Sharp escalation in murders of social activists in recent days

Several more Colombian social activists have been murdered in recent days. The high levels of violence, which the United Nations recently said are almost entirely concentrated in regions affected by structural poverty and state abandonment, has continued despite restrictive measures imposed across much of Colombia due to the coronavirus outbreak.

On 19 March, Ivo Humberto Bracamonte Quiroz was killed as he exercised in the town of Puerto Santander, northeast Colombia. Ivo was a former town councillor and a radio journalist. His death came on the same day as those of Marco Rivadeneira and Ángel Ovidio Quintero, who were killed in Putumayo and Antioquia respectively.

On 20 March, paramilitaries killed community leader José Isidro Cuesta in Carmen del Darién in Chocó, western Colombia. José had returned to the zone one month earlier after previously having been forced to leave due to insecurity. In February, a Justice for Colombia delegation visited Chocó to hear testimonies from victims of forced displacement. Paramilitary groups remain highly active in the region.

On 22 March, two young brothers, Willian Ricardo Cuastuza, who was 28 years old, and Brayan Jesús Cuastuza, 22, were killed in Putumayo, southern Colombia. Human rights organisations said that armed groups had been kidnapping and threatening community members in the towns of Valle del Guamuez and San Miguel.

On 23 March, indigenous brothers Omar and Ernesto Guasiruma were shot dead in their home in the Bolívar zone of Valle del Cauca. Two other brothers, José and Victor, were injured in the attack. The family were reportedly at home under conditions of quarantine. According to the UN, violence against indigenous communities has escalated to extremely worrying levels in Colombia.  

The following day, social activist Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez, a coordinator of the NGO Popular Women’s Organisation, was killed at her home by two men in San Pablo in the northern department of Bolívar. Her partner has been missing since the attack.

On 26 March, soldiers killed 20-year-old rural activist Alejandro Carvajal inside his home in Catatumbo, northeast Colombia. Alejandro helped coordinate community-led programmes to replace illegal crop plantations with traditional alternatives, one of the core aspects of the peace process. Despite the 2016 agreement’s stipulations over voluntary crop substitution, the military has continued to forcibly remove plantations in the region, leading to protests from local communities. Soldiers had repressed protests in the days leading up to Alejandro’s killing.

On 29 March, Mario Campaña was killed in the southern Nariño region, three days after he had been abducted from his home in the Ipiales zone.

On Monday 30 March, FARC former combatant Juan Carlos Castillo was found dead with gunshot wounds in the Puerto Asís zone of Putumayo, southern Colombia. The 29-year-old had been based at the Heiler Mosquera reincorporation zone where FARC members receive training and develop sustainable projects as they transition to civil society. Juan Carlos was part of an agricultural collective formed of former guerrillas. He is at least the fourteenth FARC member killed in Putumayo and the 191st nationwide since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

Other victims in March include: community leader Julio Gutiérrez, killed in Huila on 2 March; FARC former guerrillas Astrid Conde, killed in Bogota on 5 March, and Edwin de Jesús Carrascal Barrios, killed in Sucre on 10 March; trade unionist Alexis Vergara, killed in Cauca on 10 March; and FARC former guerrillas Belle Ester Carrillo Leal and Irnel Flores Forero, killed in Caquetá on 17 March.

More than 600 social activists have been murdered in Colombia since the peace agreement was signed. The UN has repeatedly called on Colombia’s government to ensure full implementation of the peace agreement as the most effective means of improving security.