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Shock in Colombia following the murder of a 14-year-old indigenous activist | Colombia

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A 14-year-old indigenous activist has been murdered in Colombia, causing horror and shock at the latest in a series of killings of environmentalists and social leaders in the South American country.

Breiner David Cucuñame was shot dead on Friday while patrolling with the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed group that seeks to protect indigenous lands from incursions by the country’s many armed groups.

Cucuñame, a member of the Nasa people, was accompanying his father when he and two other members of the Guard were killed in an ambush, according to the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), a local indigenous organization.

Dissident members of the now demobilized rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), have been accused by indigenous authorities of being responsible for the killing.

“Indigenous rangers are protectors of the land and the environment, and Breiner represented that,” said Eduin Marcelo Capaz, human rights coordinator for ACIN. “Breiner’s murder is the result of a phenomenon that took years to prepare. In Colombia, armed groups dominate again.

New figures released this week showed that last year a social leader – whether a human rights defender, community activist or environmentalist – was killed every 60 hours in Colombia.

The total of 145 casualties in 2021 was down from the previous year’s total of 182, but the country remains one of the most dangerous in the world for activists.

“We are deeply saddened by each case, because of the impact they have on communities,” human rights ombudsman Carlos Camargo said on Monday.

Many in Colombia had hoped such violence would be a thing of the past when the government signed a peace deal in 2016 with the Farc, which at the time was Latin America’s largest guerrilla army.

This peace agreement, at least on paper, ended a decades-long low-intensity civil war that killed more than 260,000 people and forced 7 million people to flee their homes. The Colombian army, state-aligned paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and other left-wing guerrillas have all contributed to the bloodshed.

But since then, the conflict has continued to plague communities across the country, with dissident Farc and other armed factions stepping into the void. Social leaders, who in many cases are seen as the basic implementers of the peace accord, bear the brunt of the bloodshed.

“Why are social leaders a target? asked Elizabeth Dickinson, senior Colombia analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Because they are often the few voices within a terrified and traumatized community who are willing to speak out against the effects of violence, whether against their communities or the environment.

“Threats against activists are no secret; the government has been repeatedly warned — by the community, by the military, by the state ombudsman — of the risks,” Dickinson said.

“All too often the response is reactive, when it is already too late, rather than doing the hard work of prevention to change the context in which these individuals work.”

Age is no shield in Colombia, where last year Francisco Vera, a 12-year-old activist, received a series of death threats for his public speeches against environmental destruction.

Throughout the country’s decades of conflict, children have often borne the brunt, Dickinson said.

“In the region where Cucuñame was murdered, nearly 100 minors were forcibly recruited into armed groups in 2021, often with false promises or threats,” the analyst said. “Children lost their parents to the violence, were forced to move and, as in this case, suffered the violence directly.”

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