Tensions are on the rise in the northern Colombian city of Santa Marta following the assassination of the son of an indigenous governor and an alleged increase in criminal influence in local politics.
Jacinto Sauna, the eldest son of Jose de los Santos, the leader of the Kogi ethnic group, was assassinated by unknown assailants in his Santa Marta home on Tuesday.
The victim was a student of environmental engineering at the University of Magdalena and an emerging figure in the indigenous community.
“I can’t find words to talk about it. They took away my son, who was part of our heritage and and our culture,” said De los Santos. He added that he had no indication of who might be behind the crime. His son allegedly had not received threats.
Additionally, the Kogi leader expressed his concern over an alleged increase in violence in the region around Santa Marta, concerns that are shared by the University of Magdalena that saw three of its students murdered in the past month.
“Santa Marta is experiencing difficult days, and respect for life and human rights is seriously violated,” read the statement by the University.
As a reaction to spreading violence, hundreds of people took to the streets on Thursday to demand justice.
According to lawyer Edward Alvarez, an expert on indigenous issues and human rights, “many people remain quiet about what is happening in the city. Criminal gangs have subjected the population and the authorities are in their pockets. There are disputes over the territory and there is no one to raise their voice against it. Those who do are killed.”
In a separate statement, the indigenous communities of Sierra Nevada also expressed their concern with the situation. “We question the security system in the city,” it read.
“We hope that murder of Sauna does not go unpunished, similarly to the killings of leaders Napoleon Torres, Angel Maria Torres and Hugues Chaparro, as 22 years have gone by without establishing facts and implementing justice,” said the indigenous leadership.
While the police said they plan to to intensify the investigation, the university rector summoned a special session of the university’s governing council. The governor of Magdalena, Luis Miguel Cotes, convened a special security council.
Jose de los Santos, meanwhile, went to the Sierra to bury his son “where their ancestors are.”