Alicia Lopez Guisao, a leader of Colombia’s Asokinchas community, helped distribute food to Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities.
Colombian Indigenous and campesino leader Alicia Lopez Guisao was killed in Medellin on Thursday, adding to the growing list of recently murdered human rights activists in the South American country.
The number of social and human rights defenders killed in the last 14 months now stands at at least 120, according to a Friday press release from the Defense of the People.
“The retreat of the FARC from the zones where they previously exercised control has allowed for the entrance of new armed actors who fight for territorial and economic dominance,” states the report. This marks a concerning trend requiring immediate action since the attacks are “pertaining to groups with similar characteristics, and which occurred in the same period and geographic area,” it adds.
Guisao, who was shopping at a grocery store at 8:45 am local time, was shot repeatedly by two unknown gunmen who entered the store, El Tiempo reports.
The People’s Congress, the left-wing organization that Guisao worked for organizing Indigenous peasants, believes the gunmen may have been connected to right-wing paramilitary groups.
“With great sadness and indignation we received and transmitted the news of the murder of comrade Alicia Lopez Guisao,” The People’s Congress said in a statement.
“Her murder is an example of the fact that the right-wing organizations that operate today in the city of Medellin are the same paramilitaries who have murdered others in recent years.”
Guisao, a leader of Colombia’s Indigenous Asokinchas community, organized the Agrarian Summit Project, which distributed land and food for 12 Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the department of Choco.
Originally from the rural Uraba Antioquia, Guisao and her family were displaced from the region by U.S.-backed paramilitaries in the late 1990s, forcing them to move to Medellin.
In 2002, after opening a family-led community health and education center, she and her relatives were once again forced out by police and right-wing paramilitaries in a “counter-terrorism operation.”
Operation Orion, the campaign which displaced Guisao and her family, was a joint paramilitary and police offensive that targeted left-wing rebels accused of supporting Colombia’s guerilla movement. Prior to her death, Guisao lived in Choco where she performed community service work.;
Her death in the same area from where she was displaced “shows that it’s (paramilitary activity) a structure that persists in the city and that it’s not only general delinquency or criminal gangs like state institutions say,” wrote an open letter signed by dozens of Colombian social justice organizations denouncing her murder.
The letter says that Guisao’s sisters were warned that they and their parents would be next if they show up to her burial. The groups call on the government to ensure the protection of her family and the prosecution of those responsible.
Marcha Patriotica, the leftist political party that worked closely with Guisao and The People’s Congress, says that during the first two months of 2017, more than 20 Colombian social leaders, including six women, were killed. Most of those killed, they say, were Indigenous campesino activists fighting for human rights.
Last January, Indigenous human rights activist Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela was murdered in Valledupar by suspected paramilitaries. Eyewitnesses said that she was threatened with a gun by several people on a motorcycle, who then shot her in the head. Varela, a member of Colombia’s Wiwa tribe, fought to protect Indigenous and women’s rights in her community.
“Indigenous people are being threatened and intimidated,” said secretary of the Wiwa Golkuche organization Jose Gregorio Rodríguez shortly after her murder on January 26. “Today they murdered our comrade and violated our rights. Our other leaders must be protected.”
The retreat of the FARC and other left-wing guerrilla groups that have historically defended Indigenous campesino groups has created a power vacuum in areas across the country that right-wing paramilitaries are exploiting.
El Tiempo-Marcha Patriotica-Contagio Radio-The People’s Congress