The murder of seven candidates in Colombia’s next municipal elections in one month, the highest rate since 2015, has raised new questions about the motives for the violence.
Whichever is most recent report on political violence by the Election Observation Mission (Misión de Observación Electoral – MOE), 364 political, social and community leaders across the country have been the victims of attacks in the past year, of which 91 have been killed .
Among the most recent murders, when Karina García, candidate for mayor of the liberal party in Suárez, Cauca, was beaten down in his car with five other people on September 1.
The next day, the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Miguel Ceballos, said in a interview with W Radio, that a dissident member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) was responsible for the murder [of Karina García in Cauca].
Because Garcia, two more political candidates were murdered, bringing the total to seven assassinated in the departments of Antioquia, Bolívar, Valle del Cauca and Caquetá between August and early September.
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In addition to the deaths, the report from the Ministry of Education listed other acts of violence during this pre-election period, including 224 threats, 45 physical assaults, two kidnappings and two enforced disappearances nationwide.
The next regional elections will be held on October 27, when Colombians across the country elect governors, representatives of local departments, mayors and more.
InSight Crime Analysis
Territorial control, the positioning of armed actors and the financing of campaigns are among the main factors behind the assassinations of political leaders and candidates in Colombia.
Colombia’s complex criminal and electoral landscape means that different motives in different areas can explain distinct peaks in electoral violence. However, like the MEO report shows, political violence affects all communities, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum.
In recent years, leaders of at least 15 different political parties have come under attack. The candidates ranged from a conservative Democratic Center candidate for mayor of Toledo, in the department of Antioquia, to two municipal candidates from Bucaramanga and Socorro in Santander of the Joint Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común), the now demobilized FARC party.
InSight Crime was able to confirm during field visits that candidates are often murdered by armed groups seeking to impose their authority over an area. Candidates perceived as a threat to this control or to illegal income streams often become targets.
Candidates for specific actions, such as promoting the forced eradication or voluntary substitution of illicit coca crops, or supporting the development of alternative economies to replace coca, are particularly threatened.
SEE ALSO: Uncertainty surrounds protection plan for crop substitution leaders in Colombia
According to a early warning published by the Ombudsman’s office on August 31, there is a risk that ex-dissidents of the FARC, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional-ELN), the People’s Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación-EPL ) and various paramilitary groups operating around the country will seek to influence the upcoming elections.
A second risk factor, also reported by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the political stigma suffered by candidates during the election period.
A week before her murder, for example, Karina García had recorded a video in which she said her political opponents falsely accused her of wanting to allow the paramilitaries to enter the region, bring multinational companies into the municipality to mine for gold and support local residents in the resumption of their lands. García claimed these accusations put her in danger given the current uproar security situation in the Cauca.
Camilo Vargas, the coordinator of the Observatory of the Ministry of Education on political and social violence, said the motives for violence can also be linked to factors such as internal conflicts within political parties and funding campaigns.
“Internal negotiation processes on the local scene tend to be regulated by violence,” Vargas told InSight Crime.
Sometimes, he explained, the candidates themselves spark disputes in order to gain their party’s approval or win races, and even engage armed groups to oust their opponents.
Another risk factor is linked to campaign financing
“Due to the lack of control over funding, there is a perverse incentive to launder illicit funds in election campaigns,” Vargas said.
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