We are saddened and angered by yesterday’s murder of Walberto Hoyos, a community leader in the Bajo Atrato region of ChocÃ³ department, in Colombia’s far northwest. Mr. Hoyos was a leader of the struggle of two afro-Colombian communities, CurvaradÃ³ and JiguamiandÃ³, to recover communally held lands that paramilitary groups, employing the most brutal violence, stole from them and have since employed for large-scale agribusiness projects.
Mr. Hoyos, a survivor of a September 2007 assassination attempt, is one of many Bajo Atrato community leaders who are working in the face of ceaseless threats from the paramilitaries and related large landowners who dominate this region, which is considered highly strategic because of its natural resources and its frequent use as a drug-trafficking corridor.
These threats’ severity has guaranteed a significant amount of international accompaniment for the CurvaradÃ³ and JiguamiandÃ³ communities’ leaders, including special designations from the Inter-American human rights system and some protective measures from the Colombian government’s U.S.-funded human rights defenders’ program.
But in large part because of the impunity that those responsible for the threats, violence and theft continue to enjoy, these measures were not enough for Walberto Hoyos. His murder yesterday afternoon, in broad daylight before witnesses, was as brazen as it was announced.
This time, the murder must not go unpunished. This time, the network of criminals, greedy landowners, and corrupt officials – including security-force officials – that is violating these communities’ most basic rights must be definitively dismantled. If it is not, Colombia’s claims to have “turned the corner” on its dark past will not pass any reasonable test of credibility.
Here are translated excerpts from the announcement of Mr. Hoyos’s murder posted to the website of the Colombian non-governmental organization Justicia y Paz, which accompanies the CurvaradÃ³ and JiguamiandÃ³ communities.
Today, October 14, 2008, approximately between 3:30 and 4:00 PM, two paramilitaries murdered CurvaradÃ³ community leader WALBERTO HOYOS RIVAS. Walberto was within the CaÃ±o Manso Humanitarian Zone, located in the collectively owned territory of CurvaradÃ³, participating in a meeting with the community. Two of three armed men entered the humanitarian place, after dialoguing with the administrator of the Villa Alejandra I hacienda, known as “Pablo Hoyos,” and with the administrator of other lands in El Guamo, which paramilitaries have also usurped illegally and violently from afro-descended communities since 1996.
In the humanitarian area the two paramilitaries, after locating Walberto, took his cellphone as well as the one the community uses to activate early warnings. Seconds later they grabbed Walberto, insulting him, calling him “son of a whore.” The paramilitaries lifted their shirts, he lunged at them trying to protect himself, but they forced him to turn around and shot him repeatedly.
The paramilitaries left the area, and returned five minutes later. They took Walberto’s lifeless body, turned him face upwards, and shot him again in the face and neck.
Later they left the humanitarian area, fleeing on the motorcycles on which they arrived, one a blue Honda and one a black Suzuki, both without license plates.
Thanks to the investigative and human rights defense work Walberto carried out, it has been possible to unmask the paramilitary strategy of usurping collective territories for agro-industrial projects in the Bajo Atrato region: the planting of oil palms, intensive deforestation and extensive cattle-raising, which have been hidden behind “Campesino Associations” like Asoprobeba and the development of the paramilitary economic strategy in the region.
Behind the crime of Walberto are the same armed paramilitary structures, operating with the consent of military and police, that protect and are beneficiaries of palm, cattle and timber enterprises. …
Walberto had protective measures from the Ministry of Interior and Justice, among them a DAS [presidential security service] bodyguard and car. At the moment of his murder these measures were not functioning, due to mechanical problems with the car.
Walberto served as a witness in the case of the police detention and subsequent forced disappearance of CurvaradÃ³ community leader ORLANDO VALENCIA on October 15, 2005. This afro-Colombian individual later appeared, murdered by paramilitary structures, on October 24 of that year.
For his testimony about this crime and his encouragement of the creation of Humanitarian Zones in CurvaradÃ³, Walberto Hoyos was the victim of a September 17, 2007 attempt on his life, in which he was wounded together with his brother MIGUEL HOYOS RIVAS. Regarding this double attempted murder, as of today the Prosecutor-General’s Office has neither identified nor charged those who planned or carried it out; these individuals continue to operate as armed structures in the security forces’ midst in CurvaradÃ³. …
Today, October 14, the First Penal Judge of the Specialized Circuit of Antioquia communicated in writing the decision to call WALBERTO HOYOS RIVAS to give three days of testimony in BogotÃ¡ in the trial against the paramilitaries JULIO CESAR SILVA BORJA – known as “El Indio” or “El Enano” – and PABLO JOSÃ‰ MONTALVO CUITIVA – known as “Alpha 11″ – for the murder of CurvaradÃ³ community leader Orlando Valencia. These people are important within the structure of the Elmer CÃ¡rdenas Bloc [the paramilitary group that dominated the Bajo Atrato region].
Walberto was protected by Provisional Measures of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, and within that framework he had a protection plan from the Ministry of Interior and Justice. …
The paramilitary strategy continues in the midst of the presence of the army’s 15th Brigade and the National Police. In the midst of this presence the palm plantings advance, along with large-scale cattle-raising. The crimes, like that of Walberto, continue. The only things that don’t advance are the investigations of crimes committed in CurvaradÃ³, while the criminal and business structures continue operating illegally in CurvaradÃ³ and JiguamiandÃ³.