Two Ethnic Leaders Assassinated Within 48 Hours in Colombia
Washington, D.C.—Two prominent Colombian activists were killed over the weekend of January 26-28, as social leaders in regions hard hit by the country’s conflict continue to face threats from shadowy special interests. Eleazar Tequía Vitucay and Temistocles Machado were both ethnic leaders whose organizations and communities form part of the Ethnic Commission for Peace, the platform that represented the interests of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities during Colombia’s peace negotiations with guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC). According to advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), it is increasingly urgent that U.S. and Colombian authorities speak out about the security threats facing ethnic leaders and provide them with adequate and timely protection.
“U.S. and Colombian authorities and the international community must activate all channels necessary to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice,” said WOLA Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli. “Colombia’s leadership must provide effective protection to all human rights defenders and social leaders facing death threats throughout the country. The deaths of Vitucay and Machado make clear that the Colombian government must to do more to provide security for social leaders and dismantle illegal armed groups, under the provisions of the Ethnic Chapter of the Colombian peace accords.”
Vitucay and Machado are just the two most recent social leaders murdered in Colombia. In December, the United Nations reported that 105 Colombian social leaders were killed in 2017. Other organizations such as Colombian non-governmental organization INDEPAZ report that 167 social leaders and peace advocates were killed in 2017, representing a 45 percent increase from 2016.
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indigena de Colombia, ONIC) reported that on January 26, members of the Colombian military gunned down Eleazar Tequia Vitucay while he was traveling on the road linking Quibdó with Medellin. Vitucay, of the Embera Katio peoples, was a ten-year veteran of the indigenous guard responsible for providing security in an indigenous reserve in the department of Chocó. The homicide took place as Mr. Vitucay was on his way home from participating in an event about education rights, involving young children and adolescents.
On January 27, Afro-Colombian leader Temistocles Machado was gunned down in Colombia’s largest Pacific port city, Buenaventura in the southwestern department of Valle del Cauca. Mr. Machado, a leader of social group the Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) was instrumental in defending the rights of persons displaced due to atrocities committed in the Naya, Raposo and Yurumangui river communities during the 1990s and 2000s. Machado was killed in the Isla de la Paz neighborhood in Buenaventura, a community made up principally of displaced families now facing tremendous pressure to abandon their areas of resettlement due to infrastructure and development projects linked to the port. “Don Temis” was an adamant supporter of ethnic rights, peace, and dignity for impoverished Afro-Colombians. He also played a pivotal role in the 2017 civic strikes in Buenaventura.