A year after Nicaragua’s coup, the media’s regime change deceptions are still unravelling

By John Perry

Alliance for Global Justice

(John Perry UK citizen who lives in Masaya, Nicaragua where he works on housing and migration issues and writes about those and other topics. This article was originally published in The Grayzone.)

Last year’s failed coup in Nicaragua erupted when student protests against social security reforms quickly turned into an armed attempt to bring down the government of Daniel Ortega. The regime change attempt was a battle for people’s minds as well as for control of the streets. Violence was used to terrorize government supporters, but it was even more important as a propaganda vehicle. A journalist shot while on camera, demonstrators hit by sniper fire or an arson attack on a family home were all high profile crimes that were immediately blamed on the government. Key to the anti-Sandinista public relations blitz was an organized barrage of social media postings, indignant statements by local “human rights” bodies condemning the government, right-wing media reaching the same judgment and local people intimidated into “confirming” the story.

During their push for Ortega’s ouster last year, opposition groups acted on the largely correct assumption that if they were quick to portray any violence as being the government’s fault, a compliant international press would repeat it. Major international human rights NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch could be relied on to take the judgments of their local counterparts at face value. Once a consensus about how to portray the violence had been reached internationally, it would be repeated by regional and global bodies such as the Organization of American States and the UN, and inevitably by the US State Department. After a series of such violent incidents, the reputation of the Ortega government internationally was sealed.

The worst of these attacks occurred on June 16 last year. At 6:00 in the morning, in the Managua barrio known as Carlos Marx, masked youths threw Molotov cocktails into an occupied three-story house. Fire spread quickly from the ground floor, used for a family business of making mattresses, to the living rooms upstairs where the family was beginning its day. Neighbours rushed to help but six people were burnt alive, including a baby and a two year-old girl.

This could easily have been a self-inflicted blow to the “peaceful” image the protesters had created. But instead it became emblematic of the government’s supposed violent response to the protests. How was this achieved?

Among those quickly on the scene was a representative of local “human rights” body, CENIDH: Gonzalo Carrion. Student eyewitnesses reported that Carrion had been present when opposition militants took over the campus of the UNAN university earlier in the attempted coup, and had even been a bystander to their violence. Without any obvious prior investigation, he recorded an interview blaming the fire on government supporters, calling it the act of a “terrorist state.” This was, of course, consistent with a pattern of misreporting by CENIDH throughout the coup.

Also quick to arrive were reporters from Canal 10, the opposition-supporting TV channel: they interviewed one of the survivors, pressuring him to blame the police for the arson attack. Much later he would explain how his vulnerability, in the midst of attempts to find his family and surrounded by opposition supporters, was abused. Nicaragua’s main daily right-wing newspaper, La Prensa, also had no doubt who the culprits were: “Ortega mobs burn and kill a Managua family” ran its headline the following day.

At that stage, the reality was that no outsiders knew who the masked youths were who had started the fire, nor did the journalists who arrived make much attempt to find out. Hundreds of thousands of social media messages began to appear, blaming the government. The international press, as on so many occasions, took its lead from the local media. Reuters, an agency which has consistently taken an anti-Ortega line, gave prominence to the government’s accusers and quoted the secretary of the Organization of American States describing it as “a crime against humanity”. A BBC report was more balanced, but still emphasized the accusations against the government. The New York Times put the house fire together with other incidents to describe what it called a campaign of terror by forces backing Ortega. The US State Department quickly concurred, saying the attack was “government sponsored”. Within a week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights repeated the accusation, based on “public statements” that it didn’t identify.

As it happened, when the fire occurred I was preparing an article about the coup for The Nation. Not surprisingly, they asked me to extend the article to include it. Writing only 48 hours afterwards, and influenced by the initial reports, my assessment (published on June 22) was inevitably tentative:

‘The government was quickly blamed, because allegedly the fire was in reprisal for the owner’s refusal to allow snipers to operate from his roof. Government denials seemed plausible, as the barrio concerned has numerous barricades controlled by the opposition. On the other hand, a surviving family member backs up the opposition version. The truth is difficult to ascertain, and if proof emerges, it is unlikely to dispel the media verdicts about who the real culprits were.’

Of course, as I live in Masaya, a city which at the time was cut off from the rest of Nicaragua by opposition roadblocks, I could not personally visit Managua.  Had I done so, I would have quickly seen that the consensus view of who caused the fire was unlikely to be correct, because for weeks the Carlos Marx barrio had been sealed off by roadblocks manned by armed protesters. A video posted on Facebook, allegedly showing police trucks in the barrio, was later shown to have been made almost two months earlier.

There were other obvious questions about the incident. For example, how was it that the CENIDH representatives (well known to be anti-government) were on the scene so quickly? Why would police or government supporters suddenly start setting houses on fire, when it was the opposition that had recently burned down a local government office in the same barrio? Why did no one investigate explicit social media threats which had been made against the family by protesters – including one made only 38 hours before the fire was started? Or the fact that four members of the M-19 (an armed opposition group) were on the scene later the same day, to record a video (now erased) where they accuse the government of “state terrorism” and admit they controlled the roadblocks in the area? Their message says: “We are not going to remove the roadblocks, they are in our hands and those of the people, and we will not take them off. I want you to know: if the people do not unite, it will end up in new massacres like this one.”

