BOGOTA — Thousands of Colombians gathered in cities across the country Friday night to demand an end to a wave of activist killings that threatens to undermine a fragile peace process.
Demonstrators holding candles filled Bogota’s main Plaza Bolivar to draw attention to the 311 leftists and human rights defenders that authorities say have been killed since 2016, the year the government signed a landmark peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
The gatherings in almost 50 cities came a little more than two weeks after Ivan Duque was elected Colombia’s president, and the conservative politician’s pledge to roll back parts of the accord was on many protesters’ minds.
“A lot of us are worried that with the change of government the progress in terms of human rights and the peace deal is at risk,” Chris Duarte said as she collected handwritten letters of support that she intends to deliver to activists in high-risk rural areas where the vast majority of the killings have taken place.
The protests were organized hastily over social media following an especially bloody week in which at least four activists were slain, including a campaign workerer for Gustavo Petro, Duque’s leftist rival in the polarizing presidential race.
Ana Maria Cortes died Tuesday when an unidentified gunman opened fire at her at a coffee shop just a few steps from a police station in the western town of Caceres.
Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas further alarmed many people by claiming, without offering any evidence, that Cortes might have been linked to Colombia’s biggest drug-trafficking organization.