Colombia murders

From the March-April 2013 issue of News & Letters:

World in View

by Gerry Emmett

Colombia murders

Demetrio López Cardenas, 33 years old and a father of three, a community leader in La Caucana, was murdered Feb. 23. He was shot several times while on his way to an appointment in the town of Buenaventura, near Cali.

Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port, is a poor community, but rich in natural resources. It has seen almost 1,400 killings in the last six years, with many more people disappearing. Violence and human rights violations have displaced thousands. Recently violence against women, community activists, and port workers has increased as the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is implemented. It is not uncommon to find dismembered bodies in the street.

Some activists suspect there is more at work than the drug trade and guerrilla war. “What is at the root of this violence is not only drug trafficking, it is territorial control of the municipality, it is a scare tactic to get people to leave and move into rural areas so mega-projects can have free rein. The mobsters, allied with some businessmen, want to get people to leave in fear so they can buy cheap and then do good business,” said one.

The Human Rights Team of the Black Communities Process has called upon the Colombian Attorney General’s office to identify and prosecute those responsible for Demetrio Lopez’s killing. “Impunity cannot remain the mantle that covers the threats and killings of community leaders and other Colombians in places like Buenaventura.” Last year dozens of human rights activists were killed in the north coastal region of Colombia.

On Feb. 16, in Codazzi, Angélica Bello died under dubious circumstances—authorities claim suicide; her colleagues dispute this. She and her family had been threatened for years owing to her defense of women victims of sexual abuse by paramilitaries. An Amnesty International spokesman said, “Angélica’s death is yet another dark reminder that, unless human rights abuses are investigated and those responsible brought to justice, the authorities in Colombia will continue to send the message that such abuses are permitted.”

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