My assertion that any doubts about who caused the fire would be unlikely to dispel the media verdicts, was proved correct. The simple reason was that neither local nor international media were interested in addressing these questions, as was soon demonstrated by coverage in the UK by The Guardian. The newspaper had already published 13 news stories about the violence in Nicaragua by early July, its Latin American correspondent had visited the country in June and I had told him about the opposition’s arson attacks. By the time The Guardian’s freelance reporters Carl David Goette-Luciak and Caroline Houck covered the story on July 5, some of the facts about the fire had begun to emerge. Even so, rather than questioning the consensus narrative, they reinforced it.

By the time The Guardian story appeared, police had succeeded in reaching the crime scene. But it was not until December 19 that the police were able to arrest two suspects and identify four others (local media quickly labelled those arrested as “political prisoners”). Why did it take so long to identify the arsonists? Apart from the difficulty the police had in entering the barrio, there were other obstacles. The roadblocks made it very easy for the masked attackers to slip away undetected, and local people were frightened to denounce them even if they knew who they were. Soon after escaping the fire, the surviving family members were surrounded by protesters and opposition journalists demanding that they denounce the police, which some of them did. These family members were then quickly taken into hiding by CENIDH, the “human rights” group, in a way which one of the family later described as being kidnapped. They were prevented from making phone calls “for their own safety”, and of course were unavailable for police interviews.

In January, independent journalists Dick and Miriam Emanuelsson started to ask the questions that the international media had ignored. They found that, six months after the fire, local people in the Carlos Marx barrio were more willing to talk. They also interviewed a police official responsible for the investigation. Their report casts further light on events. First, it is now clear that there were around 30 roadblocks preventing movement into or around the barrio. Second, local people confirmed that the armed groups controlling the roadblocks determined who could pass through. Third, in lengthy interviews, the surviving family members (one a 14 year-old girl with horrendous burns) described how they were threatened by the protesters, before and after the fire. They said that they were scared by them into denouncing the police and were whisked away while injured and in severe shock, and later offered visas by CENIDH to leave the country. Fourth, the police explain the evidence they were able to assemble and how they did it, including testimony from protesters who knew who had carried out the attack. Some of the evidence and interviews are now available in English, one year after the fire, in a short documentary that is part of a series produced by local film producers Juventud Presidente.

If the treatment by the international media of the Carlos Marx house fire were exceptional, it might not be so important that they overlooked basic facts in this case. But sadly this pattern was repeated in coverage of most of the worst incidents in last year’s violence in Nicaragua, including the murder of the journalist Ángel Gahona while he was broadcasting live in Bluefields (also covered by Goette-Luciak for The Guardian), and the murder of four police officers and a teacher in an armed attack in the small town of Morrito. Hardly an incident occurred in which the main international media, including ones like The Guardian who take pride in their independent journalism, based their reports on opposition accusations that crimes were committed by government supporters, when in fact the culprits were armed protesters.

The same freelance reporters, Goette-Luciak and Houck, had earlier reported from Masaya for the Washington Post, where they also minimized opposition violence. They went on to produce a similarly unbalanced story for The Guardian on September 7, about an opposition-led strike. It was strongly criticised for its bias by former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Camilo Mejia. Later, in a surprising twist, Goette-Luciak was exposed by journalist Max Blumenthal as being far from politically neutral: he was actively working with anti-Ortega opposition groups. Blumenthal was in turn denounced by The Guardian, but they then failed to respond to a complaint sent to the newspaper by a friend of Goette-Luciak who had been directly involved in his anti-government activities, and who was able to substantiate Blumenthal’s arguments.

The terrible incident in the Carlos Marx barrio is one example of Nicaragua’s treatment by the international media since the protests took place last year. Instead of asking what is really happening in the country, the international press has eagerly promoted Washington’s preferred narrative about Nicaragua. As the writer Nick Davies put it in his book Flat Earth News, it’s not journalism’s job to report that people say it’s raining, it’s journalism’s job to look out of the window. In a country like Nicaragua, if the international media send reporters who simply repeat what they’re told by one side, then they’re serving that side’s interests. When their reports bolster the arguments of a Trump administration looking to impose its neoliberal model on the whole of Latin America, they become far more than an attack on Daniel Ortega’s government: they are an attack on the majority of Nicaraguans who now want a return to peace and economic stability.

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

World Bank Says Nicaragua has the Best Execution of Projects
A World Bank mission that is in Nicaragua evaluating the progress of road infrastructure projects, has recognized that “Nicaragua has executed the best World Bank project portfolio”. Projects such as the extension of electricity coverage, hospital services and infrastructure as well as roads are part of the current Portfolio that has contributed to the reduction of poverty and improvement of international competitiveness of the country. During this visit, new projects to be financed in the coming years will be identified. (Nicaragua News, 8/12/19)

Nicaragua’s Economy Recuperating
At about a year since the coup attempt was overcome, FSLN National Assembly Deputy José Figueroa describes how the economy is being reactivated. “We have been successfully executing a public investment program, like construction of highways, strengthening of the family and community health model, and a strategy of 43 health projects. We are also executing a portfolio of 99 projects in education and we will end 2019 with 97% national electricity coverage. We have expanded water coverage to 92.5% in urban areas, and legal land titles were provided to 138,000 families,” he said.

Figueroa stressed that these achievements facilitate the reduction of poverty and he noted that a tax reform has been implemented with more than US$134 million to ensure the 2019 – 2020 Budget. “In 2019, a Public Investment Program is being carried out with US$47.7 million provided by the international community. Tourism is gradually recovering; 80% of tourism enterprises generate employment, progress and well-being for families,” he said.

