Colombia sees seven massacres in two weeks as wave of violence grips country

At least 39 people have been killed in the recent spate of unrest and the country has seen 46 massacres so far this year

A wave of massacres in which dozens of people have been killed across Colombia has prompted fears that the South American nation remains unable to turn the page on its decades-long civil war.

In the latest incident, the bodies of three young men were found late on Tuesday near a road outside Ocaña, a city near the country’s eastern border with Venezuela.

The discovery marked the seventh massacre in two weeks. At least 39 people have been killed in the spate of violence that has stretched across the country.

On Saturday, six people were killed in Tumaco, a port city near the southern border with Ecuador, just days after the provincial governor warned that the region was descending into a “state of anarchy”. That same day, three people were shot dead near Medellín, Colombia’s second city, while three more were murdered in Arauca, in the country’s eastern plains.

So far this year, Colombia has seen 46 massacres, defined as the murder of three or more people in a single act of killing, according to local conflict watchdog Indepaz.

“We are living in a state of constant fear,” said one community leader near Ocaña who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. “We know that we could be killed at any time, and that the government will do little to save us.”

A 2016 peace deal with the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), formally ended five decades of civil war that killed more than 260,000 people and displaced 7 million.

The accord was supposed to bring with it increased security and development to Colombia’s poorest regions but such change has been elusive, with dissident Farc factions fighting for territorial control with a rival leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, ELN, rightwing paramilitary groups, drug cartels and the Colombian military.

The violence has been particularly felt by human rights activists, with more than 100 murdered this year, while the pandemic has also led armed groups to exert control. At least 30 people have been murdered for breaking quarantines, according to a local university.

Observers say that president Iván Duque – a skeptic of the peace deal he inherited when he took office two years ago – has not done enough to guarantee its implementation.

“The government has failed to follow the roadmap laid out by the peace deal,” said Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a thinktank. “And unless that changes and we see a genuine development and not just a military response, these killings will continue.”

Duque has blamed the recent bloodshed on drug-trafficking groups, and ordered the armed forces to be “implacable” in their response. He drew sharp criticism on Saturday, when he appeared to downplay the massacres by describing them as “collective homicides”.

While the current wave of massacres has prompted comparisons with the peak of the conflict in the late 1990s – when both massacres and murders were commonplace – analysts say that the current dynamics of the armed groups are more complicated.

“In the past you had clear ideological lines and motives, whereas now you have fragmented groups with their own fiefdoms,” said Gimena Sánchez, Andes director at the Washington Office on Latin America. “Unless we see a radical change in political will by Duque and the economic elites of the country, things will continue to deteriorate.”


Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Deforestation soars in Colombia after Farc rebels' demobilization
Area of deforestation climbed 44% in 2016 compared with year before, as criminal groups have swooped in promote illegal logging and mining

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

11, Jul, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Killing of two boys for alleged shoplifting shocks Colombia
Pair were taken away by armed men on motorbikes and later found shot dead on edge of town

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

13, Oct, 2021 @12:30 PM

Article image
Armed rebels impose brutal rules in Venezuela-Colombia border region
Human Rights Watch report finds rape, murder and kidnappings on both sides of border, where people are unable to move freely

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

22, Jan, 2020 @7:30 AM

Article image
Colombia suspends police officers who fired into crowd, leaving six dead
Six farmers were killed and 20 wounded in south-western region of Tumaco and authorities initially blamed dissident Farc guerrillas for violence

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

09, Oct, 2017 @6:49 PM

Article image
Colombia peace process weathers the storm as Farc hands in weapons
40% of rebels’ arsenal has been decommissioned, marking another success in a process that has often stumbled

Joe Parkin Daniels in La Elvira

16, Jun, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Colombia to pay reparations for role in extermination of leftwing party
Inter-American Court of Human Rights concludes state allowed extermination of 6,000 Patriotic Union party members in 1980s

Luke Taylor in Bogotá

01, Feb, 2023 @7:06 PM

Article image
Colombia launches military offensive after killing of five indigenous leaders
Operation aims to root out armed groups in conflict-ridden Cauca province and hunt down gunmen responsible for massacre

Joe Parkin Daniels

30, Oct, 2019 @7:52 PM

Article image
Colombia to sign new peace deal with Farc rebels despite ongoing objections
Critics pushed back on the original peace deal, rejected just days after it was signed, saying it was too soft on guerrilla commanders responsible for war crimes

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

24, Nov, 2016 @7:30 AM

Article image
Colombia and Farc rebels sign historic ceasefire deal to end 50-year conflict
Final peace deal will require approval in referendum but formal cessation of hostilities and Farc’s acceptance of disarmament are key steps toward resolution

Sibylla Brodzinsky and Jonathan Watts

23, Jun, 2016 @5:54 PM

Article image
Colombia and Farc scramble to rescue peace deal amid worries of return to war
Farc leader Timochenko says ‘peace is here to stay’ and that rebels will insist on the deal that has already been signed despite its rejection by voters

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

03, Oct, 2016 @11:44 PM