Colombia marches for the murdered social leaders


President Iván Duque, who wanted to join the demonstration, had to retire after being booed

More than a month ago, the sharp cry of a child resonates with the body of his mother, María del Pilar Hurtado, a social leader of the murdered Colombian Caribbean. His pain went viral and there was no one who could escape the evidence, the shame. This Friday, as a late response to that child and hundreds of other activists killed, thousands of Colombians took to the streets to demand the end of the killing. Since 2016, there is no day that a new case is not heard. There are already 486 human rights defenders killed violently since the peace agreement was signed, according to figures from the Ombudsman’s Office; Only between the months of May 2018 and May 2019 were 196.

“We are failing the leaders and human rights defenders” or “Duke on stage, and the dead what?”, Read on the posters during the march that demanded the Government of Ivan Duque a forceful action to stop the murders . In Bogotá, a group of artists gave huge photographs of social leaders that citizens stuck to the body, while others sang and danced, and a long banner with the names of the dead traveled several streets. In Cartagena, the Colombian president wanted to join the demonstration, but had to retire escorted after being booed.

In the capital, the march was led by a group of personalities from the country that make up the Defend Peace Foundation. Behind a poster with that headline, there were ex-negotiators of the peace process, former FARC leaders and congressmen from different parties, among others. Thousands of people walked together to the Plaza de Bolívar, in front of the Congress, where several social leaders read a proclamation for life.

Luis Acosta, Yeison Mosquera, Mayerli Angarita, Gladys Aristizábal and Viviana Verdesoto gave voice to the activists and also to the 1,351 who have received threats in the last year. The selection was not random: an indigenous, a social leader who demands the return of land and a woman victim of the armed conflict represented the most vulnerable populations. “These crimes are particularly serious, symptomatic of a disease deeply rooted in Colombia, that of wanting to decapitate, discourage, eliminate, scare or exterminate anyone who wants to lift their heads, anyone who wants to report an injustice or propose a reform, a solution, a necessary and just popular claim, ”they read to the crowd.

For the Ombudsman, Carlos Negret, there are at least three factors that complicate the lives of leaders. One of them is the existence of groups such as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Groups or the Neoparamilites dedicated to the coca business, the illegal mining of gold and coltan and smuggling, mainly in the border area with Venezuela. This problem is joined by the difficulties and delays in the implementation of the peace process, as well as the presence of the ELN guerrillas. Nor have the places abandoned by the guerrillas been militarily or socially occupied. “Polarization is very serious. If the stigmatization of the leaders is not stopped, this could be exacerbated, ”said Negret.

The march for leaders ended, as is common in Colombia, with dance and music, and new protests are already planned throughout the country to continue demanding that the killings be put to an end.

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