Last week, as part of the Minga, social groups from Santander department, mobilised at the construction site of a hydroelectric plant, one of a network of 7 to be constructed across Colombia. The 1000 strong gathering was called to oppose the privitisation of the Rio Sogamosa, which hundreds of families depend on.
Issues discussed included the right to life, agreements not fulfilled by the government, land sovereignty, economic models as well as the privitisation of the river. When the police prevented an attempt to occupy a bridge, the participants, including over 300 women from the Social Movement of Women against War and the Organizacion Feminina Popular demanded their legitimate right to protest and to oppose the selling off of their natural resources.
A few days later local community representatives had a meeting with one of the companies subcontracted to build the dam. President of Puente Sogamoso village council where the Minga took place, Honorio Llorente Melenez, voiced concerns about the potential social and environmental impact of the megaproject on the community.
A few hours later Honorio was shot dead as he was leaving a bar with some friends. His murderer changed his top and was picked up by two motorbikes before they headed towards the main road through the region, passing an army base a kilometre away.
Honorio had lived in Puente Sogamoso since 1986, and started working for a Palm Oil company two years later. He had always been a trade union member and became treasurer of the Puerto Wilches branch of Sintrainagro. He was fired in 2007 and was due to have a meeting with the company about compensation for his dismissal at the Employment Ministry.
Honorio was involved in the campaign for the defence of the Sogamoso river and the threat the hydroelectric plant posed to those living along its banks. He had also been active in the recent Minga.
His assassination was no isolated event but one of many of those committed to protecting natural resources and communities. Three other local community representatives have been killed in Santander this year with regional authorities taking no steps to ensure the safety of these representatives and take action against the armed groups responsible for their murders. A coalition of regional and national social movements is calling on the government to take action against the continuing persecution of social movement representatives and human rights defenders.
The memory of Honorio and others, whose lives have been cut short whilst resisting the depradations of big business, is another humbling reminder of the courage of those determined to protect communities aware of the risks they take and in the face of these powerful outside interests.