Huge spike in number of death threats against journalists, human rights activists and leftist politicians last month by neo-paramilitary groups creates climate of fear not seen in years
More than 150 human rights activists, politicians and journalists have received death threats in less than thirty days, prompting many Colombian media outlets to dub last month ‘Black September’.
The flow of threats began on September 8, when the Aguilas Negras (The Black Eagles) neo-paramilitary group sent threats to a list of 91 people, ordering them to leave the country or be killed, according to reports. A leaflet threatening Colombian peace advocates and human rights activists was distributed in multiple places around the country, and drew widespread condemnation by the people on the list and their supporters.
Soon after, new threats, directed against other groups of activists, politicians and journalists, were also distributed by a second criminal gang known as ‘Los Rastrojos’.
Carlos Guevara, Coordinator of NGO ‘Somos Defensores’ which oversees the safety of human rights activists in Colombia, told local media last week, “it is a ‘black’ September because since 2009, we have not recorded threats on this scale.”
The sheer number of death threats and intimidation is unheard of since peace talks began between the government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana, Cuba in 2012, Guevara said.
Among the politicians targeted was Gloria Florez, Secretary General of the Colombian Green Alliance party.
She was named in a threat, which stated, “be aware, if they continue their peaceful political left wing proselytism against our organizations, they will pay the consequences. They know that our patience is limited.”
But Guevara cast doubt that the two violent criminal groups were solely to blame.
“The question I seek to answer is who is benefiting from this climate of panic, because we believe that although they are using the letterhead of Aguilas Negras and Los Rastrojos there, there are other people behind the threats,” he was quoted in local media saying.
The Aguilas Negras leaflet was distributed over a two day period in the city of Monteria, capital of Cordoba, according to reports.
Journalists ‘Military Targets’
The same threats were then sent by email to both journalists and activists alike. In a second follow-up email, Aguilas Negras darkly invited the family and friends of three people on their hit-list to their funerals, because “they were already dead,” reports noted.
In a related development, threats aimed at Gloria Florez were recently condemned by Ulrike Lunacek, the head of the Green delegation in the European Parliament.
Lunacek sent an open letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asking for his support and called on Santos to ensure Florez’s safety and security.
Some 15 journalists were also threatened in Cali and Buenaventura – including reporters who work for El País, Q’Hubo, El Tiempo, Más Pacífico and Caracol Radio.
The threat letter said they considered journalists military targets and that if they did not leave Buenaventura and Cali within a period of 24 hours, that they would be “fired upon and torn up,” according to a report in the Diario Occidente newspaper.
While calls have been made for the Colombian state to protect those threatened, most notably by the EU Parliament, the few dozen journalists, rights activists and politicians remain vulnerable as security has not been forthcoming.
In recent years, there has been a decline in violence against activists, and many thought that groups such as the Aguilas Negras had begun to disband.
However recent activity shows this not to be the case, and many people believe the neo-paramilitary group has made pacts with groups and are far more active than once thought.