World / Crime & Legal

Mayoral candidate slain in Colombia coca town in suspected rebel attack

AP

A little over a week before her lifeless body was found in an abandoned, burned-out vehicle, Karina Garcia could sense she was a marked woman.

As she was out canvassing for votes to become the first female mayor of Suarez, in Colombia’s coca-strewn countryside, four armed men accosted members of her campaign and ordered them take down all banners and posters in support of her candidacy. Rather than back down, Garcia denounced the aggressions on social media, calling on the town’s mayor to provide guarantees that she and other candidates could campaign unharmed.

“Please, for God’s sake, don’t act so irresponsibly,” she said in a video posted on her Facebook page Aug. 24, pleading with her rivals to stop spreading rumors about her supposed plans to invite multinational companies and right-wing paramilitary groups to the traditionally neglected town. “This can bring fatal consequences for me.”

On Monday, the grisly details of her foretold death were revealed. According to police, Garcia was out campaigning Sunday in a rural hamlet near Suarez when she went missing. Hours later, a loud explosion was reported and her body was found in a charred vehicle along with her mother, a candidate for city council and two others. The vehicle had suffered impacts from heavily gunfire and a grenade.

“We don’t know why she received these threats,” Garcia’s campaign manager, Romulo Ramirez, told The Associated Press. He said the 32-year-old lawyer leaves behind a young daughter and husband.

Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos said a guerrilla commander with the alias of Mayimbu and who didn’t demobilize as part of the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was behind the attack.

For decades, running for office was almost a death sentence in Colombia, especially in rural areas where the state’s presence is limited. Infamously, three presidential candidates were gunned down ahead of the 1990 presidential election.

But more recently, as the half century conflict has started to wind down, conditions have improved. Still, in far-flung areas like Suarez, where illegal armed groups compete for control of lucrative drug trafficking routes, violence has been on the rise. And there’s fear another cycle of violence could be about to begin following the decision of the former chief negotiator for the FARC to take up arms again to protest the killing of hundreds of leftist activists across the country since the signing of the peace deal.

“The past few years it’s been incredibly tranquil,” said Gilberto Toro, head of the Colombian Federation of Municipalities. “But it seems like some people don’t want any peace.”

Garcia was the fifth candidate to be killed ahead of Oct. 27 elections in Colombia’s nearly 1,100 municipalities — equaling the death toll in the last local elections held in 2015, according to the Electoral Observation Mission, a Bogota group that tracks political violence.

Also on the weekend, hundreds of miles away another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, kidnapped a candidate from Garcia’s Liberal Party, Tulio Mosquera Asprilla, who was running for mayor in the town of Alto Buado, in western Choco state.