Colombian community leader assassinated by agroindustry-backed vigilantes
October 16, 2008
A community leader who opposed paramilitary-based seizure and occupation of land for industrial oil palm plantations and cattle ranches in northwest Colombia has been assassinated, reports the Center for International Policy's Colombia Program and the World Rainforest Movement.
Walberto Hoyos Rivas, a community leader for two afro-Colombian communities in the Bajo Atrato region of Chocót; department, was gunned down by two paramilitaries on October 14, 2008 while participating in a community meeting, according to Justicia y Paz en Colombia, a Colombian NGO.
Walberto had been under protection by Colombia's Ministry of Interior and Justice for a 2007 assassination attempt. Walberto's efforts on behalf rural communities had put him at odds with large landowners who back vigilante paramilitaries. In 2005 Walberto served as a witness in the case of the police detention and subsequent murder of Curvaradó community leader Orlando Valencia.
Land conflict in the Colombian Choc´o; — a key corridor for drug trafficking — continues despite the government's inroads against leftist guerillas, notably the FARC. Paramilitaries backed by large landowners seeking to expand their holdings for agriculture and cattle ranching have been widely accused of running intimidation and terror campaigns against communal landowners. Seized land is increasing used for oil palm plantations and other large-scale agriculture.