Violence rebounds in Colombia in the run-up to the elections | Presidential Elections Colombia

A motorcycle passes in front of a bus burned by members of the Clan del Golfo, near Yarumal, Antioquia, on May 6.
A motorcycle passes in front of a bus burned by members of the Clan del Golfo, near Yarumal, Antioquia, on May 6.JOAQUIN SARMIENTO (AFP)

In many places in Colombia, the war that the peace agreement with the extinct FARC guerrillas intended to extinguish is still burning. More than five years after the signing of that historic pact, with other armed actors who threaten the communities, the risk map for factors of violence in the presidential elections, whose first round is held this Sunday, is still dyed red, orange and yellow, according to all data compiled by the Electoral Observation Mission (EOM).

The rebound in the activities of illegal armed groups in the pre-election period, with 747 armed actions and 577 intimidations throughout Colombia, has set off alarms. The greatest evidence of the worrying phenomenon has been the so-called “armed strikes” to which different communities have been subjected. The National Liberation Army (ELN), the last active guerrilla group in the country, decreed one at the end of February (from 23 to 25), just two weeks before the legislative elections in March, while the Clan del Golfo, the largest group drug trafficker, held another at the beginning of May (from May 5 to 9), just twenty days before the first round of the presidential elections. “These armed groups are concerned about their ability to maintain social control over the population,” warns the MOE.

In what should somehow become a respite, the ELN ordered a unilateral ceasefire two weeks ago from May 25 to June 3 throughout the country, with the purpose that “those who wish to vote, do so.” quietly,” he said. That truce covers the first round on May 29, but for now the rebels have not referred to the eventual ballot to elect President Iván Duque’s successor on June 19. In the elections, the leftist Gustavo Petro is the favorite, followed by Federico phyco Gutierrez, the right-wing candidate; the independent Rodolfo Hernández and the center candidate Sergio Fajardo. The ELN, in any case, is not the only actor that has made itself felt in the electoral process.

In the midst of a climate of deteriorating security – which includes the murder of social leaders, environmentalists and former FARC combatants – confinements and massive displacement of communities have also been recurrent so far in 2022. Only on March 1 As of May 13, there were 27 massive displacement events that affected nearly 6,000 people and 13 confinements with more than 25,000 victims, according to data from the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes). In the updated balance of the EOM, a third of the 1,103 municipalities of Colombia (375) register some level of risk due to different factors of violence.

These dangers, which have been widely diagnosed, lurk in the context of the elections. Despite the welcome disarmament of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which today is a political party with representation in Congress, a disorderly archipelago of armed groups, with more fractured structures, continues to be active in several regions where there are all kinds of illegal economies. . The departure of the FARC left a vacuum that, in the absence of a state response, other armed actors have taken over.

The concern is not restricted to rural Colombia, which historically has suffered the most from the ravages of the armed conflict. Of the 32 capital cities of the country, 28 have some level of risk (87.5%), according to the MOE. Cities such as Montería, in the department of Córdoba, Sincelejo (Sucre), Barranquilla (Atlántico) and Medellín (Antioquia) harshly suffered the impact of the armed strike by the Clan del Golfo, which paralyzed parts of the country for four days in response to the extradition of Otoniel to the United States, in a clear pulse to the Government. His actions left a balance of at least 26 dead, including two police officers. The images of closed businesses, deserted streets and burned cars made the power of this poster evident.

“The vote in these big cities in the presidential election takes on enormous importance,” warns the report, since 44.5% of the total electoral census in the country is concentrated in the 28 capitals at risk. One of the main concerns is the impact that the strong presence of illegal armed groups may have on electoral participation. For the EOM, “reinforcing and shielding the scrutiny process, from the counting of votes at the tables, through the transfer of material and the collection in the counting centers, becomes a priority.”

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