In Colombia, wholesale murder and impunity go hand in hand, as was indicated Aug. 9, when the state took responsibility for one victim of the 1994 Patriotic Union (UP) slaughter, and on Aug. 19 when Colombians for Peace leader Piedad Cordoba announced her forced departure from Colombia.

The Aug. 9 event marked both the 17th anniversary of the shooting death of Patriotic Union senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas and Interior Minister Germán Vargas Lleras’s recognition this year before Congress of state responsibility for the killing. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights had announced the responsibility finding with the proviso that the government make its acknowledgment public, express regret and work to name and judge perpetrators. The Court is considering possible crimes against humanity prosecutions related to the UP catastrophe.

Without naming individuals, the government took only collective responsibility for the murder of only one of an estimated 5,000 victims. They were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Communist Party, plus other leftists participating in UP election campaigns. Electoral activity came about under a 1984 agreement between conservative President Belisario Betancur and the FARC, allowing leftist insurgents to enter routine political life. UP candidates became mayors, municipal councilors and local and national legislators. In the ensuing slaughter two presidential candidates were assassinated.

Violence has hit Piedad Cordoba’s extended family. On June 7, 2011, her cousin Ana Fabricia Cordoba was shot dead on a bus in Medellin. Ana Fabricia’s two sons were murdered in 2004 and 2010, and her husband and two brothers even earlier. As with tens of thousands of killings in Colombia, murderers remain unidentified.  Ana Fabricia’s surviving children report continuing death threats and intimidation. Their mother had served as a high profile advocate for families, like her own, who have been displaced from their land.

Piedad Cordoba, principal spokesperson for a negotiated settlement of civil war, indicated Aug. 19 she was leaving Colombia. Unmarked cars were following her, telephone death threats were routine and she has learned that serious assassination plot is in the works. Paramilitaries had forced her into exile in 1999. Invoking discredited evidence, Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez removed Cordoba from her Liberal Party Senate seat last year, alleging ties with the FARC. Cordoba had facilitated the FARC’s humanitarian release of prisoners.

So far in 2011, murderers have killed 29 Colombian unionists and over 200 inhabitants of Cordoba department, where 600 people were killed last year. Government rejection of peace initiatives is clear from the UP catastrophe recalled by the Manuel Cepeda event, from Piedad Cordoba’s departure and from pervasive impunity. Priorities are evident in Colombia’s $11.1 billion military budget, making up 14.2 percent of state spending; almost 300,000 military personnel on active duty – nineteenth in the world on that score; and U.S. provision of almost $7 billion over a decade for Colombia’s police and military.

Manuel Cepeda was a leader of Colombia’s Communist Party. Prior to his senate term he edited that party’s Voz newspaper. As a Communist Party leader and current Voz director, Carlos Lozano addressed the gathering on Aug. 9. He called for an end to war and impunity and for social justice and political settlement of conflict. He is Piedad Cordoba’s colleague in Colombians for Peace.

Lozano condemned “the criminal instinct of those … who accept no competitors or dissenters [and] who practice forced unanimity and exclusion.”  He castigated “the intellectual authors of extermination with enemies seen as ‘combining forms of struggle,'” as if “delivery of a public sociology lecture on national realities or having a real understanding of the cause and societal background of conflict were equivalent to having a dangerous terrorist arsenal.”

On the other hand, “The Communist Party has been proposing a negotiated political solution since 1981 as the only way to overcome conflict in Colombia. There are no intermediate solutions to peace with democracy and social justice.” He speculated that Cepeda would have been part of Colombians for Peace, “with Piedad, with Ivan (Manuel Cepeda’s son) and all of us, saying forcefully that there’s no possibility of a military solution to the conflict.”

“Manuel, as a communist, believed in peace and paid with his life,” Lozano said. “We follow that path … Not all is lost. There are always new opportunities. There are not many reasons to be optimistic, but the most important is that there is life. In spite of so many assassinations along the way, while there’s life, there is hope.”

Photo: Agencia Prensa Rural // CC 2.0


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.