Things That Matter

#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

Despite countrywide stay-at-home orders that are among the world’s most strict, and even cartel-enforced lockdowns, crime is on the rise across Colombia. The increase has been driven by massacre-style attacks on the country’s most vulnerable communities: Afro-Colombians and Indigenous groups.

The recent torture and murder of five black teens who had stepped outside to fly kites, has reignited the conversation on race and how the government can step up to make sure minority groups across the country can be better protected.

A group of Afro-Latino teens were found tortured and murdered in Cali, Colombia.

Five Black teenagers left their homes in a neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, to fly their kites and play on a recent August morning. The young friends, aged between 14 and 18, didn’t show up at home for lunch. By midday, their mothers were looking for them.

“The boys were found tortured, burned, with machete and bullet wounds,” said Erlendy Cuero, a social leader from Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. “Right now, the people who live here are sad but also very scared.”

Community members recently led a protest denouncing racism and violence inflicted by the Colombian state, and demanding justice for the murdered teens and other Afro-Colombian people who’ve been killed.

The mother of one of the Cali victims said: “Because we’re vulnerable and black, lots of people think they can walk all over us and forget about what happened to our children. Don’t let it be forgotten.”

The brutal killings are a reminder to Colombians that ethnic minorities are the most affected by violence.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Colombia is a country that has grown accustom to violence, but the massacre of these Black teens has shocked the country as a whole. And it’s brought to light a very real issue of racism in the country and shown exactly which communities suffer the most: ethnic minorities.

The recent masacre has also illuminated cracks in the still fragile peace deal between the government and former-FARC rebels. Just days after the boys were found murdered, a grenade was thrown at the police station in Llano Verde. The attack injured 15 people and left one man dead.

“We can’t assure they’re related, but neither can we rule out that hypothesis,” said Jorge Iván Ospina, Cali’s mayor.

The communities that suffer the most from widespread violence, are the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. They have little protection from the central government in Bogota. However, it appears that finally, Colombians are starting to realize that peace will never be possible without listening to those communities who are most affected by violence.

Massacres are on the rise across the country, despite countrywide stay-at-home orders.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders thanks to the Coronavirus. However, the number of massacres carried out this year is record breaking. In 2020, there have been at least 43 massacres leaving at least 181 dead.

The majority of them are taking place in the country’s south-west, home to larger populations of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. Although responsibility for the massacres remains unclear, the government is pointing fingers at drug cartels. Families of victims though disagree, saying that their loved ones had no involvement with the drug trade.

A frequent complaint in these areas is that there is no government presence, allowing elements of armed groups that did not accept the peace agreements made in 2016 by the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos to fight for control of territory. 

The massacres are at least bringing forth a conversation on race and vulnerable communities in the country.

From police brutality to government indifference, Black and Indigenous Colombians live very different lives from the rest of the country. They’re more often targeted for abuse by police, they’re more likely to fall victim to massacres, and the government affords them little in the way of official protections from discrimination.

The recent murder of the teens from Cali, is finally bringing the #BlackLivesMatter conversation to a country that has long denied the existence of racism within its borders.

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