He urged Nicaraguans to make their contributions to move the country forward and not to forget “which sectors were responsible for the loss of 5.2% growth in 2018.”

In the first half of this year exports of Nicaraguan products to Taiwan were US$53.4 million, and will reach US$100 million by December. The Taiwanese Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce and the Export Processing Center, CETREX, reported that between January and June of 2019 US$ 19.5 million more was traded than in 2018, which translates into a growth of 57.4 percent. According to official figures, meat, coffee, lobster, shrimp, peanuts and sugar are the most valued and sought after for their excellent quality by the market in Taiwan. That jump in exports makes Taiwan one of Nicaragua’s top five export nations. (Informe Pastran, Radiolaprimerisima, 8/7/19)

Multi-million Dollar Investment in Wind Energy by Amayo (phase III)
The Amayo Consortium will invest US$100 million dollars in the third phase of a wind-energy project in the department of Rivas with a capacity to generate 37.8 MW of energy.  Inkia Energy of the US and Centrans of Guatemala form part of the group. (Radiolaprimerisima, 8/7/19)

Railway linking Central America and Mexico Will Be Promoted
The Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) announced that, with the support of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), a regional Railway Project linking the main cities of Central America will be promoted. The railway project was presented by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) as one of the main projects for the Regional Integral Development Plan. CABEI President Dante Mossi said the Bank “looks forward to the implementation of regional projects as an ideal vehicle for the economic and social development of member countries.”  (Nicaragua News, 8/12/19)

Integral Attention for Victims of the Attempted Coup
The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, Corina Centeno, explained on Monday that they are making progress with the implementation of the Law on Comprehensive Care for Victims of the Attempted Coup. Since the implementation of Law 994 began, 768 families, victims of the violence that occurred in 2018, have received mental health care as well as other kinds of medical care.

“527 people with some kind of illness were seen at home and 146 people had to be referred to the health units. We are talking about 768 families plus the 397 injured police officers who also received attention. We are also talking about the 199 victims, which also includes the 22 families of the police officers who died,” said the Human Rights Ombudsman.

“Also found were 192 people who depended on the deceased economically, 918 orphans and 389 adults. Next week the work will be to visit families who suffered damage to their private property as a result of the coup violence”. (TN8, 8/12/19)

Reconciliation, Justice and Peace Commissions May Become part of the World Peace Council
The Reconciliation, Justice and Peace Commissions have begun a process to be elevated to the World Peace Council as a Nicaragua chapter. The World Peace Council is a worldwide mass movement that seeks to create and strengthen a secure and just peace for the peoples of the world.

Nicaragua currently has some 6,400 Reconciliation, Justice and Peace Commissions made up of community and religious leaders, state institutions and civilians of good will committed to the well-being of the country. (19Digital, 8/11/19)

Matagalpa remembers Lenin Mendiola on the First Anniversary of his Assassination
On the one year anniversary of the murder of Sandinista Lenin Mendiola on August 11, family and friends paid tribute to him by taking flowers to his tomb. Four men shot him in Matagalpa during a march that was arranged as a cover for his murder. Mendiola, is the son of well-known and much-loved Sandinistas, Bernardino Diaz Ochoa and Benigna Mendiola, historic peasant and union leaders, both tortured and imprisoned by the Somoza National Guard. The visit to the Municipal Cemetery was led by his mother, Benigna Mendiola. There was also a church service and commemorative activities at the “Heroes and Martyrs” Cultural Center in Matagalpa. (el19Digistal, 8/12/19)

Nicaragua Honored to Host Regional Conference of the FAO
On August 8 the Nicaragua Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) announced that Nicaragua will host the 36th Regional Conference of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Conference will be held from April 27 to 29, 2020, and the purpose is to evaluate results, as well as identify FAO priorities and goals in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thirty-three countries are expected to participate, as well as representatives of civil society and other observer nations. (Nicaragua News, 8/9/19)

With New Road Connecting Bluefields to the Pacific the Cost of Living has Gone Down
The new road to Bluefields has been an extraordinary benefit for the Atlantic Coast communities, because the cost of living does not hit them as before, artisan Roberto Clemente Nigth told La Primerísima. “As an example, previously a banana cost up to 12 córdobas and currently sells for 4 córdobas; and peasants from the communities of San Pancho, El Limón and El Chacalín come to the city to offer their products to fairs at low costs”.

He indicated that with the new road you can find many things that before you did not find easily, such as basic grains, because to get them you had to wait until they arrived by boat from El Rama, now everything comes more quickly by road. The cost of transportation also decreased, saving money and time. He noted, “Before I had to leave Bluefields early in the morning by boat to El Rama then by bus to Managua. Now buses leave every half hour.” (Radiolaprimerisima, 8/9/19)

More Assistance for Exports from Micro, Small and Medium-Size Businesses
The Association of Producers and Exporters (APEN) is supporting 6,177 families in the agricultural sector and 822 artisans from the departments of Matagalpa, Jinotega, Masaya and Carazo to export their products to international markets. The micro, small and medium-size agricultural and artisan companies have 47% leadership of women in economic activities and are being trained in the improvement of product quality, including redesigning their packaging to comply with requirements and expectations of international markets. (Nicaragua News, 8/9/19)

More Homes for Low-income Families
50,000 homes will be built by the Nicaraguan government in conjunction with the country’s mayors within the next five years, as part of the Bismarck Martinez housing program, Vice President Rosario Murillo announced on August 9. The structures will be of concrete blocks with a constructed area of 582 square feet, on lots of 1350 to 1620 square feet. The homes will have water and electricity.

