Four years ago you were wanted dead, Hernán Bedoya

December 08, 2017. Hernán Bedoya, was returning to his farm in the Mi Tierra Humanitarian Zone in the Bajo Atrato region of Chocó, when he was assassinated with 14 shots. Along with him, they intended to kill his clear and firm voice, [1] with which he denounced the progress and impacts of the palm oil and banana agribusinesses that looked to extend into the collective territory of Pedeguita y Mancilla. Hernán wanted to talk about what was happening in the territory from which he had been displaced, and to which he had managed to return despite the presence of paramilitaries. This is how we at PBI came to know him, fighting for his land and dignity, when we accompanied the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP) in Bajo Atrato.

Hernán Bedoya
At 13:15 on December 8, 2017, the well-known social leader and land claimant Hernán Bedoya was assassinated while returning to his farm “Mi Tierra” in the collective territory of Pedeguita y Mancilla, Bajo Atrato. The leader had denounced illegal alliances, fraudulent contracts, and the presence of paramilitaries in the region.

Hernán did not want to be silent on the signing of an agreement between the representative of his Community Council and the Agromar company to plant bananas for one hundred years on 20,000 hectares of Pedeguita y Mancilla land [2]. In the signed contract, only 12 partners were listed as the beneficiaries of those contract earnings [3]. For two years, Hernán had been threatened by the paramilitary group, Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), for being a land claimant and for his opposition [4] to the agro-industrial project. Hernán opposed the project at the national level; in documentaries and talks as a member of Communities Building Peace in the Territories (CONPAZ- Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios), with the accompaniment of JyP.

Hernán Bedoya, who opposed the implementation of agro-industrial projects in the collective territory of Pedeguita y Mancilla, points out the palm plantations planted in their territory. Photo: Silvia Arjona

In response to these threats, the state gave him a bulletproof vest and a cell phone. It is due to Hernán’s efforts of making denouncements on behalf of peasants that he was wanted dead. This is why an alert was activated stating, “no more murders of social and environmental leaders in Bajo Atrato.” This is also why the Office of the Inspector General at that time [5] was going to initiate legal action to seek the annulment of Agromar’s contract in violation of the territorial rights of the ethnic community of Pedeguita y Mancilla. But the environmental impacts and harassment of those who oppose the contract have continued in this region. According to JyP, “for more than five years an unlawful business operation has been left unchecked, drying up water sources, the Bajo de Los Patos swamp and wetlands in the communities of El Diez and Nueva Unión, deforesting primary forest, and displacing and resulting in the death of animal species in the collective territory of Pedeguita y Mancilla, municipality of Riosucio, Chocó ” [6].

“On the anniversary of your assassination the community of Pedeguita y Mancilla will again come together to honor your legacy, your struggle, and your dreams that continue in us. They will once again honor the lives of their leaders and remember that nothing was in vain, that memory is what keeps the community wise and alive, that defending territory is part of its commitment to the present and future.” Photo: Bianca Bauer

The organization that has accompanied the communities for more than three decades denounces that the Special Investigation Unit (UEI) of the Office of the Attorney General, created four years ago to dismantle paramilitary structures, has not fulfilled its promise to carry out a prompt and effective investigation. Today, the results of this unit and progress in ordinary justice are null. Not surprisingly, behind the murder of Hernán Bedoya may be the involvement of the business sector, according to information obtained by JyP.

Threats against the leaders of Bajo Atrato continue [7]. Inthe month of September alone we mourned the murder of two more leaders: Efrén Antonio Carupia [8] in Acandí and Dilio Bailarín [9] in Alto Guayabal. The aggravated levels of violenceagainst the communities increased due to the fact that they had been granted protective measures by  a Land Restitution Court and precautionary measures by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), respectively. These murders and the multiple threats by armed groups, together with the absence of security guarantees from the state, resulted in the forced displacement of the communities. These are the same communities that, since March 2020 have requested a Global Humanitarian Agreement that would include a ceasefire and dialogue between all armed actors for the construction of a just and lasting peace [10], a request that to date has not garnered a government response [11].

In order to combat the impunity [12] that envelops the communities [13], progress in the investigation of the material and intellectual authors of these homicides is essential, this includes the murder of Mario Castaño Bravo, member of CONPAZ and land claimant in Bajo Atrato, murdered 10 days before Hernán Bedoya, This necessity is evidenced by the Global Impunity Index which ranks Colombia in eighth place of countries with the highest impunity rates, preventing progress in the clarification of the attacks suffered by communities and their leaders [14]. Today, the protection of communities and the organizations that care for territory and defend human rights continues to be urgently needed. These communities are the ones who suffer the consequences of denouncing the link between land restitution and the economic interests of third parties, their alignment with illegal armed structures, and the persistence of drug trafficking routes in the area.

It is in your memory and that of your land, Hernán Bedoya, and in memory of the people who have been murdered for their social leadership in Colombia—161 in 2021 alone, according to Indepaz [15]—that our concern continues today over the systematic nature of these murders, perpetrated by all armed actors, with the clear purpose of silencing and erasing hope. But your community of Pedeguita y Mancilla does not want to lose hope; on the anniversary of your assassination, the community will come together again to honor your legacy, your struggle and your dreams that continue in us. They will once again honor the lives of their leaders and remember that nothing was in vain, that memory is what keeps the community wise and alive, and that defending territory is part of their commitment to the present and future. Today, the commemoration of the death of Hernán Bedoya challenges us to question how we can transform our powerlessness into “never again.”

Gemma Neus, PBI Colombia.

[3] PBI Colombia: Pedeguita y Mancilla: lentitud jurídica y amenazas, 16 January 2018.

[4] Comisión de Justicia y Paz: Asesinado líder Hernán Bedoya, 8 December 2017.

[8] Comisión de Justicia y Paz (@Justiciaypazcol): Tweet, 17 September 2021.

[13] Índice Global de Impunidad: Escalas de impunidad en el mundo, 2020.

[15] Indepaz (@Indepaz): Tweet, 5 December 2021.

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