Colombians woke up Wednesday to three massacres in the last week that have 16, mostly underage victims, dead. 

The massacres occurred almost four years after the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — a Marxist guerrilla group formed in 1964.

The killings happened in areas under the influence of former FARC dissidents, the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the criminal group Clan del Golfo.

The first massacre happened Monday, Aug. 10, on the border between the departments of Cauca and Narino, in southwestern Colombia. Two minors, 12 and 17 years old, who were on their way to school, were among the victims.

The second was known Tuesday, Aug. 11, when the bodies of five minors, between 14 and 15, were found in a sugar cane field in the rural area of Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia´s third largest city.

The last occurred at dawn Sunday. The bodies of eight people between 19 and 26 were found. The victims were killed in the middle of a meeting of friends in the municipality of Samaniego, Narino.

FARC dissidents, the ELN and the Gulf Clan seek control over drug trafficking routes and illicit crops in the regions where the killings happened.

Ariel Avila, deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, an NGO, said the recent massacres have taken place amid a deterioration in security during the last two years.

“Although the executioners would have different motivations, the truth is that the country is facing a security deterioration,” said Ávila.

She said in 2018, FARC dissidents operated in 56 municipalities. Today they are deployed in 101 towns. The ELN had combatants in 99 municipalities, now it operates within 140. The Clan del Golfo, a paramilitary organization, and other illegal armed groups have expanded their influence from 150 towns to around 200.

“It is because of the security handling by the government of Ivan Duque,” said Avila. “He has an ideological approach that prevents him from understanding what is happening and what are the mistakes he’s doing.”

After the massacres, Narino Governor Jhon Rojas claimed, among other things, it is necessary to increase military presence and to implement a policy of voluntary substitution of coca crops. “We want peace and tranquility to reign in our department, and the peace accords to be respected,” he said.

The successive massacres have reminded Colombia of its years of greatest violence, before the peace deal.

In November 2016, the country hoped more than five decades of civil war would come to an end but the country is on the verge of repeating the violence of the past.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned about the dramatic panorama of Colombia´s violence. In 2020 there have been 33 massacres with seven more to be documented and confirmed.

“[Ninety-seven] murders of human rights advocates have been registered, of which, to date, 45 homicides have been verified”, the office said in a press release.

The United Nations Verification Mission has confirmed 41 murders of former FARC combatants, during the first half 2020, which translates into a 10% increase in homicides against amnestied former guerrillas, compared to the first half of 2019.

“A total of 215 ex-combatants have been assassinated since the signing of the Peace Agreement in November 2016,” it said.

“It is crucial to advance and deepen the comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement, especially its chapter 3.4 on security guarantees, which offers mechanisms and instruments for prevention, protection and security,” the mission said.

The National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH), a governmental organization that documents violence during the conflict, concluded that from 1985 to 2012, the years of greatest violence, left 11,751 dead in 1,982 massacres.

The massacres, as explained by the CNMH, were mostly perpetrated by paramilitary groups, far-right illegal armies formed during the 1990s to fight leftist guerrillas, who were strengthened during the 1980s.

CNMH figures indicate that 1,166 massacres were carried out by paramilitary groups while guerrillas were responsible for 343. Other unidentified armed groups are responsible for 295 massacres, while the Public Force has been linked to 178.

Almost three decades, between 1985 and 2012, the country lived a bloodied panorama, during which there were an average of 73 massacres annually.

Colombia is rapidly approaching the same numbers in 2020, something Colombians hoped would not happen again.

*Susana Noguera contributed to the writing of this article

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