Six social leaders have already been killed so far this year in Colombia

By Michael Krumholtz January 7, 2019
(Courtesy of RECON/Twitter)

After just one week of 2019, Colombia has already seen six social leaders killed. The grisly start to the year continues a macabre 2018 in which more than 160 social leaders around the country were targeted and killed.

Per a report from the Spanish-language El Colombiano newspaper, the latest victim was Maritza Quiroz Leiva of Santa Marta who worked with victims displaced by the war. Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez confirmed the news with a message on social media yesterday saying that the government repudiates this latest killing.

After President Iván Duque said his administration would be tough on paramilitary and gang activity throughout the country, the government has yet to stop the continuing bloodshed of community figures throughout Colombia.

El Espectador reported on Wednesday that Gilberto Valencia, a social advocate in the Suárez municipality of Cauca, was the first social leader of the new year to be killed. Valencia was known in his community for using hip-hop to positively influence young residents of the town.

“The violence and the social decomposition are taking away all of our social leaders and community directors, whose actions search for the construction of peace,” said Andrés Santamaría, the director of social entrepreneur promotor RECON where Valencia helped with his work. “We can’t allow that in our country social leaders keep getting killed every day.”

According to stats from the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, 2018 ended with 164 social leaders being killed. Another organization, Indepaz, said that there were 226 such leaders killed in the past calendar year.

A past report from the Ombudsman’s Office said the targeting of social leaders has been present since Colombia’s peace deal was signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). The organization has said that the killings are a result of the growth of the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as the incentive for paramilitary groups like the ELN and gangs to gain control over areas left behind by the FARC.

So far this year, the other slain social leaders have been found in Antioquia, Valle de Cauca and Norte de Santander.