BOGOTA – The massacres targeting civilians have once again become a feature of Colombian rural life amid the coronavirus pandemic, with young people being the main victims, like the nine youths killed on the weekend in Samaniego, in southwestern Nariño province.
The massacre was carried out by an unknown gunman that opened fire on a group of young people who, according to preliminary reports, were university students that had returned to their hometown because of the coronavirus quarantine and on Saturday night decided to gather at a house on the outskirts of Samaniego for a little party to forget about the lockdown for a couple of hours.
“There are outbreaks of violence in the territories. The murders are not confined (to any one area), while the country is ripping apart and polarization is growing. Who is responding? The state has to come out of confinement and capture the murderers, cutting off territories and returning confidence to the people,” said Colombia’s inspector general, Fernando Carrillo.
Besides Colombian society’s condemnation of the killings, international organizations have expressed their repudiation of the massacre, which is the worst of the recent multiple murders committed in Colombia and the authors of which are now on the long list of “unknown” killers.
“In carrying out our duty, so far in 2020, we’ve documented 33 massacres and seven remain to be documented. Also, we’re investigating 97 murders of human rights defenders, of whom so far we’ve documented 45,” the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Sunday.
Less than a week ago, the country was shocked by another massacre, this one taking place in Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca province, where the bodies of five teenagers between 14-15 were found last Tuesday riddled with bullets and bearing signs of torture in a sugar cane field in the Llano Verde portion of the city.
The authorities promised to mount an exhaustive investigation of the killings but so far the perpetrators remain “unknown.”
“We’re returning to that sad time some 20 years ago where all those massacres had become regular things. Before, there was a ‘justification’ for them, in that they were massacres of (people) who were collaborating with the guerrillas, and now they are completely absurd,” the director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, Leon Valencia, told EFE.
One of the “absurd” incidents occurred on Aug. 10, when two students – ages 12 and 17 – were murdered in the town of Leiva, in Nariño province, as they were heading to their school to turn in homework, given that the COVID-19 pandemic has led authorities to cancel in-person classes.
The double murder was attributed to the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), one of the many criminal groups vying for control of certain territories and of the drug trade in different parts of the country.
Another incident in the current orgy of blood took place on July 27 when three people belonging to the same family were killed in the village of Versalles, and two days later another three people suffered the same fate in Puerto Colombia, both towns located in the municipality of San Jose de Ure.
The border zone with Venezuela was the scene of another massacre less than a month ago – on July 19 – that took the lives of six people in the village of Totumito, a rural zone located near Cucuta, the capital of Norte de Santander province.
According to Valencia, the Colombian government has allowed groups like the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and the Gulf Clan criminal gang to strengthen themselves by not occupying the areas vacated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels when they signed their peace agreement with Bogota.
“The ELN is growing and growing and there are no negotiations or confrontation with it. The government has done the worst thing and that’s to sit there with neither of the two alternatives: during the Alvaro Uribe (government, 2002-2010) there was combat with the guerrillas and during the Juan Manuel Santos (government, 2010-2018), there were negotiations,” he said.
Valencia added that the Ivan Duque government “has no talks and no combat, and it let the Gulf Clan reconstitute itself, the largest organization that coordinates many of the local organizations” mainly devoted to drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining.