It is with pride that we speak of peace in Latin America The long civil war in Colombia has been settled after twenty years of fighting a peace accord was signed. The wars in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are now history. The continent has seen no more armed conflicts. On the surface, there is peace.
But it is a tarnished peace!
The absence of war does not mean peace! Not when injustice, inequality, poverty, femicides, violence toward women, street violence, police brutality, and government oppression rob us of our rights and our lives. There is no peace when civic leaders trying to defend the environment from mega projects, or Indigenous leaders claiming rights to their territories, or women working for reproductive rights are killed, tortured, threatened, imprisoned, or are victims of verbal attacks.
Frontline Defenders, a human rights organization lists 208 civic leaders killed in Latin America in 2019. This year is already counting. Daily reports tell of new killings and disappearances.
Women defenders of women’s rights to equality, including reproductive rights have been targeted, tortured and detained in Mexico and Chile. Abortion, even in emergencies or in cases of rape or underage girls, is penalized by prison in El Salvador. About 2000 women a year are victims of femicide, death at the hands of husbands, boyfriends, or former companions.
Gender based violence includes physical abuse and verbal abuse. Sadly up to 70% of the cases are never brought to justice, and women seeking justice for femicides themselves become victims. Mexico, Brazil and Guatemala lead in the numbers of femicides but in all countries women are subjected to abuses at the hands of their partners.
That includes Costa Rica, a country cited for peace because it abolished its army. Women organizing women in agriculture or labor are also targets for violence.
And in most cases justice never comes.
Protecting the environment has become a dangerous activity when people protest the loss and despoiling of the land for mining or oil exploration, or mega-projects that will inundate their homes to provide water for distant, paying customers, or protecting the forests from logging, or trying to prevent the destruction of their own homes. In Brazil’s Amazon basin at least seven protectors of Indigenous lands against logging and development have been killed and injured.
The name of Berta Cásceres in Honduras is known around the world for her stand against a huge water project on Indigenous land in 2015 where she and a co-worker were killed. The risks continue. On July 14 Marvin Damian Castro, another activist for the environment in Honduras was found dead. The environmental register Mongabay Latam reports 1,200 attacks on activists in 2018-2019, including 14 homicides.
Costa Rica, unique in that it abolished its army in 1949, is considered a monument to peace. Conflicts over land in Indigenous zones have led to the murder of 2 community leaders, neither has been brought to justice. Femicides, street violence occur even though laws are strict.
Journalists are targeted too, for reporting violations of human rights. In Mexico, it is dangerous to be a reporter. Nine lost their lives in 2019 for exposing corruption or for reporting on drug cartels and uncovering illegal activities.
In 2019 188 journalists were killed. In the political crisis in Nicaragua, journalists have also been targeted, forcing many to abandon their country. Threats to life also make it a dangerous career.
Nor is there peace when victims seek justice through the police or the courts and it doesn’t come. The families of the 43 college students in Ayotzinapa of Igualá, Mexico who disappeared while on buses have never seen justice done. A report in business Insider says that only 20 out of every 100 murders lead to convictions. Violence and oppression in Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries force people to abandon their homes and livelihoods to become refugees where they face discrimination or are forced into camps because nobody wants them.
The long civil war in Colombia ended with a peace agreement in 2016 signed between then-president Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC with agreements that the Fuerza Armada would become the Fuerza Alternativa with political ends rather than military ones. The world applauded that civic life could resume. In spite of all this, in 2019 alone 106 civic leaders were killed and in the first five months of 2020 six more lost their lives. In August and September, several massacres committed by unknown groups occurred in the southern zone.
Frontline Defenders world analysis of 2019 lists those killed by country and name. The number of those who disappeared, threatened, injured, harassed is unknown. How can countries put an end to this “war on the people”? Business Insider in an article lists these factors that lead to violence. Income inequality.
Unemployment especially among young people. Low quality education and school dropouts. Government violence and police policies. High impunity – 20 out of 100 murders lead to convictions. Condoning violence. These can be remedied but it takes a will on the part of governments and civic society.
Article by Olivia Ramos* A collective name for members of the Costa Rican section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an organization founded in the Hague in 1915 to promote peace and human rights.