On 11 July 2013 at 5pm in the afternoon, the land rights leader Jose Segundo Turizo was killed by members of the Gatainist Self-Defence Force paramiltary group. For several year members of the community had been denouncing threats being made against them.
When President Santos became President in 2010, his flagship project was the planned restitution of land to some of the victims of the armed conflict who had been forced from their homes as a result of violence predominantly initiated by state backed paramilitary forces. It was widely celebrated both inside and outside Colombia by national media and international partners keen to present Santos as a progressive ready to transform Colombia into a legitimate business partner. However, whilst the government basked in international glory, civil society organisations voiced concerns that if the security situation was not improved and the targeting of social activists by right wing paramilitary organisations operating with continued support from state security services was not brought to an end, it would not be possible for the law to be implemented.
Unfortunately, the fears of Colombian civil society have been shown to be true. Numerous land rights leaders have been killed since Santos came to power and the emergence of ‘anti-restitution’ armed paramilitary groups has become a nationwide phenomenon. Last week José Segundo Turizo became the latest victim added to the harrowing list. Jose was a 31-year-old father of five who was leading a process to reclaim land stolen from fourteen families in the Magdalena Medio region of central Colombia.
Local civil-society organisations are demanding an investigation but, as with most of the killings of social activists in Colombia, it is unlikely that anyone will ever be brought to justice.