Though you would not know it from the utter silence of the mainstream press, Colombia continues to be plagued by right-wing paramilitary violence. As Justice for Colombia in the UK explains, over 100 social and political activists have been killed so far in 2017, and the paramilitaries are responsible for the lion’s share of these killings. The BBC recently explained that the murder of social, political and human rights activists is actually increasing in Colombia even as the overall murder rate in Colombia is decreasing, and despite the disarming of the left-wing FARC guerillas as part of the Colombian peace accords. Indeed, it is quite clear that the paramilitary groups are exploiting the very absence of the FARC guerillas to acquire territory and to violently wipe out peaceful social movements in Colombia. And, this is all according to plan.
Thus, the paramilitary death squads trace their roots back to the early 1960’s when U.S. General William P. Yarborough first conceived of them as an instrument to advance U.S. economic interests by violently destroying progressive social movements. The idea was that because the paramilitaries are not official military forces, the U.S. and its allies would have plausible deniability for their conduct. In other words, they would be a “hidden weapon . . . of hired killers” which carry out the dirty war which the regular troops “cannot do officially.”
The paramilitaries continue to serve these very same functions to the present day, and the Colombian and U.S. governments claim complete deniability for their atrocities by denying their very existence. As Telesur explained in a recent article:
Paramilitary groups in Colombia are typically linked to powerful oligarchs within Colombia as well as multinational companies seeking to secure economic interests in resource-rich Colombian land. Many of these armed right-wing civilian groups also stocked their arsenals thanks to Plan Colombia, a 1999 counterinsurgency initiative that saw the U.S. pour billions of dollars into the country for the purpose of further militarizing the region. The year 2016 witnessed the blossoming of such far-right paramilitary and narco-paramilitary groups, who extended their regional presence and visibility.
The Colombian government, however, has largely denied the existence of such armed groups, even when the groups post videos of themselves training in the rural countryside.
And, of course, the mainstream U.S. press is complicit in covering up the very existence of these paramilitary groups by giving them zero media coverage.
The results of all of this are devastating, especially for the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities who, as usual, bear the brunt of paramilitary violence. According to Amnesty International:
In some departments, including Chocó, Cauca, Antioquia and Norte de Santander, crimes under international law and human rights violations persist, including the murder of members of AfroColombian communities and Indigenous Peoples, collective forced displacements, confinement of communities in certain areas of the country, forced recruitment of children to serve in the armed groups, sexual violence, and the use of anti-personnel mines.
In terms of the forced displacements, the numbers in Colombia are staggering. Colombia has over 7.4 million internally displaced peoples (IDPs) — out of a total population of about 50 million — and, as the UN High Commission on Refugees notes, a disproportionate number of these are Afro-Colombians (10% of the IDPs) and Indigenous (3%). In the northern region of Colombia’s Chocó Department, which is largely Afro-Colombian, the paramilitaries now control 17 of the 23 communities there, and they rule over these communities by intimidating and restricting the movement of the residents and by threatening the lives of community leaders and human rights defenders.
The good news is that the people of Colombia are fighting back with an indefinite national strike which social, peasant and labor groups called a week ago to protest the increasing killings of their leaders and members. However, protesters involved in this strike are themselves being attacked by Colombian state forces, particularly in the peasant region of Catatumbo, near the Venezuelan border.
Of course, as we know, if such repression were taking place in Venezuela, this would make the front page of the newspapers and the top of the NPR news hour. One must ask themselves why there is such a disparity in coverage. The answer is both simple and disturbing. As Noam Chomsky taught us long ago, the U.S media focuses on the crimes — whether real, fake or imagined — of the U.S.’s ostensible enemies and adversaries while remaining relatively silent about the crimes of the U.S and its allies. The silence about the extraordinary human rights crisis in Colombia -- the U.S.’s closest ally in the Western Hemisphere — has been deafening for way too long, and too many innocent lives are being lost as a result.