Farmers from Colombia’s troubled northern Catatumbo region blocked the demobilization of a group of FARC guerrillas on Friday, demanding the government provides protection against paramilitary successor groups, according to newspaper El Tiempo.
At least 18 community leaders across Colombia have been killed since peace between the FARC and the government was signed in November last year, primarily in areas previously under control of the Marxist guerrillas.
While the military has claimed to be moving into these neglected areas to establish state authority, this has been disputed by locals across the country who claim paramilitary groups have embarked on a killing spree of comunity leaders while the state is nowhere to be seen.
According to the independent conflict monitoring organization Indepaz, last year alone 117 community leaders, victim leaders and human rights defenders were assassinated.
The farmers belonging to the Catatumbo farmers’ organization Ascamcat who are impeding the demobiliztion of some 180 guerrillas of the FARC’s 33rd Front have long been the target of assassinations and death threats from paramilitary groups.
The locals fear that the government’s inability to assume territorial control will create a power vacuum that could be filled by violent paramilitary successor groups. According to Ascamcat, heavily armed men have recently arrived in their region.
This was confirmed by socialist Senator Alberto Castilla, a resident of Catatumbo, who said that armed men have threatened the population in the village of La Gabarra, close to the Venezuelan border.
— Alberto Castilla (@CastillaSenador) February 10, 2017
The farmers’ organization has long been demonized by both paramilitary successor groups and the government as being guerrillas, making them particularly vulnerable to deadly violence.
The police and military have never had significant control over the lawless area and civilian authorities have almost entirely been absent in the region for decades.
“We were traveling without problem until we were stopped. We were stopped to verify information about the alleged appearance of armed men in the Las Timbas township,” the local ombudsman told newspaper El Tiempo.
The local farmers demand the arrival of UN, government and FARC observers as a form of protection amid increased fears of an impending genocide by successor groups of paramilitary organization AUC.
“The farmers demand the tripartite delegation of the FARC [, the UN] and the government to be present in this part of the country to resolve and analize the Catatumbo farmers’ security issues,” Ascamcat coordinator Jhonny Abril told El Tiempo.
UN representatives arived at the scene on Saturday to mediate with the locals, according to Spanish press agency EFE.
The incident in Catatumbo is the last of many that have plagued the demobilization of the FARC, a process that formally began on December 1 last year.
In spite the chaos, according to President Juan Manuel Santos, the FARC’s demobilization and disarmament process is going “very well” and in spite the mass killing of community leaders, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas recently claimed “there are no paramilitaries in Colombia.”
The national government has consistently denied the existence of paramilitary groups who have long operated in collusion with the state while organized as the AUC between 1997 and 2006.
The country’s largest AUC successor group, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) told this website they have grown to have 8,000 men and women. Smaller paramilitary successor groups formed by former AUC members have popped up across the country for a decade already.
These paramilitary successor groups are heavily involved in drug trafficking and often tied to politicians, businesses or ranchers who refuse to return the 15% of Colombia’s national territory that was stolen during the war.
More than 24,500 state officials and 12,500 individuals and companies are expected to be called to trial to respond to their alleged ties to paramilitary groups once a transitional justice system that is part of the peace process takes force.
The most prominent of alleged paramilitary collaborators is former President Alvaro Uribe, who has fiercely been leading the political opposition against the peace process.