Three women have been gunned down in the coastal city of Cartagena on the first day of Colombia’s coronavirus lockdown, amid widespread fear the quarantine would result in a spike in gender-based violence.
Loli luz Madero Guerrero died on Wednesday along with her mother and sister, after her ex-partner reportedly drew a gun and shot all three following a heated argument outside his home in Cartagena’s El Carmelo neighbourhood. The two other victims were named as Ellyn Madero Guerrero and Edenis Guerrero.
The killer, identified only by his nickname “El Monito” (Little Blonde), reportedly shot the three women after Loli luz attempted to retrieve some of her belongings from his home, following the apparent recent breakdown of their relationship, reported Caracol Radio. The alleged killer was captured hours after fleeing the scene on a motorbike.
The killings came hours after women’s rights activist Carlota Isabel Salinas was ordered out of her home and shot dead by assassins in the town of San Pablo, Bolivar, 230 miles (365 km) south of Cartagena. Salinas, who had worked with local NGO La Organización Femenina Popular (Popular Feminist Organization), was killed just hours before the lockdown officially came into force, according to victims’ rights NGO Movice. Her husband remains missing.
The killings occurred as Colombia went into a 19-day nationwide quarantine period, and came amid widespread concern that the lockdown could endanger both victims of domestic abuse and social activists, who have been killed in the hundreds since a 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The lockdown is intended to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, of which Colombia has so far registered 470 cases, including four deaths.
Salinas’ killing follows the murders last week of activists Marco Rivadeneira in the southern region of Putumayo, Ángel Ovidio Quintero in the central region of Antioquia, and Ivo Humberto Bracamonte near the border with Venezuela.
Those killings occurred as the country’s major cities went into earlier lockdowns, and drew warnings from local NGOs that more such violence was likely to follow, as armed groups take advantage of stay-at-home orders and the stretched capacity of security services.
Meanwhile, amid widespread concern in Colombia for an expected rise in domestic violence during the lockdown, President Ivan Duque issued a decree on March 23 guaranteeing that domestic violence support services and hotlines would remain open across the country.
“We will be ruthless with those who intend to abuse a child in the development of this quarantine,” said Duque during a televised address on Monday, urging anyone aware of such abuse to report it to authorities.
“We also have to always flatly reject, with all forcefulness, domestic violence,” Duque said. “This national quarantine has to be used to strengthen our families.”
Nevertheless, violence against women reportedly surged in capital city Bogota during a five-day citywide lockdown that preceded the national quarantine. According to Bogota Women’s Secretay Diana Rodriguez Franco, that included a 30 percent increase in complaints of violence against women on Mother’s Day (March 22), as calls to the capital’s domestic abuse hotlines spiked.
“Our calls have tripled, including those for physical violence,” Rodríguez told RCN Radio.
“Nothing justifies this violence, and I think that is a message that everyone needs to help us in sharing,” she said.
Concern over an increase in domestic violence in Colombia follows reports from China, where the novel coronavirus originated, of domestic abuse helplines collapsing in areas under lockdown due to a deluge of calls, with coronavirus reportedly mentioned in 90% of complaints, according to SixthTone.
Over 43,000 cases of physical violence against women were registered by the United Nations in Colombia in 2018, while according to local women’s rights group Colombia Femicide Observatory, at least 571 women were murdered in Colombia in 2019, with almost half killed in their own homes.
In December, Colombia’s Medical Examiner’s Office reported at least 14,145 women had been registered as “at high risk” of being killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member between. Responding to that figure at the time, Bogota City Councillor Lucia Bastidas said the number was likely much higher.
“We all know that more than 70 percent of cases of abuse stay in the home and it is there that women end up being killed,” Bastidas said.