The developments will have all the optimal conditions and public services such as asphalted streets, storm drainage, schools, health centers, parks and police stations. This investment fund will be for low-income families who cannot access credit and self-employed workers. The payments are less than $40 per month over 25 years. 1,000 homes are being built in 2019, 3,000 in 2020 and more than 10,000 in 2021. (Canal 2, 8/9/19)

More Nicaraguans Benefit from Operation Miracle
The number of Nicaraguans who benefited from free eye operations in the first half of 2019 exceeds by 14 percent those served in the same period of 2018, according to an August 8 report from the Ministry of Health. The difference lies in the fact that from April to July 2018 Nicaragua experienced violence associated with an attempted coup d’état, characterized, among other elements, by roadblocks on public roads to impede the free movement of vehicles and people, including for health reasons. According to MINSA’s balance sheet, at the end of 2018 13,300 Nicaraguans recovered their vision as a result of Operation Miracle, and by the end of 2019, 15,000 people are expected to benefit from the planned surgeries.

Operation Miracle was conceived and promoted by the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, for the treatment of ophthalmological diseases for those without resources. The program began in Nicaragua in 2007 with the arrival of Cuban doctors who by the end of 2012 had treated 95,000 patients. At the same time the doctors trained Nicaraguan specialists, and Operation Miracle is now run by Nicaraguans. (Radiolaprimerisima, 8/8/19)

Spanish Police Arrest Nicaraguan Trafficking Ring
The seven members of a human trafficking ring arrested by Spanish police for human trafficking are an extended Nicaraguan family whose other family members in Nicaragua would recruit young, humble, unsuspecting women to be trafficked. They would help the women get visas and give them a thousand dollars. But on arrival in Spain everything would be taken away and the women told they were now in debt to the tune of nearly 6,000 euros. The women were employed in elder care and had to give the gang 85% of what they earned. It is thought that since 2016 the gang trafficked fifty women and earned about 750,000 euros. They operated in the Spanish cities of Madrid, Rioja and Huesca.  The four women and three men face charges of human trafficking for labor exploitation, money-laundering and belonging to a criminal organization. (Radiolaprimerisima, 8/8/19)

LACSN ANNUAL CONVENTION – CONVENCION ANUAL 2019

Call to Assembly – Convocatoria

Apreciables miembrxs, amigxs y aliadxs de LACSN:

Dear members, friends and allies of LACSN:

Estamos por cerrar otro año de actividades en el campo de la solidaridad para con nuestros pueblos de Abya Yala y de otras latitudes.

We are about to close another year of solidarity activities with our people from Abya Yala and friends from other latitudes.

El trabajo voluntario en el campo de la solidaridad que hemos realizado por 11 años sigue siendo necesario, razón por la cual les invitamos a participar activamente en nuestra proxima Asamblea General Anual, el dia Domingo 22 de Septiembre a partir de las 10:00 am. El lugar sera anunciado pronto.

The voluntary solidarity work we have done for 11 years, is still a necessity; this is the main reason for sending out an open invitation for you to actively participate in our next Annual General Assembly, Sunday, September 22nd at 10:00 am. Place to be announced.

Su participación es importante, tanto en el Comité Coordinador, como integrante en alguna Comisión de trabajo. LACSN necesita el impulso de todxs para cumplir la labor que hasta ahora ha venido realizando y mas aùn, actualizarla a las necesidades presentes.

Your participation is important, either working closely with the Coordinating Committee and/or as member of a Work Commission. LACSN needs the strength of all to continue with the work that has been doing so far as well as to raise up to the challenge of more current needs.

Hoy, necesitamos el poder de un movimiento de solidaridad que esté unido contra la crisis humanitaria que estamos enfrentando tanto en el Norte como en el Sur de este continente. ¡Somos más poderosos cuando estamos unidos!

Today, we need the power of a solidarity movement that is united against the humanitarian crisis we are facing at both North and South of this continent. ¡We are most powerful when we are united together!

Gracias por su interés y por favor dirija sus inquietudes o solicitudes a nuestro correo:

Thanks for your interest and please direct your concerns or requests to our email:

lacsncanada@gmail.com

Atentamente, El Comité Coordinador

Sincerely, The Coordinating Committee 

 

Reference Materials:

CA Guidelines 2019

LACSN STATUTES_2016_2017

 

Photo Gallery: A Walk for Life and Peace in Colombia

Friday, July 26th, 2019 – 6:00-9:00 pm

VIDEO

 

 

Read Info background here!

Thanks to all our friends for sharing your pics!

 

 

Profesor Moncayo, El Caminante por la Paz, starts his early walk from Mississauga to Toronto (25.3 Km)

 

 

Starting at Matt Cohen Park (Bloor & Spadina)  and Chrystia Freeland Office (344 Bloor St W.)

 

Walking towards Yonge Dundas Square and Toronto City Hall-Nathan Phillips Square

 

 

Night at Trinity Bellwoods Park – Simón Bolívar Bust (Shaw & Dundas)

 

 

MARCHES IN COLOMBIA

 

A Walk for Life and Peace in Colombia: International Mobilization Day

Friday, July 26th, 2019 – 6:00-9:00 pm

 

Read our message to PM Justin Trudeau and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland at the end of this page!

