People's Congress leader Carlos Pedraza killed
This article is an adaptation/translation of an article written by the editorial team of Colombia Informa: Agencia de los Pueblos
The results of the official autopsy establish that the death of Carlos Pedraza, a leader from the Congreso de los Pueblos (People’s Congress), was caused by a low-speed projectile gun which was fired at the back of his skull. This evidence confirms the hypothesis held by many in the social movement that the murder was a political crime in a context in which social leaders, including some of his closest companions, are being threatened with death because of their support for the peace process.
The government was alerted about the increasing risks for citizens, and though it has the responsibility to ensure their protection and integrity, it chose to ignore these calls for help. Their neglect and silence has created a favorable environment to carry out these crimes and its silence has made it an accomplice. Furthermore, following this tragic crime there was no official reaction from the government, which can be seen as an unofficial “ok” of the persecution and increase in violence against the popular social movements. In this context, this crime becomes a serious risk to the peace process.
Details about the crime Carlos was leaving his home in southern Bogota to go to Teusaquillo (a neighborhood in the city), where he had a meeting with his agricultural cooperative. However, he never arrived to that meeting and his body was found 60 km north of Bogotá in the municipality of Gachancipá.
Beyond that information there are clues that suggest that his murder was meant to be a political message sent by the insurgency as part of a strategy to sabotage peace negotiations and above all, the support this process has in the social movement.
Why was his body in Gachancipá? Carlos had no relatives, friends or acquaintances in this municipality in Cundinamarca. Moreover, neither the cooperative where he worked, nor the Movimiento Político de Masas de Centro Oriente (the Political Movement of the Masses of Center East) in which he participated, had any connection to this place, or even in the nearby region.
What is politically interesting about Gachancipá in the context of this crime? In Gachancipá there is a strong paramilitary and mafia presence which has maintained territorial control for more than a decade, a control unchallenged by other armed actors or by the state itself. Recently, liberal councilman Germán Cruz of Gachancipá was assassinated after he tried to cancel the operating license for a quarry that was controlled by an administrator with ties to local paramilitaries.
The threats that touched him closely. Carlos was an organizer of the Bogotá section of the Movimiento Político de Masas Social y Popular del Centro Oriente de Colombia (Mass Social and Popular Political Movement Center East of Colombia), a strong sector of Congreso de los Pueblos. In recent meetings they had assessed the threats received by the group that contained the full names of three of the members in Carlos’ close political circle.
“We established safety routines for those who were mentioned in the pamphlets of the Águilas Negras (a paramilitary group), we decided that Carlos, despite being a very noticeable companion politically, should not alter his routine. Thinking about it now, we see that the accusations (from the Aguilas Negras) and his murder are part of the same strategy, [they send] distracting threats to see how everyone reacts and ended by beating a member of the group that was left exposed,” reflects a member of his political group who was threatened with death in recent weeks and remains anonymous for obvious security reasons.
Hitting where it hurts: the social support to the peace process “Carlos was a human rights defender,” explained a member of his political group. “He came from the victims movement, his social work was widely recognized,” she adds. His social and political space, Congreso de los Pueblos, represents a wide variety of peasant, indigenous, student and urban movements that, like much of the progressive and left sector, has supported the government negotiations with insurgent groups FARC and ELN. However, they demand that civil society participate in the peace process and that this peace address the social issues which are at the root of the conflict in Colombia.
The murder of Carlos is unlike the general trend in which paramilitary actors murder those who they claim belong to insurgent groups. Rather his murder was meant to be a blow to the social fabric, to the democratic and popular sectors who have the ability to amplify and complement peace efforts being advanced by the guerrillas, in order to stop their support for the process of real change in Colombia. Shattering this broad, diverse confluence of armed, political, and social actors who all with the common goal of peace, is one of the strategies of the warmongering right in Colombia. To achieve it, they hit (kill) where it hurts: in the leadership of the social, popular movement.
Political accountability at the highest levels of state power January 17, a few days before the appearance of body of Carlos, President Juan Manuel Santos, his vice president, and his Interior Minister formally received a request from Congreso de los Pueblos that the government take “the necessary measures to guarantee the right to life” of its members, after a series of death threats in recent weeks.
“The Águilas Negras paramilitary groups have launched a nationwide crackdown on processes, leaders and social organizations that fight for human rights, democracy, dignity of victims and peace in Colombia,” explained the letter submitted to the political authorities and also circulated widely on social media. The letter detailed the grave threats made to social, community and political leaders, including various death threats made between October 2014 and January this year, many including full names and details of their movements in Bogota, Barrancabermeja, Arauca and the Caribbean Coast.
However, the President disregarded the requests. There have also been no official repercussions in reaction to the death of Carlos, despite the fact that several days have passed and the murder has been denounced widely nationally and internationally.
The gravity of the situation is growing, and if substantial changes are not made, the situation will spin out of control. If the murder of Carlos does not arouse a reaction from the state, the conflict in Colombia, instead of de-escalating, will grow. With political instability heightening this could also mean a resurgence in armed conflict. While there are expectations that the government and the FARC will come to an agreement, due to the assassination of a leader of Congreso de los Pueblos, FARC leader Pastor Alape, in a show of solidarity, gave a strong warning about the possibility that this crime and the brazen impunity could endanger the cease fire: “We are losing patience.”
President Santos, praised highly by President Barack Obama for his “commitment to peace with justice,” is aware of what is happening. Despite his indifference to the threats when directed at the social movement, he does take notice when recognized figures are targets of threats, and it receives lots of media attention, such as what happened recently with politicians Piedad Cordoba and Ivan Cepeda. Through the threats to these political leaders, the president is informed on the severity of the situation, but once the encounters are over and the pictures are taken, he fails to take action, thus, nothing has changed.
For those who take these deadly actions against the social movements, his indifference can only mean that there is complete impunity for these crimes. Due to the power of his disinterest, the President as well as the United States’ government – which supports the Colombian government militarily, economically, and politically – cannot avoid being identified as politically responsible for the murder of Carlos Pedraza.