While President Ivan Duque was enjoying a trip to Europe, the murder of yet another community leader on Friday triggered a wave of indignation in Colombia unseen in recent memory.
The latest victim of the country’s decades-old paramilitary violence was Maria del Pilar Hurtado, a leading member of a community of 17,000 people who had occupied a plot on the outskirts of Tierralta, Cordoba after being displaced by the construction of a nearby hydroelectric dam in 2001.
How the situation in Tierralta escalated
The occupied plot is property of the father of Tierralta Mayor Fabio Otero, community representative Andres Chica told newspaper El Espectador.
“Two more people have been assassinated because of this situation,” Chica told the newspaper.
According to the community representative, Del Pilar Hurtado was one of multiple “military targets” in a death threat that appeared on June 1, allegedly one day after a failed police attempt to evict the community.
In the threat signed by paramilitary group AGC, the victims was referred to as “the fat bitch of the scrap shop” she ran in her neighborhood.
We declare these people a military objective because we are fed up with this herd of unemployed sons of bitches that went too far invading lots… Beware, we don’t fool around. What we will do is kill and recover control, and if these people want that shit to get out of hand, let the shit get out of hand.
Alleged AGC paramilitaries
In a Twitter response, the mayor’s office denied the victim was either a social leader or referenced in the death threat.
Social media ignite
A video of the nine-year-old son of the victim screaming and crying when finding his mother’s dead body spurred an unprecedented response on social media and triggered people to spontaneously take to the streets.
Following the release of the video, the president’s Twitter feed was bombarded with grief, desperate cries to act against the genocide and insults.
The heartbreaking scream of a child in front of his mother’s corpse. This sums us up as a country no matter if we try to deny it, hide it, or alleviate it with other facts. Nothing changes a systematic tragedy. Nothing. We have all failed. What a damned pain.
Journalist Claudia Morales
Many begged the international community to help stop the paramilitary violence that has been terrorizing communities for decades and saw a resurgence after the demobilization of guerrilla group FARC in 2017.
The peace process that followed the 2016 peace deal has been consistently opposed by Duque and his far-right Democratic Center Party.
#DueleColombia Please help us, our government is destroying peace, their actions are killing citizens, every social leader that works for peace, environment, for empowering communities are being killed. Please, we need help. https://t.co/HtY6QAMHf2
— El Moacho (@El_Moacho) June 22, 2019
From social media into the streets
In Medellin, people spontaneously took to the street and lit candles for Del Pilar Hurtado and the hundreds of community leaders and human rights defenders who have been murdered during a peace process that began in 2016 after a peace deal with leftist FARC guerrillas.
Medellín no es indiferente. Hoy salimos a la calle a manifestarnos por la muerte de María del Pilar Hurtado y cientos de líderes sociales. Saldremos las veces que sea necesario a la calle. #DueleColombia pic.twitter.com/2ZQ47pQYxW
— Juan Carlos (@J_Upegui) June 22, 2019
The spontaneous protest was the first in recent memory following the murder of a civilian in a country where paramilitary violence has cost the lives of more than a 100,000 people over the past decades and a Supreme Court investigation into the president’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe.
While Duque was tweeting about some kind of technology fair he was visiting, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced the creation of a special investigation unit to investigate the homicide.
Citizens, social leaders and politicians have called for a national strike on August 7, the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of Duque, whose political allies and economic backers are neck-deep in claims and investigations over their alleged ties to death squads like the one that murdered the leader in Cordoba.