Colombian armed groups: between protection and intimidation.

Florence Tiffou, translated by Darragh Hayes-Moriarty.
24 Août 2015

The mining and oil businesses are major actors in the Colombian conflict. They are linked to a range of armed groups in order to ensure the protection of their economic interests in detriment to respecting human rights. Analysis.

Colombian armed groups: between protection and intimidation.
After more than 60 years of war, the toll of the Colombian conflict is alarming: 218,000 dead, 5.7 million displaced, 25,000 disappearances, 1982 massacred and almost 490,000 women victims of sexual abuse. Unsurprisingly, the extractive companies are among the most responsible for these crimes. They spread violence and participate in the violations of human rights in the region, so as to take control of the land and to protect their resources.

The links between the extractive sector and the armed groups are clear: the companies use the militarization of the regions to displace the inhabitants and install a climate of terror. As a result of the threats, targeted killings, forced disappearances and legalization, that is to say the use of the legal process experienced by the victims, those who oppose these exploitative projects.

When the businesses install themselves in the zones controlled by guerrilla forces, they see a war tax imposed. Between 1980 and 2000, the contribution represented 40 to 60% of the budget of these revolutionary groups, a more important intake than drug trafficking. In this manner, the businesses directly finance the armed conflict.

Protection of resources

Once fully installed and ready to explore and exploit, the transnationals of the energy sector hire private agents to ensure the protection of their resources. These private agents participate in illegal acts, such as the installation of checkpoints on roads, preventing inhabitants from the right to free travel. In 2013, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights denounced the responsibility of the private agents of the business Occidental Petroleum, who had shared strategic information with the Colombian armed forces. A crime which led to the massacre of Santo Domingo where 17 people lost their lives, including 7 children.

The Colombian state confirms its complicity with the extractive businesses by placing the armed forces and the agents of the state in the service of the companies. Special energetic battalions have been created with the specific intention of protecting the sectors of exploitation. These groups represent 36% of the Colombian army. It is important to underline the fact that Colombia has the second largest military in Latin-America, with 281,400 soldiers. This is a notable figure which equates to 6.2 soldiers for every 1,000 people. That is without counting the police and other armed state actors.

Credits : RR
Credits : RR
Added to these actors is the support of paramilitary groups who defend the economic interests of the extractive companies and carry out threats, assassinations, and violations of national and international standards. The link between the government and the paramilitaries is well known: “The police put on hoods and arm bands that indicate that they are part of the defence groups” we are told by the victims of acts of intimidation. According to the government, the paramilitaries stopped being a threat since the process of demobilization in 2003, when the paramilitaries accepted a ceasefire. From the point of view of the communities, this strategy has proven to be more of a means of enabling impunity for their crimes. Today, to avoid admitting to the presence of paramilitaries, the Santos government prefers to talk of “emerging criminal bands”- BACRIM. The problem with this new description is that the victims of the acts carried out by BACRIM members are not viewed as victims of the conflict and therefore do not have access to protections guaranteed by the Law of Victims (Law 1448). Among the measures adopted in this law, the protections include land restitution, relocation or compensation.

Human rights violations carried out

In Colombia, the transnational businesses are responsible for more than 1,200 targeted assassinations, 3,700 forced disappearances and a million people displaced. Eighty per cent of human rights violations carried out against the native communities or Afro-descendants take pace in the mining or petrol production zones. Furthermore, 78% of crimes against unionists take place in these same regions.

The other strategy carried out by the businesses and the State to silence the opposition to the transnationals’ activities is prosecution. In Colombia, there are more than 7,500 political prisoners. The legal system is used to curb protests and forces social organisations and victims to address the legal issue rather than dedicate themselves to other acts.

The statistics speak for themselves and enable us to trace a link between the presence of extractive businesses and the militarization of Colombian regions. However, despite the attempts to silence the social leaders and the defenders of human rights, the Colombian social organisations and the communities remain very active in denouncing each violation.