"As black communities, we participate in the campaign, black lives matter because, as it happens there in the United States, where the black population is highly indicated, considered vulnerable, affected by the issue of their human rights. The same happens here in Colombia."
A beloved Afro Colombian soccer star and community organizer has been assassinated. Colombians in the northwestern region of Choco are mourning the loss of Patrocinio “Patrón” Bonilla, killed on August 11 by a paramilitary group.
Bonilla had used his visibility and popularity in the state to promote peasant resistance to paramilitaries and narco-traffickers, and had helped found an organization called the Kinchas, and worked with groups like the National Agrarian Coordination and the Congress of the Peoples.
Bonilla is hardly alone. According to the UN, 33 known massacres have been carried out since the start of this year and at least 185 social justice leaders have been assassinated. 974 have been killed in total since the Peace Accords were signed in November 2016. The string of killings has become especially sharp in majority Afro and indigenous regions. In the coca-growing Western part of the country where paramilitary and narco trafficker forces seek to extinguish any resistance to their reign of terror.
So how is this not a bigger story? Wouldn’t you think the daily and targeted assassinations ravaging Afro-descendent and Indigineous communities and organizers for labor and environmental justice would be a matter of international concern?
If it was in any other country it would be, but the Colombian government enjoys a “special relationship” with the United States, which protects it from such scrutiny.
“They [US government] has enormous interests in this country and they will make their calculations no and their political agreements also finally I think that unfortunately Colombia is a country that depends a lot on the United States and also obeys the interests of the United States a lot Unfortunately for us as Colombian human rights defenders and particularly territorial rights in Mexico, because what is at stake in our country is the wealth that exists in the territories.”
For decades now, tens of billions of dollars in military equipment and support has been pumped into Colombia from Washington to wage war on the left in the country and across Latin America, not unlike the role Israel has played for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
After Israel, Colombia is the second largest recipient of such aid, receiving $448 million in total to Colombia for 2020. Bonilla is famous, but untold thousands have been killed in the country’s civil war, while paramilitary organizations outfitted with modern U.S. weapons operated with impunity in close connection to the Colombian state.
The civil war led to the displacement of over 5.5 million Colombians within the nation's borders. Colombia’s President Ivan Duque met with U.S. officials last week to renew this partnership under a new name — the Colombian Growth Initiative. Far-right former President Alvaro Uribe was arrested this month for his role in protecting paramilitaries.
While some cast this as a step forward in bringing justice and peace, organizers say it will mean little if the far-right continues to persecute the decades-long campaign of terror in the shadows. The victims feel a bit hopeful that in this country there will begin to be justice …
“An important step that is a light of Hope that opens in the midst of so much impunity that we live in this country, we hope that this will not be constituted as an element to continue dividing the country but on the contrary because as populations as civilian population we wake up and understand that while justice is not done not only with the white collar …
we are not going to turn this page where capitalism and the most powerful in this country continues to exercise that control in one way or another over the population”
Imagine if this level of violence were to occur in a nation the US regularly demonizes like Venezuela or Cuba? Colombia would have been vilified, sanctioned and threatened with intervention.