Colombia

A leader of the community that lost seven members in an alleged police massacre has been assassinated in southwest Colombia, the regional government said on October 17.

Jose Jair Cortes was the spokesperson of the Alta Mira y Frontera community in Tumaco, Narino state, where anti-narcotics officials allegedly murdered seven people on October 5.

The Colombian National Police massacred between 8 and 16 people, and wounded more than 50, in the municipality of Tumaco, Narino on October 5. The attack was directed against protesting coca growing families demanding the government fulfil its commitments to voluntary eradication programs.

Then, on October 8, the National Police attacked an international team sent to investigate the massacre. The police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse representatives from the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and a journalist from the Colombian weekly, Semana.

Members of the National Political Council of the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons (FARC) rejected the threats and violence that have claimed the lives of 25 people since signing peace accords with the government last November.

“Since the signing of the peace agreement, five former combatants, nine militiamen and 11 relatives of members of the FARC have been murdered,” the group said in a statement on October 2.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) has announced a temporary and bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian government.

The group said the ceasefire, agreed to in September during peace talks in Quito, Ecuador, will be implemented from October 1 to January 9, 2018.

Just days before he was set to speak at the 2013 Trade Union Congress (TUC) Conference in Britain, Colombian union leader Huber Ballesteros was arrested and imprisoned in his home country on trumped-up charges of rebellion and financing terrorism.

Following a prolonged international campaign – in which Britain’s peak trade union body played a key role - Ballesteros was finally released in January after 40 months in jail.

In September, he attended this year’s TUC conference.

Colombia’s communist army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), relaunched itself as a political party on September 1 at a concert for “reconciliation and peace” in Bolivar Square, Bogota.

The guerrilla movement, which fought one of the longest civil wars in history until agreeing to a ceasefire with the government last year, confirmed its new name the day before at the end of its five-day congress.

It is now known as the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons, which will allow it to retain the FARC acronym.

More than 100 community and social activists were assassinated in Colombia between January 1 and August 18 this year, according to a new report released by the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz). The report showed that a further 194 activists received death threats during this same time.

The report also found that 12 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were assassinated between April 14 and August 17, as were 11 relatives of FARC members.

Last year, a group of studying music at the LGBTI Centre in Bogota decided to organize a rock band unlike any other in Colombia. Members say the band, 250 Milligrams, is the first transgender male rock group in South America. 

Jose Maria Lemus, president of the Tibu Community Board in Colombia’s North of Santander state, has been killed, the Peoples’ Congress reported June 14.

His murder adds to the growing list of recently assassinated social, Indigenous and human rights activists in the South American country.

"This is a fundamental precept of paramilitarism: clear the land to ensure smooth functioning for big business deals and, in this sense, this is no different to what has happened in the past few years in this country, which is the consolidation of what I would call a militarised neoliberal model, militarised in both a state and para-state sense."

An interview with Renan Vega Cantor, a professor at Colombia’s National Pedagogical University.

Colombia’s government reached an agreement with Buenaventura residents on June 6, bringing an end to 22 days of strike action in the country’s largest port city.

The strike action in Buenaventura resulted from decades of utter neglect of the region coupled with unfulfilled promises by successive governments to address the situation in the port city.

About 60,000 public school teachers gathered on the streets of Colombia’s capital, Bogota, on June 6 demanding a government response to a crisis in the sector.

The teachers have been on strike for over a month now demanding reform in education that would see dramatic investment in the sector in terms of pay and medical care as well as a reduction in the student-teacher ratio and improvement in school meals, among others.

Colombia’s national teachers’ strike marked three weeks on June 1 as tens of thousands of education workers continue to pressure the government to respond to their demands for better working conditions, higher salaries and more investment in public education.

In the latest mass protest, about 300,000 teachers took to the streets on May 31 to call attention to education issues in major cities across the country, including Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Bucaramanga and Barranquilla.

A rebellion has been raging in Buenaventura - Colombia’s largest port city - since May 16, when residents decided to embark on massive anti-government marches to demand an end to chronic state neglect and abandonment, corruption, crime and armed conflict.

The government’s inability to attend to protesters’ demands has only spurred an escalation of protests that has not shown signs of calming, even though the mayor’s office issued a decree declaring a curfew and a ban on public demonstrations.

The Colombian government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed, for the second time, a peace agreement on November 24 that aims to end the country’s 52-year armed conflict. It comes after a previous peace deal was narrowly rejected in a popular vote in October.

Demonstrators gathered on November 2 in the Colombian capital of Bogata and the US capital, Washington DC, to simultaneously protest outside the International Finance Corporation, the private lending arm of the World Bank, against the shares it holds in Canadian mining company Eco Oro Minerals Corp.

The company’s sole asset is a mining concession in one of Colombia’s high altitude wetlands, known as the paramos, which provides fresh water for millions of Colombians, the Center for International Environmental Law said in a statement.

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