Four community leaders have been murdered in the southwest department of Cauca in recent days, as communities in Colombia’s most violent region continue to suffer high levels of violence widely attributed to state abandonment and the presence of paramilitaries and other armed groups.
On Friday 17 April, the president of the ASTCAP rural association for small-scale farmers, Mario Chilhueso, was killed. The 44-year-old was a well-known organiser who campaigned for recognition of the rights of rural communities. He was killed as he left his home in the town of Buenos Aires. He had previously survived a massacre in 2011.
Also on 17 April, Teodomiro Sotelo Anacona was killed in front of his family at home in the village of Betania del Tambo. He was a rural organiser and a council member for the Afrorenacer del Micay association which promotes the rights of African-Colombian communities. In response to Teodomiro’s murder, the Movement for Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) said ‘we had alerted the authorities and, so far, they have not taken the necessary measures over this humanitarian crisis in Cauca, which is costing the lives of people in the community.’
Less than 24 hours later, Andrés Andrelio Cacimanca Burbano was murdered in the town of Honduras. According to local reports, armed men arrived at his home searching for his wife, a well-known community leader. Upon learning she was elsewhere, they killed Andrés.
On 22 April, gunmen killed human rights defender Hugo de Jesús Giraldo López, who was a colleague of Mario Chilhueso, at his home in Buenos Aires. Hugo was a member of the Patriotic March political organisation which has seen more than one hundred members killed since it was formed ten years ago. He was also president of the ASOCOMUNAL rural association. Like Mario Chilhueso, he had received threats and reported these to authorities. Despite their concerns, neither man had been given protective measures.
More than 60 social activists have been murdered in the first four months of this year. While the United Nations has warned that the violence represents a serious threat to the peace process, the Colombian government has consistently sought to downplay the extent of the human rights crisis. Last week, interior minister Alicia Arango said that only 13 social leaders were murdered between 1 January and 10 April. In contrast, the UN says it received information of 56 cases between the start of the year and 24 March, while several more killings have been committed since then.