Colombian government launches initiative to protect social leaders: Peoples Dispatch


On August 20, the government of President Gustavo Petro in Colombia launched the first Unified Command Post for Life (PMU), in the municipality of Caldono, in the department of Cauca. (Photo: Alphonse Prada/Twitter)

On August 20, the newly inaugurated leftist government of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez in Colombia launched the first Unified Command Post for Life (PMU) in the municipality of Caldono, in the department of Cauca. The PMU is an initiative that aims to achieve total peace and protect the population affected by violence across the country, in particular social leaders, human rights activists, environmentalists and veterans of the demobilized FARC guerrillas.

The launch was led by Interior Minister Alfonso Prada, Environment Minister Susana Muhamad, Labor Minister Gloria Inés Ramírez and around 30 lawmakers from all political backgrounds, including Senate President Roy Barreras , and the chairman of the Senate Peace Commission, Ivan Cepeda.

“We have installed the PMU, which is a command post to achieve rapid security in a preventive approach, not in the approach of sadness when we receive the news of the death of social leaders”, said the Minister of the Prada Interior.

Prada explained that the protection plan will cover the 65 municipalities hardest hit by violence in the country, adding that the initial focus will be on “5 to 10 of them, which are in a very delicate situation and are murdering systematically their leaders”. He said the state would provide support and maintain a permanent presence in these 10 municipalities.

The interior minister said the government is particularly committed to the department of Cauca. “For us, Cauca is a big priority… If we achieve integral and total peace in Cauca, I have no doubt that we can dream of total peace in Colombia,” Prada said.

Prada explained that instructions were given to institutions that have powers related to protecting the lives of social leaders, land defenders, environmentalists, community leaders, peace signatories, land restitution managers land and those who work in crop substitution.

Prada added that the government had already ordered local authorities to comply with early warnings issued by the Office of the Ombudsman, in particular for the municipalities of Caldono, Buenos Aires and Santander de Quilichao, in Cauca. He also said the government would strengthen the National Protection Unit (UNP).

For her part, Environment Minister Muhamad stressed that this plan recognizes land defenders as people who make a positive, important and legitimate contribution to the protection of nature and the promotion of a safe, clean environment. , healthy and durable. Muhamad assured that with the start of the plan, the implementation of the Escazú Agreement also begins, pending ratification by the House of Representatives.

Regarding illegal paramilitary groups, Senator Barreras said that dialogues are the only way to achieve peace. “The government and the congress are very keen to allow them to reintegrate into society and these lifetime command posts are spaces for dialogue and listening, the message we are sending them is that they benefit opportunity to lay down their arms so they can rejoin the life of Colombia,” Barreras said.

On August 19, the Office of the Ombudsman released a report in which he reported that between January 1 and July 31, 2022, 122 social leaders and human rights defenders had been murdered in different departments of the country. He also reported that Cauca with 19 murders, Nariño with 17, Antioquia with 12 and Putumayo with 11, are the departments with the highest number of cases.

According to the Colombian human rights organization Institute of Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), between January 1 and August 20, 2022, 119 Environmentalists, land defenders, human rights defenders, Afro-descendant, indigenous, peasant and social leaders have been killed by illegal armed groups and drug traffickers operating in the country. Moreover, during this period, 32 former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), currently being reincorporated, were also murdered.

Petro and Márquez, during their election campaign, pledged to fight against drug trafficking and paramilitarism, and to consolidate peace in the country. The day after their inauguration, on August 8, during the first press conference to local media, Petro confirmed the resumption of negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest left-wing guerrilla group active in Colombia. On August 11, a Colombian government delegation, led by Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán, traveled to Cuba to establish contact with the ELN leadership in order to move towards peace negotiations. On August 20, President Petro announced that in order to further advance dialogue with the ELN, arrest and extradition orders against members of the insurgent group were suspended. At the same time, he confirmed the return of the negotiation protocols with the ELN that had been signed with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos.

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