One of Colombia’s best-renowned activists survived an assassination attempt on Saturday 4 May. Environmental and human rights defender Francia Márquez and other African-Colombian activists were unhurt when attackers opened fire with guns and grenades on a meeting of the Community Councils Association of North Cauca (ACONC) in Santander de Quilichao, department of Cauca, southern Colombia.
Sixteen people, including a child, were at the meeting, which was being held to discuss issues of human rights and peace ahead of a meeting with the government scheduled for 8 May. Among the other African-Colombian activists in attendance were Clemencia Carabalí, Sofía Garzón, Carlos Rosero and Víctor Moreno. Reports said that at around 5.35pm at least three people entered the Trinidad farm, where the meeting was underway, and opened fire. None of the attackers have been identified. The attack was condemned on social media by the Colombian Ombudsman, as well as by President Iván Duque who has previously been criticised for failing to speak out over violence against social activists in the country.
The attack comes as communities in Cauca are in a state of high alert over paramilitary and other armed groups in the region. Since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, more than 100 human rights defenders and social activists have been murdered in Cauca, making it statistically the most dangerous region in Colombia for political, social or community organising. Recent protests, known as ‘la Minga‘, led by indigenous and rural movements saw much of the region shut down as protestors demanded implementation of the peace agreement and improved security.
In a letter condeming the attack, the US civil rights activist and author Angela Davis said ‘as long as Afro-Colombian leaders are being threatened, attacked, assassinated and imprisoned, there is no peace in Colombia. The international community is watching closely and we will continue to work in solidarity with leaders in these communities’.
Francia Márquez was awarded the 2018 environmental Goldman Prize for her work in resistance to the terrible impact that mining has had on communities in Cauca through deforestation and the poisoning of rivers. The prize was previously won by Honduran indigenous and environmental defender Berta Cáceres, who in 2016 was murdered by hitmen working on behalf of the Desa company which was constructing a dam in indigenous homelands.
Latin America is the world’s most dangerous region for environmental activism.