Human rights defender Ana María Cortes was killed on Tuesday in a cafeteria in Caceres, Antioquia, where she did most of her campaigning. Her death marks the 98th such death of a social leader this year alone, according to figures provided by human rights organisation Dejusticia. Authorities have yet to release details but an investigation is now underway as to the person or persons responsible for her death.
The 46-year-old Cortes was also known as a campaigner for former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro of Colombia Humana, who finished behind president-elect Iván Duque in the recent elections.
A group of suspect were arrested in connection to the death of the influential social leader and may be connected as dissidents to the powerful Clan del Golfo cartel, according to the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office.
“There is clear evidence that will be presented before a judge to bring justice to these criminals amid a conflict that is occurring with Los Caparrapos, who are dissidents of the Clan del Golfo,” said Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez in an official statement.
Cortes’ killing occurred in her native village of Caceres, Antioquia, and is near the site of the troubled hydroelectric dam Hidroituango. In April, a red alert was sounded by the dam’s owners EPM over structural failures that risked flooding the villages below, Caceres included. Since then, more than 25,000 people remain displaced from their homes as they’ve been forced to relocate to higher ground in towns like Valdivia. A red alert is still in place for Puerto Valdivia and Puerto Antioquia where it is estimated that a collapse in the dam would result in catastrophic flooding within these regions within a matter of hours.
Electoral participation among those displaced had become a difficult task during this year’s election and the work of campaigners like Cortes became important in ensuring that evacuees could still have their voice heard at the polls.
In a department where Duque won in a landslide (with a 51% lead), Petro was able to come within touching distance of Duque’s tally in Caceres with only 392 votes separating the two candidates. According to the Colombia Humana campaign, the tireless campaigning work of Cortes played a large part Petro’s success in a region where he struggled to gain votes. Speaking of his own personal interaction with Cortes, political strategist Jorge Rojas Rodríguez of Colombiana Humana wrote via a Whatsapp broadcast that it is difficult to “find such a capacity for leadership, generosity and sensitivity in one person.”
Cortes, who is survived by her two children and her mother, is now the 224th social leader that has been killed since the peace accord was signed between the Colombian government and the former Marxist rebel group FARC. In reaction to her death, along with the deaths of many other social leaders in the last week alone, campaigners have called for a March for Life in protest against the continued violence against social and community leaders. The march will begin today at 6pm in 21 cities across the nation, including Plaza del Bolivar in Bogotá and Parque de los Deseos in Medellín.
*This article was syndicated from our sister site at The Bogotá Post.