 

Visit our Photo Gallery

 

FRIDAY‘s TEMPERATURE: 31°

We would like to advise you of putting on sensible clothes and shoes -practical and suitable for the walk- If possible wear a white top, the international colour for Peace.  Finally, please bring your own thermo or water bottle, we will provide refilling stations.

 

Info, Map, Route and other details below…

Free shirts for everyone partaking in the walk. Let us know your size!

(English text below)

 

Mobilization called by Movimiento Defendamos la Paz” (Colombia)

 

Convocan a movilización nacional en defensa de los líderes sociales

Marcha nacional por el asesinato de líderes sociales

“Nos siguen matando y a nadie le importa”: mensaje de tres lideresas sociales

 

 

La violencia contra los líderes sociales y comunitarios, muchos de ellos afrocolombianos e indígenas, se ha incrementado dramáticamente desde la firma de los Acuerdos de Paz en el 2016. Cada tres días un líder social es asesinado en Colombia. Más de 700 activistas sociales y miembros de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército Popular (FARC) han sido asesinados desde que se firmó el Acuerdo de Paz. El Defensor del Pueblo de Colombia ha dicho que casi la mitad de las amenazas y otras formas de intimidación cometidas contra activistas sociales estaban dirigidas a las mujeres.

Grupos de la sociedad civil en Toronto emprenderán una Caminata de cinco kilómetros por Vida y Paz en Colombia como parte del Día Internacional de Movilización y Solidaridad que busca llamar la atención sobre el alarmante número de asesinatos y amenazas a los líderes sociales y de derechos humanos en Colombia. LaCaminata por la Vida y la Paz en Colombia tendrá lugar el dia sábado 26 de julio de 2019 a las 6:00 pm, comenzando en el Matt Cohen Park en Toronto. La ruta incluye importantes puntos de convergencia, como la oficina de Christia Freeland (Bloor y Spadina) y el busto de Simón Bolívar (Trinity Bellwoods Park).

El histórico Acuerdo de Paz entre el gobierno de Colombia y las FARC, que fuera aplaudido por la comunidad internacional y por sectores de la sociedad colombiana, se encuentra hoy gravemente amenazado, ya que enfrenta grandes desafíos de legitimidad política e implementación. El gobierno Colombiano de Iván Duque ha intentado sistemáticamente socavar el acuerdo al no avanzar rápidamente la reintegración de los excombatientes a la vida civil y la desmantelación de los grupos armados paramilitares. Duque ha incumplido el compromiso de su gobierno de atender las necesidades de la población rural en relación con la tierra, lo que ha provocado una escalada violenta en la cual líderes comunitarios locales están siendo amenazados y asesinados.

Los organizadores de la Caminata piden al gobierno de Canadá que actúe de inmediato y presione al gobierno Colombiano para que se abstenga de criminalizar a los activistas sociales y garantice la protección de la vida y los derechos humanos de todos los líderes sociales en Colombia, algunos de los cuales están expuestos a violencia relacionada con megaproyectos extractivos Canadienses. En el 2018, el comercio bilateral total de mercancías entre los dos países alcanzó los $ 2,04 mil millones, aumentando en un 18,2% desde 2017. Canadá debe garantizar que sus intereses económicos no se impongan sobre los derechos humanos, laborales y sociales ni su capacidad para monitorear de manera efectiva la implementación de un proceso de paz sostenible.

La Caminata por la vida y la Paz será liderada por El Profesor Moncayo, conocido como El Caminante por la Paz, quien el 17 de junio de 2007 inicio una marcha a pie, por la liberación de su hijo, desde Sandoná, Nariño hasta Bogotá, en un recorrido de más de 1.000 kilómetros. Sus caminatas llevadas a cabo tanto en Colombia como en otras parte del mundo siempre las ha realizado en pro de los derechos humanos y la paz, y han continuado, incluso después de la liberación de Su hijo Pablo Emilio Moncayo, el 30 de marzo de 2010.

 

READING MATERIAL:

The Star:

Colombian-Canadians rally for peace amid rising violence back home

 

ENGLISH TEXT:

Violence against social leaders, many of them Afro-Colombian and indigenous has increased dramatically since the signing of the peace accords in 2016.  Every three days a social leader is murdered in Colombia. More than 700 social activists and members of The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC) have been murdered since the peace agreement was signed. Colombia’s Ombudsman has said that almost half of threats and other forms of intimidation committed against social activists were targeted at women.

Civil society groups in Toronto will undertake a five kilometre Walk for Life and Peace in Colombia as part of an International Day of Mobilization and Solidarity to draw attention to the alarming numbers of assassinations and threats to social and human rights leaders in Colombia. The walk will take place on July 26th, 2019 at 6:00pm, starting at the Matt Cohen Park. The route includes important points of convergence such as Christia Freeland office and the statue of Simón Bolívar.

The historic peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the FARC which was applauded by the international community and sectors of Colombian society is under serious threat today – encountering mayor challenges with political legitimacy and implementation. The Colombian government of Iván Duque has systematically attempted to undermine agreement and failed to move quickly and reintegrate ex-combatants into civilian life, and dismantle paramilitary armed groups. It has reneged on its commitments to address the needs of the rural population for land, all this is leading to an escalation of violence in which local community leaders are being threatened and killed.

