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Colombian activists face 'extermination' by criminal gangs

Enrique Fernández can’t take note the closing evening he slept peacefully.

He’s tall and heavyset, and does now not appear to be any individual who scares simply, however as he sits in his humble rented house in western Colombia, his eyes dart nervously from left to proper, scanning for any danger.

Any second might be his closing, he says.

When a teenaged ice-cream dealer approaches the entrance door Fernández scurries anxiously to a again room, satisfied the early life helps arrange an try on his existence.

It’s not paranoia. Fernández – a pacesetter of the Nasa indigenous tribe and an outspoken defender of our environment – has had a worth on his head for months.

In February a bomb used to be left outdoor his circle of relatives house. The explosive used to be disarmed through the military, however the message used to be transparent: he needed to transfer.

Ultimate month a volley of telephone calls and textual content messages threatened him once more. “We will be able to now not leisure till Colombia is unfastened from communists such as you,” the messages learn. “Condolences in your circle of relatives.”

Because the starting of 2016 – the 12 months peace settlement used to be signed with Colombia’s biggest leftist revolt workforce, the Progressive Armed Forces of Colombia (or Farc) – some 311 activists, group leaders, and human rights defenders were murdered, in line with the nationwide human rights administrative center.

A minimum of 123 of the ones killings came about within the first six months of this 12 months, in what the rustic’s human rights ombudsman described as “an extermination”.

The 2016 deal used to be meant to near a bankruptcy in a civil struggle that had taken over 220,00zero lives and left 7 million displaced, however whilst army casualties have dropped dramatically, activists and “social leaders” – those that are seeking to put in force peace on the grassroots stage – live in consistent worry.

Enrique Fernández survived an assassination attempt in February this year. He says he hasn’t slept a full night since then.



Enrique Fernández survived an assassination try in February this 12 months. He says he hasn’t slept a complete evening since then. : Joe Parkin Daniels for the Father or mother

President Iván Duque, who took administrative center on 7 August, has promised to ramp up coverage efforts for activists. However given his shut political alliance with former president Álvaro Uribe – who’s below investigation for crimes in the case of loss of life squads shaped within the overdue 90s – leaders in Cauca are sceptical.

Extra leaders were threatened or killed on this rugged Andean province than another a part of Colombia. Lots of them are from the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities which make up 50% of the province’s inhabitants.

Cauca’s fertile soil and untapped gold deposits have frequently ended in fierce conflicts over land. However prerequisites within the province also are very best for rising coca – the bottom aspect in cocaine – making it a prized territory for prison teams.

Now the province is the surroundings for a brand new set of interlocking conflicts between dissident Farc combatants who refused to disarm, smaller revolt teams and prison gangs which grew out of rightwing paramilitary militias. And civilians are stuck within the center.

“That is what we live with,” stated Ana Lucía Velasco, Fernández’s spouse. “We’re being killed slowly.”

After the failed bombing, Fernández and his circle of relatives fled to Toéz, an indigenous reservation nestled within the mountains, the place he now lives below the safety of a cadre of indigenous bodyguards. When he leaves the reservation, state-provided bodyguards are at all times at his facet.

“There’s a worth on my head,” stated Fernández. “And on a daily basis it will get upper.”

Out of doors the home, Jesús Bacca, a member of northern Cauca’s Indigenous Guard, stands watch. Bacca is armed most effective with a cane and a radio, however says he’s neatly educated in disarming better-equippedopponents. “We’ve stopped males earlier than, disarmed them, and passed them over to the government,” he stated. “If other folks put their lives at the line to battle for our rights, we will have to stay them protected.”

The new textual content message threats towards Fernández got here from the Gaitanist Self-Protection Forces of Colombia (or AGC), one among a myriad prison gangs now muscling into territory left through the Farc when its 10,00zero fighters laid down palms.

Images of text messages threatening Enrique Fernández read ‘We will not rest until Colombia is free from communists like you, commander Enrique Fernández.’



Photographs of textual content messages threatening Enrique Fernández learn: ‘We will be able to now not leisure till Colombia is unfastened from communists such as you, Commander Enrique Fernández.’ : Joe Parkin Daniels for the Father or mother

“The Farc can have left the battlefield however different teams have stepped into their position,” stated Eduin Marcelo Capaz, the human rights coordinator for Affiliation of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca. “And the ones teams don’t have any political ideology.”

The AGC, like many different teams around the nation, hint their origins to the United Self-Protection Forces of Colombia (or AUC), a federation of paramilitary teams set as much as weed out guerrilla contributors the usage of brutal ways the state may now not.

The AUC disbanded between 2006 and 2008, however a lot of its gunmen proceed to terrorize the geographical region, getting cash from extortion, drug-trafficking and unlawful mining.

“Their names might alternate but it surely’s the similar other folks we’ve been dwelling with all our lives,” stated Capaz. “It’s the similar people who performed massacres years in the past.”

Fernández survived a type of massacres in April 2001, when AUC combatants arrived in his village alongside the river Naya in north-western Cauca. The paramilitariesaccused the villagers of participating with the guerrillas, and butchered 10 of them with machetes and chainsaws. Two extra had been shot. One used to be decapitated and his head by no means discovered.

Sufferers of Colombia’s struggle had was hoping that roughly terror can be relegated to the previous, however the killings proceed apace. One social chief is murdered each and every 3 days in Colombia. Some are abducted and tortured earlier than being finished. Others are shot down through assassins on motorbikes. Only a few instances are investigated.

“We concept that with the peace deal the temper would alternate… we’re nonetheless able to forgive those who harm us within the struggle,” he went on to mention. “However the whole lot went the wrong way. Some other folks don’t need peace.”

Capaz argues that peace may have stood a greater probability in Cauca had group leaders been extra concerned. “We all know this land very best,” he stated. “So when the Farc left, why didn’t the federal government ask us to lend a hand them take keep an eye on?”

Hector Marino, a leader of the Afro-Colombian community in Suárez, regularly receives death threats. One of his closest friends was kidnapped and murdered in July.



Héctor Marino, a pacesetter of the Afro-Colombian group in Suárez, incessantly receives loss of life threats. Considered one of his closest pals used to be abducted and murdered in July. : Joe Parkin Daniels for the Father or mother

Now, the ones group leaders are focusing their efforts on staying alive.

About 25 miles west of Toéz, the village of Suárez sits between the mountains and the winding Cauca river. On a up to date afternoon, a convoy of armoured 4x4s had drawn up outdoor a nondescript picket area. A bunch of bodyguards in denims and T-shirts stored be careful entrance, their pistols in hid holsters.

Within, the area’s maximum distinguished activists had referred to as an emergency assembly after Ibes Trujillo – an area activist who had campaigned towards an area hydroelectric dam – used to be abducted and killed.

Héctor Marino, a detailed good friend and fellow activist, used to be distraught. “They’ve killed my brother,” he stated, his voice charged with grief and rage. “The one that taught me the best way of suffering, of resisting, and of perseverance.”

“The one crime we’ve dedicated is to shield our land and our rights,” Marino stated, including that he has misplaced depend of the loss of life threats he has gained. “We had been ‘army objectives’ throughout the battle, and we nonetheless are as of late.

“In different nations we’d be revered and secure,” Marino added. “In Colombia we’re left to die.”

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