Femicides in Tibú, Colombia – InSight Crime Investigation



It was still dark when Alexandra and Catalina arrived at the border of Tibú. The road was empty, but Alexandra knew that armed groups guarded the entrances and exits of the municipality, in particular the road to Cúcuta.

A toll booth run by FARC dissidents monitors the entrance to the municipality. Anyone entering the city of Tibú must pass through and pay a fee that would be used to repair the roads, according to several residents of Tibú.

Members of the ELN were also recorded, dressed as civilians, stopping cars along the main road leading into the city, asking travelers why they are visiting the city and how long they will stay.

Initially, the ELN did not appear to be involved in the systematic attacks against women in Tibú. On June 3, 2021, an ELN pamphlet was circulating on social media insisting that “our organization is not behind the videos and the killings…but our War Front has ordered an investigation to determine who is doing the promotion of these murders and defamations in order to take corrective measures”. ”

However, in February 2022, the Attorney General’s Office accused the ELN to be responsible for the murders of at least two women between April and June 2021.

No matter who was watching the road that early August morning, Alexandra was determined not to stop for anyone. She accelerated and passed the various checkpoints without too many problems.

After an hour’s drive, they arrived at the area known as La Y de Astilleros, where the road splits in two: one path goes to Cúcuta and the other to El Zulia, another municipality in Norte de Santander. Alexandra stopped, asked Catalina to get off the bike, and the two waited. Alexandra checked her cell phone. She’d asked for help getting Catalia to safety, but her contact hadn’t responded.

Five minutes passed, which seemed like an eternity, when a car finally arrived. Slowly he approached them, someone rolled down the window and asked Catalina to come up. Alexandra discreetly waved her hand and helped Catalina into the car. When the car started up again, she watched until she was gone.

Alexandra got on her motorbike and drove home, hoping that if all went well, Catalina would be safe in another municipality.

But Alexandra’s mission didn’t end with Catalina. It continued. Many women still needed help to escape. Nearly 20 months after the first murder, that of Nelly Avendaño, the group estimated that it had helped more than 70 threatened women to leave the municipality, many of them with their children, parents and partners.

Most of them traveled to nearby towns where they could stay with relatives and wait for the situation to calm down. But others have gone far and may never return.

In November 2021, after listening to the stories of dozens of women, Sol and Alexandra identified a pattern: the women at risk were young and many of them had been romantically involved with a member of the security forces or had worked with the security forces. However, they could not establish whether the threatened women had been recruited as informants.

In any event, it was not a condition for appearing on the list of potential victims. It was enough to cook for the military, wash their clothes or simply sell them fruits and vegetables.

In addition, the threatened women blamed illegal groups, both the ELN and the 33rd Front dissidents, for most of the killings. But some also accused the police.

“And then the situation is very complex on the territory… It’s like a fight. You kill one of mine and I kill one of yours,” concluded one of the women in the group.

As the women’s group continued their work, the armed groups watched. In September 2021, the ELN arrived at Alexandra’s house in the middle of the night and threatened her with “interfering” in their affairs and helping the women to leave.

But Alexandra didn’t go. Despite the threats, she remained in Tibú. She wanted to continue helping victims, she told InSight Crime. And so, violence against women in Tibú spread to those who decided to help them. (see explanatory graph).

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