“There has been persecution against my family before and after the attack against my brother, so that was something premeditated; we understand that it is a state crime,” said Sidssy Uribe Vázquez, Lucas Villa Vázquez’s sister. On May 5, Lucas was shot eight times by a motorcyclist dressed in civilian clothes on the César Gaviria Viaduct in the city of Pereira, located in the mountainous region in the west of the country.
For nine days, starting March 28, the day on which the social revolt against the tax reform implemented by the Colombian government broke out via a national strike, Lucas, a student of sports and recreation sciences at the Technological University, participated freely in peaceful popular mobilizations.
“In addition to his vision of opening consciences, through pedagogy, comedy, theater, music and dance, he was able to touch people’s hearts,” explains Sidssy. “He was trying to raise awareness in the political and social arena.”
The tax reform that the government of President Iván Duque proposed consisted of drastically increasing taxes on basic services such as water and electricity, even funerals—amid a pandemic! Workers and even members of the middle class reacted and started protests that were replicated throughout the country and later led to a national strike.
While the government’s response to social protest has been the militarization of eight states and 13 cities in the country through Executive Order 575, the intervention continues to be a violent and ruthless repression by the Army and the police through the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD). Meanwhile, international attention was focused on the visit and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report regarding the government’s repression of protesters.
Sidssy, who is a painter and sculptress, said that three days before Lucas’s murder, the mayor of Pereira, Carlos Maya, had publicly encouraged businesspeople to create “common protection fronts” to arm and “defend themselves” from young people, or “vandals.”
“That is why we were very concerned,” said Sidssy. “There was an atmosphere of anxiety and sadness among the population, but my brother was aware that we had to protest. We had to continue; otherwise, we were going to live in that atmosphere of violence and murder.”
The day before the attack, Lucas had participated in a student rally at his university. On that day, one of his brothers had been followed by a man in civilian clothes. During April, several peaceful marches took place in Pereira. Lucas and one of his sisters attended one of those.
Lucas’s family, like many in the movement, knew the danger of marching in the country. The protests are costing the lives of young people, indigenous people and even journalists. Lucas said that “we could not allow these things to intimidate us because we had to get more people and give more value to people, because only in this way can change be made.”
The indignation and insubordination of young people increased days before May 5, according to Sidssy. The Pereira Viaduct is also an area of communication for the people who are mobilizing. There, motorists sympathetic to the revolt passed by and delivered bread and soft drinks to the young people.
During the protests in Colombia, there was some formal police surveillance during the day. However, as evening fell in the area of the Viaduct there was no official presence. Neither was the police truck present that is usually installed in one of the corners.
Lucas was talking to a homeless man at that point on the Viaduct, and the public lighting was off. Witnesses related to the Vázquez family confirm that during those minutes the purple light of a laser appeared and aimed at Lucas. A car appeared and provided refreshments to a group of protesters. A suspicious truck appeared—with license plate ZRK453. Minutes later, a motorcyclist appeared from behind Lucas, yelled rude words at him, shot him eight times and fled at full speed. At least two other young men were injured at the time.
The murder, for which the complaint was made official on June 7 at the National Prosecutor’s Office, is undoubtedly intended to inject terror into the young people participating in the revolt.
The strike in Colombia continues with protests in several cities and is led by the National Strike Committee while the central government has shown little willingness to dialogue. Lucas’s case is already symbolic both for the social movement and for justice.
Eisenhower Zapata, a member of the National Victims’ Roundtable, stated that “there is a source from the same National Police Criminal Investigation Section who is willing to say how the crime was committed in an alliance between micro-trafficking (of drugs) and agents of the same State” (Wradio, June 9, 2021).
The possible direct participation of the security force suggests what Lucas’s maternal family maintains: that it was a state crime.
Argentina’s International Solidarity Mission, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch have documented numerous deaths committed directly by the police, as well as violent beatings, disappearances, sexual abuse and arbitrary detentions of protesters and bystanders.
The government of Iván Duque insists on the repression and criminalization of social protest. The actions of groups of armed civilians, in a perverse amalgamation with local powers, foment greater violence.
The dignity for which the youth fight gives rise to a prolonged and tenacious resistance that predictably precipitates the crisis of the state’s political system.
Juan Trujillo Limones is a Mexican journalist and anthropologist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.