Colombia's Activist Killings Mirror 1980s Leftist Genocide
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When revolutionary philosopher Karl Marx wrote about class war in the 19th Century, he made an important point about history repeating itself. 

Paramilitaries in Colombia have been accused of numerous human rights murders for decades.

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"The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living," he wrote in his 1852 "Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte."

In other words, the conditions that sparked war between the rich and the poor in the past are the same ones creating conflict in modern times. 

Today, this holds true in Colombia, a country that is reliving mass violence against social movement leaders not seen since the late 1980s. 

Here's a quick crash history lesson for those who aren't familiar with what happened there during that time period. 

In 1985, Colombia's leftist guerrillas founded the Patriotic Union, a big-tent democratic socialist party that served as the movement's legal political arm. Born out of peace negotiations between then-president Belisario Betancur and rebels, the Patriotic Union quickly gained traction among the country's impoverished masses. The party embodied the hope that Colombia could break with its violence-plagued past and achieve change for the poor through the electoral process.

But the Patriotic Union's peace agreement with the right-wing Conservative Party administration quickly became a political death trap.

During Colombia's 1986 elections, the party won a number of posts and its presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal won 4.54 percent of the vote. This was a historic achievement for an openly-socialist political party in Colombia, where the Liberal and Conservative parties have historically dominated. That's when things turned ugly. 

Through clandestine operations such as "Plan Esmeralda" and "Plan Red Dance," state forces and paramilitaries worked to eliminate the growing power of the Patriotic Union. In 1988, the party announced that over 500 members, including its founders, had been assassinated. By 1990, an estimated 2,500 members had been murdered.  

Leal and Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, the Patriotic Union's presidential candidate for the 1990 elections, were themselves both murdered. 

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The goal of the Colombian government and the paramilitaries was to extinguish the ideas the Patriotic Union supported, such as land reform, reduction of inequality, and social investment. 

Things are no different in Colombia today. 

Since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, signed a peace deal with the Colombian government last November, at least 23 leftist social movement leaders have been killed, according to Colombia Reports. 

Last week, Alicia Lopez Guisao, an Indigenous and campesino leader with The People's Congress, was killed in Medellin. Guisao was the daughter of survivors of the genocide against the Patriotic Union in the late 1980s. 

Last January, Indigenous human rights activist Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela was murdered in Valledupar by suspected paramilitaries. Varela, a member of Colombia's Wiwa tribe, fought to protect Indigenous and women's rights in her community.

The number of social and human rights defenders killed in the last 14 months now stands at at least 120, according to a press release from the Defense of the People.

In January and February 2017 alone, 3,549 people from more than 900 families were displaced across Colombia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports. In 2016, a total of 11,363 people from more than 3,000 families were displaced. Almost all of these families were targeted by paramilitaries for their alleged connections to leftist guerillas. 

The retreat of the FARC and other leftist guerrilla groups that have historically defended Colombia’s oppressed has created a power vacuum that right-wing paramilitaries are filling. Rising violence against social movement leaders has also led many to believe that the guerillas' peace agreement with the government is a political death trap, just like it was for the Patriotic Union in the 1980s. 

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"While we applaud the signing of the peace agreement, it is important to recognize that civilians are still paying a heavy price," Christoph Harnisch, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Colombian delegation, said in a recent press statement.

"Colombian society as a whole must be more determined to tackle the humanitarian challenges. The tragic experiences of the millions of victims of the conflict warrant greater impetus for the peacebuilding process."

Unless the underlying conditions that sparked the Colombian government and paramilitaries' war against the Patriotic Union are resolved, the rich will continue to wage war on the poor moving forward.  


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