The organizers are calling on the government of Canada to act immediately and pressure the Colombian Government to refrain from further criminalizing social activists and to ensure the protection of life and the human rights of all social leaders in Colombia, some of which are exposed to violence related to Canadian extractive mega projects. In 2018, total bilateral merchandise trade between the two countries reached $2.04 billion, increasing by 18.2 percent from 2017. Canada must ensure its economic interests do not prevail over human, labour and social rights, and its ability to effectively monitor the implementation of a sustainable peace process.

The Walk for Life and Peace will be led by El Profesor Moncayo, known as El Caminante por la Paz, who on June 17, 2007 started a march on foot, for the liberation of his son, from Sandoná, Nariño to Bogotá, in a route of more than 1,000 kilometers. His walks carried out as much as in Colombia as in other parts of the world have always done for the sake of human rights and peace, and have continued, even after the release of His son Pablo Emilio Moncayo on March 30, 2010.

 

Details of the Mobilization in Toronto

Primer punto de encuentroFirst meeting point:

Matt Cohen Park (Bloor & Spadina)  6:00 – 6:20 p.m.

Christia Freeland Office (344 Bloor St W.)  6:25 – 6:35 p.m.

Segundo punto de encuentro – Second meeting point:

Yonge Dundas Square 7:25 – 7:35 p.m.

Tercer punto de encuentroThird meeting point:

City Hall. Nathan Phillips Square 7:55 – 8:10 p.m.

Cuarto punto de encuentroFourth meeting point:

Trinity Bellwoods Park – Simón Bolívar Bust (244 Shaw St. – Dundas)  9:00 p.m.

We will end with a social gathering at the  park!

 

Join us for a full walk or just a couple of meeting points:

Program and music planned are different for each meeting point!

 

 

Enjoy us in a Fun-creative Day to design the visuals materials needed for the Walk by sending a message to:  colombiactionsolidarity@gmail.com

This Walk is being organized by:

CASA – Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance,

LACSN – Latin American & Caribbean Solidarity Network,

Common Frontiers,

Colombia Working Group

 

Letter to PM Justin Trudeau_July 26 2019

WOLA: Colombian social leaders remain at risk, July 26 Colombians will mobilize for peace and their protection

Since WOLA’s last update on June 21, the killing of social leaders in Colombia has not relented. We usually include a count of how many more cases we have recorded, but there are numerous varying figures and no official or definitive one. Although most tallies range from 479 to 702 social leaders killed since 2016, the Duque administration has cherry picked the lowest of the bunch (289), contradicting the count of its own Human Rights Ombudsman.

 

While this number is taken from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, it carries a significant caveat. The OHCHR has the most rigorous process to determine if a victim was a social leader, only reporting their murder after lengthy verification. Therefore, this is not a total number, but only those victims who they have ascertained were social leaders killed because of their leadership actions. Using this as the total number is a manipulation of data, ignoring the back-log of cases the UN has not yet investigated. The OHCHR has explicitly stated this in their annual report, reporting a back-log of 76 cases just this year.

 

From this disingenuous base line, the Duque administration has boasted a 35% reduction in the murder of social leaders during his first eleven months in office (68 from August 2018 to July 2019) when compared to the same period of time a year prior during the Santos government (105 from August 2017 to July 2018). Aside from the fact that these 68 cases do not represent the total number in this timeframe which has a higher number of pending cases since it is more recent, this analysis completely ignores political context. The peaks in the number of social leader murdered, many of which are political actors, concentrate in the months surrounding elections, making elections a significant confounding variable in this analysis. In the August 2017 to July 2018 time frame, there were congressional elections in March, and first and second round presidential elections in May and June respectably. There were no elections during the first eleven months of Duque’s presidency. Therefore, not only is the general decrease of murders debatable at best, but attributing it to government action is purposely misleading.

 

The reality is that areas of historically high conflict are backsliding into violence while the social leaders mending war-torn communities and implementing the peace accords are bearing the brunt of it. On July 26, WOLA will march along with thousands of Colombians in 29 Colombian cities Connecticut and Q St. and 28 cities around the world in defense of peace and protection for social leaders. U.S. groups have released a statement in solidarity with this March that can be found here. We encourage you to join us this Friday, July 26 at 5:30 p.m. outside the Dupont Circle Metro Exit and to express your support on social media with the hashtags  #MarchemosPorLosLideres and #DefendamosLaPaz.

Please continue to urge the Duque administration and U.S. policymakers to head our call to protect these leaders. Below is a list of the incidents that have occurred since our last update:

 

Afro-Colombian Social Leader Murdered In Front of Young Son (Córdoba)

María del Pilar Hurtado was murdered in front of her nine year-old son in the municipality of Tierralta on June 21. El Colombiano reports that the paramilitary group Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas, AGC) had distributed pamphlets threatening her along with other women activists from the community, some of whom had to flee the region shortly after. María was displaced from her native Cauca three years ago for denouncing paramilitary “chop houses” (houses where paramilitaries cut people into pieces) in Puerto Tejada. María’s nine year-old son witnessed the murder and broke down over his mother’s body in a heart-wrenching video. The video went viral on Colombian social networks, triggering national outrage towards the inaction of the Duque government on the prevention and investigation of the more than 54 social leaders killed just this year.

 

Land Rights Lawyer and Social Leader Murdered (Santander)

On July 20, Yamile Guerra attended what she though was a meeting to discuss the usurpation of her family’s disputed land only to be ambushed and shot by two men. The accomplished lawyer defended the Santurban moorland and served as Secretary General of the Bogota Ombudsman. Yamile was litigating efforts to recover land violently taken from her father in Zapamanga, Bucaramanga. Her fearless battle to recover her family’s land is suspected to be the motivation behind her assassination, as indicated by El Tiempo.

