By Ernesto Guzman Jr. and Irene Escudero
La Laguna/Bogota, Colombia, Apr 21 (EFE).- The murder of an indigenous leader in Colombia’s Cauca province once again has set off alarm bells regarding the violence in that region, where more than one-third of Colombia’s reported 836 acts of political-social violence in 2020 were carried out, an academic report revealed Wednesday.
Sandra Liliana Peña, the Nasa people’s governor and an environmental leader for the La Laguna Siberia nature preserve, was traveling on a motorcycle on Tuesday when four armed men shot her and her driver to death.
Peña’s father, Climaco Peña, told EFE through tears at his daughter’s wake that “mafiosos” had killed the 34-year-old indigenous leader, who had repeatedly denounced the increase in illicit crop cultivation in the region.
Last month, in fact, she launched a program to eradicate coca crops along with the local indigenous guard.
“My sister was very strong, very out front. She wasn’t frightened of anything,” said Olga Peña Chocue during the wake held at La Laguna, which was attended by some 2,000 members of the indigenous community.
“No, comrades, let’s not be afraid. Let’s continue forward with the struggle. Let’s not stay in our houses, but rather when they take the life of one of our comrades, let’s demonstrate,” Peña’s sister said.
“Caldono has always been a victim of violence. Between 1997 and 2014 there were 248 armed incidents from all sides,” the mayor of the municipality that includes the Jose Otero nature preserve, told EFE, adding that safety advice was provided after each such incident but “they have not adopted a plan that gives real solutions.”
The Cinep research and popular education center on Wednesday released figures from its 2020 files which revealed that human rights violations and socio-political violence increased last year over the previous year and Cauca suffered a large portion of those incidents.
Of the 836 victims of political and social violence nationwide – including 439 murders, 219 threats and 82 physical assaults – 300 were in this province, while of the 502 infractions of International Humanitarian Law, 232 occurred there.
The figures were from the Noche y Niebla Review, No. 62, presented on Wednesday by Cinep, which focuses on Cauca’s Pacific coastal region, where more than 273,000 hectares (some 683,000 acres) are being exploited and polluted by gold mining and the local population is living with an increase in narcotrafficking activity.
“After the peace agreement, there were several months of very significant calm, but after that it’s been changing and there has developed a much more complicated situation than before the accord,” activist and Cococauca organization chief Dionisio Rodriguez Paz, said during the presentation of the report.
A number of armed groups are active in the region, including dissident members of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, National Liberation Army rebel blocs, the Clan del Golfo and other criminal groups, all of whom are vying for control over the corridors to the Pacific, along which illegal merchandise and mineral products are transported.
The groups kill anyone who gets in their way, including members of the local indigenous people who are trying to protect their territory from criminal exploitation.
Nobody has been brought to justice for the vast majority of the acts of violence to date, with 193 social leaders being murdered last year alone, according to Cinep.
The Colombian Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday that it will investigate Peña’s murder and potential lapses in security provided for her by state authorities, calling upon the Bogota government to heed the complaints presented by indigenous authorities in the region.