Colombia: state violence never went away

by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

María del Pilar Hurtado

Colombia has now made it into the modern world, but not that of a strong and diversified economy, of democratic rights, nor the rule of law.  No, that is not the modern world that Colombia has made it into.  The murder of María del Pilar Hurtado and the heartbreaking video of her son running and screaming, whilst her body lay only yards away, went viral on the social networks.[1]  Welcome Colombia to modernity!  The massacres and murders now have a modern touch.

María del Pilar’s murder is just one of a long list.  They say that alarm bells have sounded and even the UN has expressed its concern at the return of violence and also the false positives.  The El Espectador newspaper published an article headlined “Overview of a country that is returning to violence[2] but how true is this?  Is it the case that the country is returning to violence or is it the case that it never stopped being violent and what we are experiencing is an increase in the usual violence?  It is not a semantic question.  We find ourselves, ad portas of another episode in the falsification of the country’s history.  There are many myths propagated by the social democratic formation Polo’s representatives in Congress and various NGOs – such as that Uribe invented the Convivir (Rural Security Cooperatives).  It is not true, the Convivir arose out of a decree signed by the then-president Gaviria and his Minister for Defence, Rafael Pardo, later to be Minister for Post-Conflict in Santos’ government and the decree was put into effect by Samper.  Uribe was just the most enthusiastic acolyte of bloody Liberal Party policy.  Another myth is that Uribe is the only president tarred by drug trafficking, forgetting that Samper’s presidential campaign was partially financed by the Cali Cartel.  Samper stated, in his defence, that it all happened behind his back, something similar to Uribe’s defence that everyone betrayed him.  There is also the myth that the dirty war began with Uribe and not decades earlier when Uribe hadn’t even been born.

Now the myth is that Duque and Uribe’s government is a violent one that murders social leaders, unlike the two mandates of the man of peace, Santos, whose governments respected social leaders.  Let’s see whether the figures back up this argument or not.  First, we should point out that there are not even clear figures on the violence, as depending on the source, the number of social leaders murdered varies and even the number of former FARC combatants murdered varies.  For the purposes of this article we will use the figures from Somos Defensores as they are uniform and coherent over time, although the programme acknowledges that its reports may underestimate the number of dead and there are figures used by other social and human rights organisations that are higher.  In any case, they are a useful indication of what is happening in the country.

Year Murders Other Aggressions
2018 155 650
2017 106 554
2016 80 401
2015 63 619
2014 55 571
2013 78 288
2012 69 288

Source: Somos Defensores

It is clear that the murders never ceased.  In fact, in the year the Havana Accords – between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla movement – was signed 80 leaders were murdered and in 2017, the last full year of Santos, another 106 were killed and the figures for other types of aggressions, mainly threats but also disappearances and arrests, have always been high.  It can only be said that violence returned if the 80 murders in 2016 are seen as little or nothing.  They are not, but the truth hurts, in the face of a discourse of Santos = Man of Peace and Good, Duque = Man of War and Bad.  We are not children and cannot be expected to accept such simple binary explanations, nor that there are monsters under the bed.  The monsters exist, but they walk in daylight in the Congress, in the High Command of the army and the Polo and Colombia Humana (two social democratic type formations) meet with them and work together in the institutions and the FARC party praises them in its public speeches referring to them as peace allies.  There is not a good state and a bad state, nor is there a profound difference between Santos and Duque; in both governments social leaders were murdered  and Santos would have squeezed the FARC like Duque does, Santos would have even been the ideal man to extradite Santrich given the legitimacy he enjoys amongst NGOs, the so-called international community and former lefties.

Neither are the murders of former combatants new, though they have, of course, been on the rise and for technical and chronological reasons the majority of them correspond to the Duque government, though not all.  Santos also has his hands stained with their blood.  As El Espectador reports:

Since the signing of the accords in November 2016, 134 former guerrillas have been murdered, according to the FARC party.  There have also been 11 disappeared and more than 35 family members have fallen in the midst of a wave of violence that the country is experiencing in various regions.[3]

The saddest thing is that this was foreseen and many of us warned them from the beginning of the peace process that the state was going to continue to murder as it continues to do so in El Salvador and Guatemala.  The NGOs didn’t want to accept it and for a while they tried to blame everything on the ELN.  The now-deceased head of the Communist Party’s paper Voz, Carlos Lozano, also tried to blame the ELN for everything.  This cheap fake discourse has come to an end and now they ask us to forget the last few years and talk about a return to violence and they see it as an aberration within the peace process rather than an integral part of it, as it was in El Salvador and Guatemala and in the previous peace processes in Colombia.  Does anyone know how many M-19 members were killed after they demobilised?  Nobody knows or cares, as with the passing of time no one will care about what is happening now in the country, and the video of María del Pilar’s child will fade into the background in a country where, in the name of peace, we are supposed to pretend that the current violence is new rather than just being more intense.  The monsters pass themselves off as little angels.

Colombian presidents referred to:
Ernesto Samper Pizano (Liberal Party) 1994-1998
Andrés Pastrana Arango (Conservative) 1998-2002
Álvaro Uribe Vélez (Colombia First) 2002-2010
Juan Manuel Santos Calderón (National Unity) 2010-2018
Iván Duque Márquez (Democratic Centre) 2018-


[1] Non-Colombian readers may not be familiar with the video, so I have included a link to it.  View at your own discretion.

[2] El Espectador (13/06/2019) Radiografía de un país que vuelve a la violencia

[3] El Espectador (23/06/2019) El sicariato está acabando con la vida de los exguerrilleros