 

Indigenous Leader Murdered During a Party in His Honor (Cauca)

Contagio Radio reported the murder of Carlos Biscué on June 23. Carlos was an indigenous leader in the Huellas Indigenous Reservations in Caloto. He was an agricultural producer and community organizer. Several armed men arrived at his village where a party was taking place in his honor and shot him. According to HRD Memorial (Human Right Defenders Memorial) a paramilitary group is presumed to be responsible for the attack.

 

Community Action Board President Murdered (Huila)

Humberto Diaz was murdered in his home on July 20 in Gigante, Huila. The president of the Guadalupe village Community Action Board was the victim of extortion along with the rest of the Board. The group had no means to pay the armed actors and this crime is feared to be an act of reprisal according to Noticias RCN.

 

Illicit-Use Crop Substitution Leader Tortured and Killed (Valle del Cauca)

Manuel Gregorio González was missing for 24 hours before being found dead with clear signs of torture. He was leading efforts to implement the peace accord’s illicit crop substitution plan. It appears that he was killed by one of the three paramilitary groups that are battling for control of cocaine production sites in the Valle region. Noticias RCN reported his death on June 28.

 

Social Leader Murdered in El Copey (Cesar)

Tatiana Paola Posso Espitia was murdered by armed men when leaving her home to go to work on July 3. Taxi driver, Wilson Antonio Ortega Palomino, was also wounded in the attack. According to El Espectador, the perpetrators were two unidentified men on motorcycles. Tatiana received 3 bullet wounds while Ortega, received four. The social leader was an aspiring member of the Community Council and dedicated her life to the defense of human rights in her neighborhood. Her death was denounced by the National Network for Peace and Democracy (Red Nacional en Democracia y Paz) who called out the lack of action from the Colombian government to protect the lives of social leaders.

 

Victims Leader Shot Dead (Valle del Cauca)

José Arled Muñoz formed part of the Victims Table of Valle del Cauca since 2017, an entity designed to incorporate victims’ perspective on peace accord implementation. José was shopping in broad daylight when he was shot and killed by an unidentified man.

 

Murder of Young Afro-Colombian Displaces 74 families (Valle del Cauca)

On June 1st, Juan David Vivas Ramirez was murdered in Buenaventura. His death was the result of confrontation between different paramilitary groups that exercise control in the Lleras neighborhood. CONPAZ reports he was killed by a stray bullet. On June 2, confrontation between the groups escalated into a shootout, causing 74 families to flee Lleras for safer neighborhoods. More families are expected to leave. If they are not able to move, they will remain confined in their homes.

 

State Forces Persecute, Criminalize, and Stigmatize Social Leaders (Bolivar)

The Peoples’ Congress (Congreso de los Pueblos) denounced the ongoing persecution of their leaders and members. On July 15 at 2:00 a.m. military and police forces terrorized the community of La Plaza by kicking in doors, using tear gas, firing shots in the air, and beating men and women arbitrarily. Among the victims was the president of the La Plaza Community Action Board, who was pregnant and severely beaten. Nine people were captured during the raid, all deemed as judicial “false positives” by the Congress of the Peoples. Members of the group have been falsely accused of being ELN members for sympathizing with leftist ideals and organizing protests across the country.

 

Paramilitaries Occupy and Terrorize San Jose de Apartado Peace Community (Antioquia)

Since May 2019, the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado has reported the arrival of paramilitary groups into their territory claiming they plan to stay. Reports indicate they coexist with police and the military, holding meetings and throwing parties in the military base of San Jose.  In the village of La Union, paramilitary alias ‘Ramiro’ threatened his step-father, forcing him to leave the area. The community also reported the following other incidents:

 

-On June 25, there were reports of a suspected murder, later concealed as further information was withheld.

-On June 29, paramilitary alias ‘Rene’ held a party, in which he threatened multiple villagers there present, including a family which was later displaced. Military and police were both present at the party and stood there in silence.

-On July 2nd, paramilitary Elkin Ortiz and his son damaged various agricultural products produced by farmers on the Roncona farm, which legally belongs to the Peace Community. Witnesses tried to take pictures and video but were later threatened by Ortiz. The same sort of incident happened at the beginning of the year. The Peace Community notes that Mr. Ortiz has made consistent use of children and integrated them in the paramilitary practices.

-On July 7th, Yeminson Borja Jaramillo was murdered by paramilitaries. He had resisted recruitment, suffering a common fate that anyone resisting oppression by these illegal armed groups faces.

-On July 8th, the community of Peace was commemorating the events of July 8th, 2000, where 6 of their leaders were murdered by Paramilitaries and the Colombian military in the village of La Union. As the group was walking back towards San Jose, they received threats from Elkin Ortiz, promising to “fill their heads with lead.”

 

Human Rights Defender Threatened and Harassed (Putumayo)

On June 26, Carlos Fernández, of the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) received threats via text message in Puerto Asís. The Commission reports that Fernández was also the object of previous intimidations and harassment because of his work in human, environmental and territorial rights for the Indigenous Nasa people. In WOLA’s past urgent action, we reported an incident in which the military had threatened Carlos and his state-issued bodyguard for carrying his standard issue weapon, stating that they had orders to shoot anyone who was armed. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has required more protection for Carlos Fernandez.

