origin, objectives and purpose of the foundation to discredit its role in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). The group thinks that the Senator’s remarks are intended to delegitimize their work and silence the voices of sexual violence victims.
Rights Groups Reject the Appointment of Jorge Rodrigo Tovar (Cundinamarca)
On May 19, the Alliance of Social Organizations; the Colombian Europe United States Coordination; and the Colombian Platform for Human Rights, Democracy, and Development rejected the appointment of Jorge Rodrigo Tovar as coordinator of the Internal Articulation Group for Victims of the Armed Conflict. They fear a potential conflict of interest given that Tovar is the son of the confessed paramilitary Rodrigo Tovar Pupo (“Jorge 40”), former commander of the northern block. This paramilitary block was responsible for thousands of criminal acts such as targeted killings, enforced disappearances, and massacres that left nearly 25,000 victims. Human rights activists see this as another blow to the peace process. They urge Minister Alicia Arango, to revoke the appointment. If she doesn’t, they ask that Tovar recognize that there is a conflict of interest and resign.
Rising Unemployment Rate Pushes Anti Worker Reform
On June 4, Catalina Suarez, researcher at the National Labor School (Escuela Nacional Sindical, ENS) wrote about how the fight against unemployment can be used as a pretext to pass anti worker laws. In April, Colombia reached its highest unemployment figure, 19.8% nationwide. In the main cities, that number goes up to 23.5%. These numbers are higher than the 1999 crisis. The unemployment figures and economic decrease at the end of the century paved the way for the labor reform seen under the Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Juan Manuel Santos administrations. Suarez argues these reforms marked a transformation in favor of free capital mobility. That has led to protections for transnational capital through free trade agreements. In a time of crisis, that reliance on capital mobility is made clearer. Suarez writes that these neoliberal policies pose distinct individual and societal risks.
Flower Industry Violates Labor Laws (Cundinamarca)
On May 22, the ENS reported that flower workers in Bogotá are being forced to sign agreements that will further deteriorate their working conditions. These changes include transition from full-time to part-time work, unpaid leave, and suspension of employment contracts. The flower company Jardines de los Andes has used the threat of dismissal to get workers to sign these agreements. The Workers Confederation of Colombia (Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia, CTC) and the National Organization of Colombian Floricultural Workers (Organización Nacional de Obreros Trabajadores de la Floricultura Colombiana, Onof) continue to advocate for improving labor conditions in the flower sector.