Last week, students of Colombian descent organized a vigil in Times Square for the recent wave of massacres that have happened this past month in the Latin American country. Armed with candles, chants, signs, and flags, the students and community members joined their voices to demand justice.
“We are protesting because in Colombia the killings and massacres are coming back,” said Aura Angélica Hernéndez, coordinator of the Colombian Studies group. “All of them are young people, and it happened in places where the military is present. So why are they still killing our young ones? Our social leaders? The military is present in those territories, so what is happening?”
But when the FARC left areas they used to control, criminal gangs and drug traffickers emerged fighting to take over those territories and control Colombia’s lucrative illegal narcotic and mining industries, weakening the peace movement. Since 2016, more than 700 community leaders have been killed in those areas, according to Colombia’s Institute of Studies for Peace and Development.
“The occurrence of massacres in the country shows the high degree of crudeness with which illegal armed groups are fighting over the territories to subject civilians to arbitrary regimes of violence,” the Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia wrote on Twitter.
On August 8, Cristián Caicedo, 12, and Maicol Ibarra, 17, were walking to their school in the southern state of Nariño to drop off a homework they couldn’t send via email. The day before, there were reports of fighting between a group of guerrillas ex-members and the Autodefensas Gaitanistas paramilitary group.
According to local outlets, Caicedo and Ibarra were walking by the combat zone and were shot with assaults rifles, killing them instantly.
Three days later on August 11, the bodies of five teenagers were found tortured and murdered in Llano Verde, a neighborhood in Cali. There has been reports of conflicts between drug gangs in that area for years.
Local authorities do not know what was the reason for the attack, but some theories suggest attempted robbery, a settle of score between gangs, or because the teenagers refused to join these gangs.
On August 16, eight young people were killed in Samaniego during a gathering of more than 50 people where a group of hooded men started shooting at them.
For years the Ejército de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), now the country’s biggest guerrilla group, has been present in that area. One report said that the ELN was handing out pamphlets threatening the community to “destroy” anyone found drinking alcohol at illegal parties.
“In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “This abusive social control reflects the government’s long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations.”
The Times Square event gathered a small group of people, but the message was powerful, loud and clear: peace in Colombia.
“I am here because I dream of a Colombia with peace where my son can travel without fear, my nephews can go to school without fear, and my mom can travel to her farm without any issues,” Elizabeth Corredor said. “I am here as a mother, support to all the mothers and fathers in their pain.”
Corredor is originally from Bogotá. She has been living in New York for 14 years and was accompanied by her 14-year-old son.
During the event, candles were lit for each person that were killed and chants of protests were heard throughout the day demanding that Colombia protect its citizens.
Diego Jesús Bartesaghi Mena is a 2020 Latino Rebels summer correspondent. A recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he is based in Newark, NJ and tweets from @bartesaghi_mena.