 

Afro-Colombian Human Rights Defender and Family Surveilled (Valle del Cauca)

Amnesty International put out an urgent action calling attention to the threats made against Danelly Estupiñan, a member of the Black Community Process (Proceso Comunidades Negras) organization working in Buenaventura. During the week of June 27, Danelly and her family experienced increased surveillance from unknown individuals. Whereas before the men would only linger outside her home, Danelly is now being watched everywhere she goes all day at all times. The men have taken pictures of her and her family. The Public Prosecutor’s office should launch an investigation and Colombian authorities guarantee her and other members of PCN’s protection.

 

CIJP Experiences a Rise in Threats (Antioquia)

CIJP has noted a rise in threats and increased surveillance. On July 4, members of the CIJP were followed as they were headed to Mutatá. Reports state that the Aguilas Negras (AGC) have installed a checkpoint on the road between Chontadural and Pavarando, where they constantly threaten drivers, including members of the Commission. After crossing the checkpoints, CIJP members are tailed. On three separate occasions, National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Proteccion, UNP) security details were followed and harassed by members of the AGC.

 

Displaced Indigenous Community Living in Precarious Conditions (Chocó)

The Pichima Quebrada community was first displaced in 2016. Shortly after, they were allowed to return to their land, a respite that would not last. On June 2, they were once again displaced by fighting between the ELN and the AGC. The 417 people, of whom 186 are children, live in precarious conditions with no running water, electricity, and little food. They fear the loss of their culture and traditions, closely tethered to their ancestral land, now used as a base for the Colombian Navy.

 

Families Threatened by Local Government Seeking to Displace Them (Chocó)

On June 25, Heber Rentería and Luis Emilio Mena, President and Prosecutor of the Community Council of Curvaradó, threatened Jesús María Hoyos and members of the CIJP. Rentería and Mena were intimidating Hoyos to abandon his land or face the consequences. The threats took place after a report was published by the CIJP denouncing the efforts made by the community council to engage in deforestation and dispossession of lands belonging to the Hoyos Family. According to Hoyos during the incident, certain paramilitary groups have expressed their discontent with the report and the fact that it was made public. These threats follow series of efforts by a member of the Community Council of Curvaradó in collusion with illegal armed actors to get rightful owners of these territories to abandon their lands so that large scale agribusinesses can develop in the area.

 

Extension of Natural Park Causes Forced Displacement (Guaviare)

The National Army is forcibly displacing people living in the Chiribiquete National Natural Park (Parque Nacional Natural, PNN). According to Contagio Radio, army personnel destroyed the work tools of two families and burned their houses down. The group of inhabitants was forced to leave under the pretext that they were living on an area where the National Park would be extending. The Prosecutor’s Office and the local authorities have not yet addressed the situation. The government is expected to relocate these people who were forced to sign documents prohibiting their return to their land.

 

Paramilitary Incursion in Humanitarian Space Worries Peace Network (Valle del Cauca)

The network Communities Building Peace in the Territory (CONPAZ) reported that four alleged paramilitaries entered the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space on June 19. The space was created to implement community building initiatives in an urban context free of armed actors since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary protection measures to 302 families who live there. The four paramilitaries stationed themselves by the houses of social leaders Yampier Valencia, Orlando Castillo and Nora Isabel Castillo, all part of CONPAZ’s victims network.

 

Scholars Demand the Duque Government Halts the “Systemic Bloodshed” of Social Leaders

On May 21st, more than 260 academics and scholars sent a letter to Duque calling out his administration on the lack of action towards the rising levels of attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders. Academics from 13 countries point out it is “worrying that it was only when an attempt was made on the life of Francia Marquez , an Afro-Colombian leader known internationally since she was the winner of the 2018 Goldman Environmental prize, who was with other well-known leaders at the time, that you chose to make a public pronouncement.” The letter also underlined the harmful impact of the extractive industry in Colombia, specifically calling out their role in the displacement crisis: “we have noted that nefarious links have developed between legal and illegal forces in order to expel the local population from their territories.” They go on to express frustration with the state’s silence in the face of attacks on minorities and vulnerable groups but also the will of the Colombian government to immediately repress any form of protest or grassroots organization. The authors of the letter have called for investigation to identify the intellectual perpetrators of the various attacks on human rights defenders. They’ve also called on the international community to react, specifically asking Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to create a Verification Commission meant to monitor and provide accurate information on these issues.

 

Environmental Organizations Resist Stigmatization (Antioquia – Santander)

A coalition of environmental rights organizations known as Defenders of Nature and Defenders of Human Rights in the towns of Barrancabermeja and Magdalena Medio are denouncing the continuing stigmatization of their work. They have been branded as “environmental terrorist” by those who oppose environmental conservation. Underlining the collaboration between social organizations and researchers to advocate for the right to clean water, they resist this label. The coalition has worked to produce technical and documented evidence to support their claims that water conditions in Ciénaga San Silvestre are extremely poor. This was done as collaboration between the organization and the Secretary for the Environment in Barrancabermeja. In turn this led to their push to get legal action started for retribution for those responsible for the degradation of water conditions in this area.  Stigmatization of social leaders makes them more vulnerable to attacks and impedes them from carrying out their work.

 

For further information please contact gsanchez@wola.org, jsudarsky@wola.org or call (202) 797-2171.

 

Sincerely,

Gimena Sanchez

Director for the Andes

 

July 25, 2019