While the beginning of the cease-fire marked a historic step toward peace in Colombia, rural leaders are still being assassinated for defending their land and natural resources, an important reminder of the difficulties the country faces in ending the violence and impunity that have been such a permanent fixture of the five decades-long civil war.
A few hours after the cease-fire between Colombia's army and the rebels formally started Monday night, three campesino leaders were murdered in the southwestern province of Cauca.
At about 8 a.m. local time, men “dressed as military officers, with balaclavas and large weapons” stopped vehicles traveling to the weekly market in the town of Almaguer, local campesino organization Cima said in a statement.
The assailants then asked the passengers to turn off their phones and forced the three campesinos to come with them, including one of Cima's historical founders, Joel Meneses, before driving the campesinos a few miles to a spot called Dark Mount, where they were found shot dead.
Meneses, as well as campesinos Ariel Sotelo and another Meneses, whose first name was Mereo, were leading the defense of the territory including the protection of water resources against illegal mining. The group took part in the national agrarian strike in June while Joel Meneses had received a series of death threats over the past year, emphasized the communique.
After a series of murders of campesinos in Cauca last fall, sometimes involving military personnel, Cima denounced “the continuing attacks that campesinos and Indigenous social movements in Almaguer are victims of, affecting its organizational and electoral processes”—as some of their members won in local elections last year.
The country's ombudsman Fabian Laverde told teleSUR back then that the issue of violence against campesions was the roots of a number of causes.
“First, the national government refuses to recognize the existence of paramilitarism. Second, the complaints from the social movements made about situations of threats or concrete actions against residents of these territories have been completely ignored,” he said.
At least 300 campesinos leaders have been killed in Colombia in 2015.
Land distribution in Colombia is extremely unequal. Less than 1 percent of the population owns roughly half of the land, and 70 percent of the population owns only 5 percent of the land. Campesinos who fight for their land are often at risk of losing their lives.