Target: Juan Maneul Santos, President of Colombia
Goal: Ensure the protection of land claimants who have been threatened and attacked by paramilitaries.
A number of members of the Afro-descendant and Afro-mestizo community of Pedeguita Mansilla have been attacked by armed men with ties to paramilitary groups. Sign the petition demanding protection for these threatened communities and an end to paramilitary activity in Colombia.
In 2011, Colombia passed the Victims and Land Restitution Law. The law, which went into effect in 2012, restores land to indigenous peoples who were forced off of it by paramilitaries. Predictably, the law has provoked backlash, as paramilitaries driven off “their” lands have resorted to threats and violence in an attempt to frighten indigenous peoples off the lands again.
One recent example of this violence comes from the community of Pedeguita Mansilla in northern Colombia. Hooded, armed men stormed the town, damaging property and injuring several people before kidnapping community leader Marlene Beníte, her son, her four-year-old granddaughter, her neighbor Felipe Triana, and two other men. The six people were put in a truck and taken to Belén de Bajirá. When they were stopped at a police checkpoint, Beníte called out to the officers for help and was ignored, underscoring the sad fact that paramilitaries in Colombia often act in collusion with or with the knowledge of security forces. Despite the lack of police intervention, Beníte and the others were freed in Belén de Bajirá.
The rash of paramilitary violence in Colombia is unacceptable. The government must step in to offer protection to community members like Marlene Beníte, her family, and her neighbors in accordance with their wishes, and it must investigate this incident as it works to eradicate all paramilitary threats.
Dear President Santos,
I am writing to urge you to take action against paramilitary threats in Colombia. For too long, paramilitaries have been granted free rein to terrorize, threaten, and actively harm innocent people, often in collusion with or with the knowledge of law enforcement officials. It is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens from the threats posed by paramilitaries. I therefore urge you to offer protection to those community members threatened by paramilitaries, to take immediate, decisive steps to sever the ties between paramilitaries and security forces, and to eradicate paramilitary groups in Colombia once and for all.
A prime example of the threat many people in Colombia face is the recent attack on the community of Pedeguita Mansilla. Dozens of armed, hooded men stormed the community, causing injuries and property damage before kidnapping community leader Marlene Beníte, her son, her four-year-old granddaughter, her neighbor Felipe Triana, and two other men. The six people were thrown into the back of a truck and driven to Belén de Bajirá, where Beníte called out to officers at a police checkpoint for help. Her cries were ignored, but the paramilitaries did free the group despite the lack of police intervention.
When police officers, who are sworn to uphold the law and the safety of the citizens they serve, refuse to stop a kidnapping that is happening in front of their very faces, something is very, very wrong. It is up to Colombia’s government to restore safety and order. I therefore demand that you offer protection to Marlene Beníte, her family, and her neighbors in accordance with their wishes and that you swiftly and decisively address Colombia’s continuing paramilitary problems.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Martin St-Amant via Wikimedia Commons