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COVID-19: Social Leaders in Colombia Need Us More than Ever!

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Authors: Lisa Haugaard, Antonio Saadipour Sellés

As attention in Colombia focused on the spread of the pandemic, local farmer and human rights leader Marco Rivadeneira was gunned down by three armed men who entered a community meeting. Marco promoted peace and voluntary coca substitution efforts in his community and represented his region in the national network of human rights defenders. He was one of 23 local leaders killed during five weeks of Colombia’s pandemic lockdown.

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a human rights defender, and the promises of the historic 2016 peace accord remain unfulfilled. As we recoil in this country from sending military troops to quell protests over police brutality, the United States is sending military trainers to teach Colombian troops to use military force against poor farmers—exactly the wrong way to go.


What is Happening?

As of now, in 2020 alone, over 120 social leaders in Colombia have been assassinated.

The Duque Administration has slow-pedaled and undermined the historic 2016 peace agreement helping to end a war in which more than 260,000 people have been killed and over 8 million internally displaced. With the pandemic spreading, the Colombian government has redirected attention away from their choice not to fully implement the peace accords.

Join us in organizing members of Congress to sign a dear colleague letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo being circulated by Representatives James McGovern (D-MA-2) and Mark Pocan (D-WI-2). In it, they highlight the plight of social leaders in Colombia who, for the past almost four years, have not been provided the protection guaranteed to them in the peace agreement. They also lay out their demands, which include: protective measures for social leaders, thorough and transparent investigations of their murders, cracking down on paramilitaries and their drug trafficking networks, holding Colombian Army intelligence members accountable for illegal spying on journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians, and vigorously implementing the peace accords. The letter also calls for the United States to abide by the peace accords and work with communities to sustainably eradicate and replace coca, rather than returning to ineffective policies of aerial spraying and forced eradication. This is an especially important message as the United States is just now sending some 50 military trainers to advise the Colombian government on counternarcotics—undermining the very peace accords the United States supported. Read the full letter here.

But Representatives McGovern and Pocan need your help. And we know just how you can.


Here’s what you do:

This letter will only make a significant impact if it is backed by as many representatives in Congress as possible. So send a message or pick up the phone now!

Write!

  • Find out who your representative is here.
  • Visit their website.
  • Go to their “Contact” page.
  • Click on the “Email” option.
  • Fill out the contact information.
  • Paste our sample email into the appropriate box. See sample letter here.

Call!

  • After finding your representative, call their D.C. office.
  • If you don’t get an answer, leave a voicemail.
  • Here’s our sample script:
    • “My name is [First and Last Name] and I am a constituent from [City, State, Zip Code]. I am calling to urge Representative [Last Name] to sign on to the dear colleague letter currently being circulated by Representatives James McGovern and Mark Pocan. Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders. Since the signing of the historic peace accords in 2016, over 400 human rights defenders have been killed. Now, with this pandemic, armed groups are taking advantage of the situation to consolidate power and spread violence. The United States must urge the Colombian government to more effectively implement the peace accords, which would entail providing protections for social leaders, bringing their murderers to justice, dismantling paramilitaries’ criminal networks, and holding Colombian Army intelligence officials accountable for their illegal surveillance scandals. By signing on to this letter, you would be helping to build a lasting peace in Colombia. Thank you for considering this.”

It will only take two minutes of your time. Do it so that the people organizing for an entire country’s better future don’t have to worry about laying down their lives for the cause. 


Need some more background resources? Check out our COVID-19 pageAnd don’t forget to stay tuned for the next actions!