Colombia’s Pacific port city of Buenaventura is in mourning after the murder of well-known community leader and political organiser Temístocles Machado, who was shot dead in a shop in the city on Saturday 27 January.
Temístocles, 58, had been one of the leaders of the regional strike enacted in Buenaventura in mid-2017 when workers and residents brought the entire city, one of Colombia’s largest ports, to a standstill over state neglect, poverty and insecurity. The majority African-descendant population exemplifies the Colombian state’s historic marginalisation of large social sectors as political participation, decent services and security are denied to communities outside the main urban centres.
Years of violence and under-development provoked the massive strike last May and June, which was finally resolved after the Colombian government agreed to increase investment in the region. Temístocles was a key negotiator on behalf of Buenaventurans with the government.
Before and since then, he had received several threats over his prominent activism but continued to conduct his work in the Isla de La Paz neighbourhood. Less than two months ago, he spoke to independent website Pacifista about the dangers he faced:
‘I trust that God can protect me. In truth, I do not believe in the State, which has hit us so much in the communities. The institutions in Colombia should meet the needs of the people, but here the institutions are made to be spokespersons of the families that profit from public office.’
Although the threats against Temístocles Machado were well documented, the Colombian state failed to provide any security. He was killed in the neighbourhood where he knew virtually everybody and to which he had devoted his life.
He is at least the tenth social organiser murdred in the first few weeks of 2018.