A wave of deadly violence is once again roiling rural Colombia after several years of comparative respite following the 2016 peace agreement with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
At least 50 massacres — defined as a single act in which three or more people are killed — have been committed since the beginning of the year, according to Indepaz, an independent violence watchdog.
The Colombian government has linked the attacks to emboldened drug trafficking gangs moving in to areas previously occupied by ex-FARC militants.
In the past six weeks alone, 64 people have been killed in 15 incidents.
Those killed are mostly boys and men in their teens and 20s, leaving their grief-stricken mothers demanding answers.
Oscar Andres Obando, 24, was shot dead on Aug. 15, his father’s birthday.
“I watched my son die in my arms,” said his mother, Gladys Betancourth, a 51-year-old nurse’s aide, recalling Oscar’s death in hospital.
Armed men had broken into a party Oscar was attending and killed him and seven other young men.
Even in a period of relative peace in Colombia, hundreds of people continue to be killed as armed groups fight over illegal mining and cocaine trafficking routes to Central America.
“It was my turn to see my son die in my arms and in the arms of his father,” Betancourth told reporters.
She said that she does not know who killed her soccer-playing youngest son or why.
However, one thing is clear to her. It was not the National Liberation Army, the country’s last active rebel group, as suggested by officials.
She has already had to come to terms with the loss of another son, killed in an accident two years ago.
“I have no desire to live anymore,” she said.
“That day I made them rice with stewed meat,” Lucila Huila said.
However, the meal she cooked for her two sons was never served.
Esneider Collazos, 23, and his 25-year-old brother Heine had been abducted on their way to their father’s farm near the town of El Tambo.
The brothers, both carpenters, had been on their way from Popayan to cut trees. They never arrived. Their 53-year-old mother received an anonymous call later from a man saying that her sons had been kidnapped.
She recalled the “horrible anguish” of waiting in her tin-roofed wooden house — near the Cauca department capital of Popayan — until she finally learned of their deaths.
They had been shot dead along with four others.
Objects made by her boys — the bed she sleeps in, a closet, a chopping board in the kitchen — are painful reminders for Lucila.
Now she says she prays that nothing will happen to her five remaining children.
Nancy Quinonez said that she is filled with “rage and hate” when she thinks of the discovery of the bodies of five children in a canyon in the town of Cali on Aug. 11.
Her 15-year-old son Luis Fernando was among them.
“Whoever did this is an animal, even worse than an animal,” she said.
According to state prosecutors, the murders were committed by security guards protecting sugar cane fields where the teenagers used to go hunting.
Local authorities had captured two suspects and were looking for a third, but that has done little to console her.
“Nothing can fill the void left behind by my son. Without Luis Fernando, I am nobody,” she said.
The violence continued even after their deaths. A grenade exploded at a wake for the boys, killing one person.
The mother of one of the other victims received threats, but Quinonez said that she is no longer afraid of anything.
“We mothers will go on until the end, until the whole truth is known,” she said.
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