Killings signal new stage in conflict
BOGOTA, Colombia — Jose Manuel Mancilla was taking a break from his job at a local gold mine. So on Sunday he gathered with friends at a hillside home in his village of Munchique, where about 20 people were drinking and staging cockfights.
The 19yearold’s life ended abruptly when hooded men began to shoot at the improvised cockfighting arena with machine guns and threw at least two grenades at the terrified crowd. Six men in all, ages 16 to 28, lost their lives during the attack on the western Colombian village, which is surrounded by small gold mines and coca fields.
Hours later, four people were killed in a similar attack in Colombia’s southern province of Narino. Video shared on social media showed men with assault rifles shooting at corpses floating on a pond.
“With all that has been happening in Colombia it’s hard to expect any justice for these crimes,” said Edilson Adrono, a town council member in Munchique who lost two cousins in that town’s massacre. “We’ve been left alone here, as if we didn’t exist on the map.”
Alarms are sounding in Colombia over a rising tide of violence. More than 230 people have been slain in massacres this year.
The deaths signal a new chapter in the country’s long history of bloodshed. Rather than the previous national dispute between guerrillas and the state, violence in rural Colombia is now marked by a patchwork of local feuds between criminal groups that fight over drug routes, illegal mines and even gasoline smuggling routes.
These groups are less ideological than the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a movement known as the FARC that made peace with the government in 2016 after five decades of conflict that killed 250,000 people and chased millions from their homes.
The new groups can be just as violent, however.
“There is less direct confrontation now between armed groups and the government,” said Juan Carlos Garzon, an expert on Colombia’s conflict at the Ideas for Peace Foundation. “But what you see are many attacks against civilians who are perceived to be part of the support structure of a rival group.”
Garzon said this struggle for territorial control could explain Sunday’s attack at the Munchique cockfighting arena. No suspects have yet been captured.
The village lies in a corridor that connects coca fields in Colombia’s central mountain range with the Pacific Ocean, where cocaine is loaded onto fast boats that take the drug to Central America and Mexico.
Drug trafficking groups like the Gulf Clan and rebel groups led by former FARC members who did not sign the peace deal operate around the village of Munchique and elsewhere in Cauca state.