Supporters of Colombia’s far-right former President Alvaro Uribe took to the streets in cities across the country on Saturday to reject the peace process between the government and FARC guerrilla rebels the Uribistas wrongfully call "terrorists" as the negotiations in Havana, Cuba, are finally on the brink of ending over 50 years of internal armed conflict after more than three years of talks.
Huge crowds marched in Colombia’s largest cities of Bogota and Medellin, with smaller marches in many other cities including Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Cali, and more. Uribe has been rallying support for the marches against the peace deal along with other far-right actors, including the paramilitary outfit known as the Black Eagles.
Protesters carried signs calling for President Juan Manuel Santos’ resignation and rejecting the impending peace deal on claims that it will shield FARC members, who Uribe supporters consider “terrorists,” from prosecution for crimes committed during the armed conflict.
Colombians even rallied at the Colombian Embassy in Miami to resay “No” to the peace deal, El Nuevo Heraldo reported.
The marches come as paramilitary violence has sharply spiked in Colombia as the government nears a peace deal with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia. A new peace process with the smaller guerrilla army, the ELN or National Liberation Army, is also set to begin, following in the footsteps of the over three-year negotiations with the FARC.
Earlier this week, the narco-paramilitary group Usuga Clan forced a shutdown of three northern departments of Colombia in what is being called a two-day “armed strike.” Flyers threatened the population with violence if they dared to leave their homes.
President Santos has not called Usuga Clan a paramilitary group, insisting that it is a “criminal organization.” The government maintains that the paramilitary threat was contained years ago.
Alvaro Uribe marches in Medellin, Colombia, April 2, 2016.
The spike in paramilitary violence poses a major threat to the peace process, now in its final stages. On Friday, leading peace activist and former Senator Piedad Cordoba narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Quibdo, Choco. Paramilitaries are believed to be behind the attack.
Meanwhile, Uribe has been whipping up opposition to the peace process. The former president, whose term in office saw record levels of human rights violations and people fleeing the country as refugees, has described peace with the FARC as an “impunity deal” rather than a peace deal.
Colombia’s over five decades of civil war between government forces and left-wing guerrilla rebels has claimed over 220,000 lives and caused massive internal displacement.
Estimates suggest that right-wing paramilitaries have been responsible for up to 80 percent percent of violence and human rights abuses in the bloodiest years of the conflict, with the military and rebel groups carrying the rest of the blame.