Colombia: ‘systematic’ attacks on social leaders

Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country.  The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016, according to official figures from the country's rights obudsman, the Defensoria del Pueblo. In the capital Bogota, protesters converted the central Plaza Bolivar into a sea of candlelight. The same happened at the Parque de los Deseos in Medellin and at the Plaza de Caycedo in Cali. Vigils were also held in at least 25 cities around the world, from Sydney to New York. (Colombia Reports, July 7) Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. (El Espectador, July 19)

In a press conference after the IACHR statement, lawmaker Angela María Robledo, with Colombia's Green Alliance, charged that the assassinations are a "systematic" campaign, and that authorities must break up resurgent paramilitary networks rather than just arresting individual sicarios (assassins). (Contagio Radio, July 24)

New cases were reported this month from the violence-hit municipality of Ituango, Antioquia department. José Fernando Jaramillo Oquendo, a member of the Communal Action Junta in the rural community of Pascuita, was slain July 6. (El Colombiano, July 6) In response to the ongoing killings, threats and forced displacements, the municipal government of Ituango has suspended activities until the central government takes measures to protect residents. (Prensa Rural, July 26)

In San Martín, Cesar department, a local leader of oil-workers union USO was leaving his shift at Ecopetrol's Tisquirama Station, when two assailants on a motorbike hurled an improvised explosive device at him. Luis Alberto Galvis died of his wounds. (El Espectador, July 10)

Killings are also continuing in southern Cauca department. On July 11, Afro-descendant community leader Ibes Trujillo Contreras was forced from his home in Suárez municipality. His body was discovered six days later, on the banks of the Rio Marilopez. That same week, Luis Eduargo Dagua, a community leader in Caloto municipality similarly disappeared, his body discovered days later. (Semana, July 18; El Espectador, July 17)

In Villacolombia municipality, Valle del Cauca department, campesino leader Libardo Moreno was found slain on a road in vereda Las Pilas July 23. Moreno was local administrator of the aqueduct that brings water to his community, which had days earlier been planted with an explosive device. (El Espectador, July 23)

On July 21, youth activist Kevin Julián Leó in Medellín's Comuna 7 was shot dead by gunmen on a motorcyle as he left an English class he was attending. A leader of the Heroes and Heroines of Love Corporation youth anti-militarist group, he was only 16 years old. (El Espectador, July 23)

Politicians who speak out against the ongoing terror are themselves being targeted, Camilo Romero, governor of Nariño department, who has been outspoken on the violence, has received death threats from the Black Eagles paramilitary group. (Semana, July 16)

Photo via Contagio Radio