Two mayoral candidates were abducted and murdered in northern Colombia in an attack attributed to the FARC guerrilla group, providing another sign of rising violence in the run-up to October’s local elections.
Guillermo Roldan of the Conservative Party and Donay Correa of Partido de la U were both running for mayor of Campamento, a municipality located in northern Antioquia, just under 100 miles from Medellin. Roldan was captured by an armed group in a rural area on Sunday afternoon and taken to the village of La Concha, where Correa was campaigning, reports Caracol.
The armed group held the two men for a short time, before shooting them and telling the candidates’ companions to take away the bodies.
Colonel Jose Acevedo, the head of the police in Antioquia, said he was not aware of any threats received by either of the candidates. “They went out without warning us, and, for that reason, they had no bodyguards,” he told the press.
The local FARC unit, which is suspected of carrying out the attacks, is the 36th Front. In March, the·group was blamed for a pair of attacks in Campamento, including one on a school, using homemade bombs which injured one woman.
The recent alleged violence from the 36th Front follows turmoil at the top of the group. Alberto de Jesus Morales, alias “Pajaro,” one of the highest-ranking members of the group, turned himself in to army troops in February 2011 (and urged his comrades to do the same) because “the fight is lost.” When InSight interviewed Morales after his demobilization, in March 2011, he painted a picture of a decaying and isolated front, which had little contact with other parts of the rebel group, and which lacked the capacity to engage in combat. He said that the rebels’ focus in the region was revenue from the drug business and from exorting local gold miners.
On a trip to the region in 2010, InSight learned that front generally charged up to three million pesos ($1,650) for each bulldozer that enters their territory to mine. This means that the rebels have serious business interests to protect in the area, which could be a factor in the murder of the two candidates.
Another alleged leader of the 36th Front, Alberto Montoya Montoya, was arrested in Cucuta in April and accused of murder and terrorism, among other charges.
Given this picture of a weakened 36th Front, its possible that the group used the Campamento attack to show that they still have the capacity to pose a threat in the area, and should not be discounted as a force in the upcoming October local elections.
Many in Colombia are concerned about the potential for increased FARC offensives as the nation approaches the elections. In addition to mayoral posts around the country, Colombians will also be choosing city councils and governors. According to a recent study from the nation’s Defense Ministry and the National Electoral Counsel, ten percent of the 1,100 municipalities electing officials face threats of violence or corruption related to the campaigns.
Other criminal groups, such as the Paisas drug gang, are also active in the region where the men were killed, and could be seeking to influence the elections.
Weeks before the Antioquia murders, two Liberal politicians were murdered while campaigning for municipal council seats near the Ecuadorian border, in the Putumayo department. It is not known who was responsible. At least three other politicians in other portions of Antioquia have suffered threats or attacks from armed groups in recent weeks, according to the state’s Interior Secretary Andres Julian Rendon Cardona.