Violence escalates during Colombia's elections

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Skyrocketing violence in Colombian elections

Between August and September 2019, 7 political candidates were killed during the municipal and regional election campaign in Colombia. According to news reports, at least 62 others have been threatened or attacked.

One of the cases caught public attention for its brutality -on 1st September 2019, mayoral candidate Karina García and city council candidate Yeison Obando Llanten were ambushed and shot to death while traveling in a car in Suárez, Cauca state. At least one grenade was also used, and the car was set on fire after the attack. Three others were also killed. On 28th August 2019, Garcia had published a video denouncing ongoing threats and asking for an end to the defamation campaign against her. She was running for mayor in the town of Suárez, an area that has been affected by violence related to drug trafficking and illegal mining. The politician often worked with indigenous farming and Afro-Colombian communities.

According to a report from CSO coalition Misión de Observación Electoral (Electoral Observation Mission), 364 political, social and community leaders have been the victims of assaults between 27th October 2018 and 27th August 2019. In those attacks, 91 leaders were killed. The report states that the significant factors behind the killing of political leaders and candidates are territorial control, the positioning of armed actors and campaign financing. However, political violence affects all communities and all positions on the political spectrum.

FARC dissidents announce mobilisation

On 29 August 2019, a former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander, Iván Márquez, and other former commanders announced they would be taking up arms again, nearly three years after the peace accord with the Colombian government was signed. Márquez was the lead negotiator for the FARC in the dialogues with the government leading to the agreement.

On 31st August 2019 the Ombudsman’s Office reported a high risk that former FARC dissidents, the National Liberation Army, the Popular Liberation Army and various paramilitary groups operating around the country would seek to influence October 2019’s elections through violence and fraud. In 78 municipalities the level of risk was considered “extreme”.

Indigenous communities denounce violence in Cauca

On 10th August 2019, the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (Regional Indigenous Council of CaucaCRIC) denounced the killing of two members of their Indigenous Guard, Kevin Mestizo Coicué and Eugenio Tenorio. Five others were injured in the attack, including a 7-year-old child. The attack took place as the Guard accompanied members of the community who were going to participate in a coffee fair in Toribío. According to CRIC’s report, armed men intercepted two vehicles in which the group was traveling. Only a day before, another attack using explosive devices was reported against indigenous communities in the region.

Alberto Brunori, representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia, said in statement that OHCHR has received information on the murder of 36 members of Pueblo Nasa del Norte del Cauca, as well as 53 threats and 8 attacks against the community in 2019.

Community organiser killed in Caquetá

On 8th September 2019, community organiser and activist Yunier Moreno was killed at his home in the southern region of Caquetá. According to news reports, he was shot six times by heavily armed attackers, who fled before they could be identified. The activist worked with victims of forced displacement and Afro-Colombian communities in the region.

Peaceful Assembly

At the end of September, the police acted to repress protests by students in Bogotá resulting in violent clashes. The protests began on 23rd September 2019 after reports of alleged corruption in the District University in Bogotá. Riot police unit ESMAD acted to disperse a demonstration that blocked a key avenue on 24th September 2019, triggering a violent reaction from protesters. On 25th September 2019, students from other universities joined the protest in solidarity. Since then, protests have continued in October 2019.

While many protesters called for peace, some groups engaged in violence. An explosion at the Pedagogical University, caused presumably by a home-made bomb, left five people injured. On 27th September 2019, a group attempted to set fire to the headquarters of technical institute Icetex during the protests. However, students also denounced abuses by ESMAD.

Defence Minister Guillermo Botero claimed to be certain that the protests had been infiltrated, but did not clarify who could be responsible. Botero admitted that there may have been excesses in ESMAD’s actions but defended the security forces’ behaviour overall. A radio station reported that the police department had confirmed that two of its officers had infiltrated the protest and taken part in acts of vandalism, however a disparaging version was reported on El Espectador. According to the newspaper, the police confirmed having arrested 40 people for violent acts during the protests but did not confirm whether there were investigations against members of the police force.

Expression

On 18th October 2019, Javier Córdoba Chaguendo, a journalist and host with community radio station Planeta Stereo, was killed while working in the station's studio in Tumaco, Nariño. Chaguendo was running a music programme on Planeta Stereo when armed assailants entered the studio and shot him.

As reported by RCN Radio, Mario Viteri, Nariño's Secretary of Government, said that no threats had been reported against the journalist before this attack. The public official vowed to tighten security measures at the station while the case is under investigation.

FLIP (Freedom of Expression Foundation) condemned the assassination and noted a “complete absence” of the state in Nariño. According to the Foundation, 340 violations of press freedom have been reported in Colombia in 2019, affecting 410 communicators. These violations include two murders, six forced displacements, three kidnappings and a case of sexual violence.