Observers

Soldiers killed a farmer near the village of Anorí in northwest Colombia on May 20. After the murder, local people confronted the soldiers, accusing them of trying to frame the farmer as a guerilla. There is a real basis for these fears: in the 2000s, the army executed thousands of civilians and claimed they were guerillas, all in an attempt to inflate the numbers killed in their war on guerilla factions.

UPDATE (June 26, 2020): Response from the Colombian Army added to the end of the article.

Oriolfo Sánchez, who was in his forties, was killed in the rural zone of Tacamocho near the town of Anorí in the department of Antioquia.
 

"He went out of his house and was shot a few dozens metres from there"

José David Hernández is a representative for a peasant’s association in northern Antioquia. He is also the departmental representative for a national organization of coca, poppy and marijuana farmers. He was in the village of Anorí when Sánchez was killed:
 
I found out sometime in the late morning that soldiers had arrested two farmers for vague reasons. The soldiers had allegedly compared the men to a photo of the man known as "Cabuyo", who leads a group of dissidents in the FARC's 36th Front. [Editor’s note: The FARC is an acronym for the Spanish name for The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerilla movement that fought for decades in Colombia. The government signed a peace deal with the FARC in 2016 but groups of dissidents took their arms back up in 2019.] In fact, soldiers have been in the area for the past few days, hunting for "Cabuyo".

Then, later in the day, I learned that Sánchez had been killed, near where the two farmers had been arrested. He left his home around 10am to go work and was shot several dozen meters from there. Another worker then left the house. The soldiers fired at him, too, but, luckily, the bullets just hit the roof of the house. A few minutes later, soldiers came up to the house and said that they had just killed "Cabuyo". The other worker as well as a woman who was also present said that Sánchez was just a farmer and not "Cabuyo". The soldiers had made a major mistake


José David Hernández sent our team this video, which shows the place where Sánchez was killed, right by a house.

The person filming this video explains that a bullet hit his house. The footage was sent to our team by José David Hernández.
 

"We asked the soldiers why they wanted to take his body"

Alejandro (not his real name) is a local farmer. He wanted to use a pseudonym because he fears for his safety. He confirms the fact that locals found out that the two farmers had been arrested and only later discovered that Sánchez had been killed.
 
We initially went to see the soldiers to demand that they liberate the two farmers. But when we got there around 5pm, the two men had just been freed. However, the two farmers told us that Sánchez had been killed earlier in the day.

Then we saw a group of soldiers a short distance away. They were carrying a stretcher, with a wrapped up body on it. We approached them and asked why they had killed Sánchez and why they had taken his body.

They said that it was the man known as "Cabuyo". We said that it wasn’t him and we were going to report this to city hall [Editor’s note: Alejandro specifically said that they would speak to "Personería" and "Defensoría del Pueblo" of Anorí, two government units set up to defend human rights]. The soldiers had moved the body about 400-500 metres from where Sánchez had been killed, to a location where a helicopter could pick it up.


Several videos posted on social media show soldiers and farmers surrounding a body wrapped up in white.

In the video below, you can hear a woman cry out, “We know that you killed a farmer, why are you [...]? You were going to pretend he was a guerilla! But he’s not a guerilla and we won’t let you pretend that he was! We won’t let you take him!”

You can also hear the sound of a helicopter. The wrapped body is visible starting at three seconds into the video.

"The farmer Ariolfo Sánchez Ruíz was executed by the Colombian army in Anorí, Antioquia. The community prevented the soldiers from taking away the lifeless body. Were they going to set him up as a “false positive” and pretend that he had been killed in battle?” wonders this social media user.

This video shows the same crowd gathering around the body, but it is shot from a closer angle. You can hear the same woman cry out, “We won’t let you take him!”


Alejandro described the scene:
 
The attitude of the soldiers was really bizarre. I think that they knew from the beginning that they hadn’t killed the man known as "Cabuyo". So we were all thinking that Oriolfo Sánchez was going to be another “false positive.”


Alejandro is referencing a particularly gruesome practice that the Colombian army carried out in the early 2000s, which became known as the “false positive” scandal. The army killed thousands of innocent civilians and framed them as guerillas killed in battle in an attempt to prove how efficient they were in the anti-guerilla fight. Higher numbers would earn soldiers bonuses or a few days of leave.

A yellow smoke signal billows next to Sánchez’s body. Soldiers use this kind of signal to help military helicopters know where to land. José David Hernández sent our team this video.


The army finally handed over Sánchez’s body the next day. Representatives from the Anorí office of Personería, a government unit tasked with upholding human rights, were present. Sánchez was buried in the village a few days later.

José David Hernández filmed this video the day that Sánchez was buried in Anorí.

 José David Hernández took these photos the day that Sánchez was buried in Anorí. Photo 1: "Not one more, no more false positives, farmers must be respected.” Photo 2: "Murdering a farmer is a state crime.” Photo 3: "The government and its [armed] forces were created to defend and protect our primary right, which is life, and not to take it away from us.”


The army says it is looking into the incident

In a tweet posted on May 20, Juan Carlos Ramírez Trujillo, the commander of the Army’s 7th Division, which is present in Anorí, said that the events that occurred “during a military operation” were under investigation.

The France 24 Observers team contacted him with several questions when writing this article. He sent us this response several days after the article was published: "This operation [...] took place in an area under the supervision of the Army’s 7th Division, but it was conducted by special units reporting to the General Commander of Military Forces and by the police. Troops from the 7th Division didn’t participate in this action." He also sent us a statement from the army, that said that the aim of the operation was to "locate and disband an armed group", and that "a person lost his life" during the operation, in "circumstances that are under investigation by the Attorney General".

Even before Sánchez was killed, relations between the army and local farmers had already been tense since May 9, when soldiers started to destroy coca crops in the area. This kind of action runs counter to the peace deal signed in 2016, which included a plan to get farmers to swap their coca, marijuana and other illegal crops for something else.

Article by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).