Thursday, September 08, 2016

Colombian Leftist Campesino Leader Murdered, Casting a Shadow on Peace
A peace mural is painted near the road leading to Planadas, Colombia, where a peasant uprising in 1964 led to the birth of the FARC. | Photo: AFP

Published 8 September 2016

Cecilia Coicue was killed in an area marked as one of the 23 zones where FARC rebels will go to demobilize as part of the peace accords.

In a somber sign for the budding era of peace in Colombia after over half a century of civil war, a campesino leader and peace activist has been murdered in the northeastern department of Cauca, one of the areas hardest hit by decades of internal conflict between government forces and FARC rebels.

Cecilia Coicue, a 62-year-old rural leader and member of the Marcha Patriotica movement, was found dead Wednesday on her plot of land in the community of La Cominera, in Cauca’s municipality of Corinto, with a “wound caused by a sharp weapon,” the Ombudsman's Office of Colombia announced in a statement Thursday.

Coicue’s farm is located in an area designated as a so-called “concentration zones” where troops from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will go as part of the process of disarming, verifying the cease-fire, and transitioning former rebels back into Colombian society in the coming months.

Rural and Indigenous organizations have expressed grief and alarm over the Coicue’s killing, along with murders of six other murders in Cauca in recent weeks, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo. The assassination also comes as a troubling sign for the country’s much-heralded new era of peace just over a week after the start of a definitive bilateral cease-fire between the two sides of the country’s five-decade armed conflict.

The leftist Marcha Patriotica, one of Colombia’s largest social movements, dubbed it a “cowardly attack on peace.”

In a statement, the FARC condemned the murder as a “terrible sign” in the early stages of building peace in the wake of the unveiling of the final accords in Havana, Cuba, on Aug. 24 and linked Coicue’s case to a broader systemic problem of violence against human rights defenders and political activists.

“This is not an isolated case, but part of a long series of killings and threats against social leaders … that constitutes a serious humanitarian crisis,” wrote the FARC, set to soon disarm and transition into a legal political party through the peace accords. “We cannot make stable and lasting peace a reality if targeted assassination of civil and popular leaders continues.”

Meanwhile, Colombian General Alberto Jose Mejia responded to Coicue’s death by calling it a “situation of utmost concern,” in an interview with the local station Blu Radio. Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo has called for a thorough investigation into the case.

In July, the Ministry of the Interior announced that at least 133 members of Marcha Patriotica had been assassinated since it was founded in 2012 as a broad political movement for peace that now brings together some 2,000 social organizations. The movements has called on the government to address the problem of right-wing paramilitary groups, which it holds responsible for targeting is leader with violence.

The murder comes just weeks ahead of the plebiscite that will ask Colombian voters whether or not they support the peace deal reached in Havana between the government and the FARC, aimed at giving democratic legitimacy to the accords. Ahead of the vote, right-wing factions, led most prominently by former Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana, have called for a “No” vote on the ballot.

Marcha Patriotica slammed such positions on its Twitter account Thursday, accusing “enemies of peace” of attacking social activists while fearmongering with rhetoric that claims the peace deal will offer impunity to former rebel fighters.

The movement also demanded “guarantees to exercise political rights without costing lives.”

Colombia’s more than five decades civil war has uprooted more than 6.3 million people and left more than 220,000 people dead. Most of the abuses have allegedly been committed by right-wing paramilitary militias.

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