Numerous labor and union leaders, as well as those fighting for land to be returned to the displaced, have been assassinated by armed groups in the northern coastal department. Neo-paramilitary groups returned to the area after the demobilization of the paramilitaries between 2003 and 2006, and continue to terrorize communities there.
In 1997, 61 families were given 520 hectares of land in the rural area outside Monteria. Only 45 families ended up occupying the land, but neo-paramilitary group Las Aguilas Negras arrived in 2007 and began constructing homes on the land that had been given to the families. Jhon Jairo Martinez, a school teacher in the area, went to authorities and had the group expelled from the land. Before they left, they threatened the life of the activist and in 2009 he was shot and killed. His successor was forced to flee the area with her family after also receiving threats.
Numerous other cases of threats, disappearances and murders have been noted. So far in 2010 there have been 182 disappeared persons reported. More than 1,300 people were displaced in the region in the first half of this year. The amount of murders has been increasing since 2005, with with 569 in 2009.
Violence has also been caused in Cordoba by conflict between Las Aguilas Negras and other armed groups like Los Paisas. The department’s location on the northern Caribbean coast contains some of the most prized drug trading routes. A judicial investigator said, “Cordoba is a paradise because in three hours you can get cocaine to an international port.”
The National Reparation and Reconciliation Committee has said that the neo-paramilitary organizations across Colombia have emerged in order to prevent the displaced victims from reclaiming lands lost during the previous stage of Colombia’s internal conflict. Since the demobilization program commenced, 45 leaders of victim groups trying to reclaim land have been assassinated, three of which have happened in mid-May.
Since the assassination of land activist Yolanda Izquierdo in 2005 in Cordoba, Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior has received 1,471 requests for protection for victims who sought reparations via the Justice and Peace program, El Tiempo indicates.
Of those requests, 214 were granted special protection after police investigations deemed their situations “extraordinarily risky.” The Verdad Abierta report indicates, however, that it is extremely easy to bribe police in the area.