In an important piece published Friday, Constanza Vieira of Inter-Press Service documents what can only be considered a campaign to intimidate victims of paramilitary violence. The following has happened during the past three weeks.
On Jan. 20, the headquarters of the League of Displaced Women near the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, where the group had built their new settlement "City of Women", was set on fire.
Freddy Espitia, head of a local committee of displaced persons in the Caribbean province of Córdoba, in northwestern Colombia, was shot and killed on Jan. 28.
On Jan. 31, in Montería, the capital of Córdoba, gunmen on a motorcycle killed Yolanda Izquierdo, a 43-year-old community leader who had gathered evidence to help 863 rural families regain their land, which had been seized by the paramilitaries. She was presenting the evidence under the reparations system set up by the Justice and Peace Law.
The murder of Óscar Cuadrado, the leader of a regional association of displaced persons, was reported on Feb. 1 in Maicao, in the northeastern province of La Guajira.
And on Feb. 7, Carmen Santana was shot to death in Apartadó, a banana-producing region in the northeastern province of Antioquia. After great hesitation, Santana had decided to pursue the truth about the 1995 murder of her first husband, a banana worker.
All along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, people are being attacked merely for demanding to know what happened to their loved ones, or for asking that their stolen property be returned to them.
Defenders of the paramilitary negotiation process point to the top leadership’s December imprisonment, or the initial confession of AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso, and contend that the system is finally working – that the "Justice and Peace" process is steadily chipping away at the paramilitaries’ enormous power and giving hope to their victims.
This wave of attacks shows, though, that it is far too early to be arguing that. Unless much more is done – quickly – to protect those victims who dare to demand what the law promises them, most will continue to be too afraid to come forward. That would deal a fatal blow to the credibility of a process that already has more than its share of skeptics.