Yamile Guerra was a well-known lawyer, community leader and political activist in the Santander region of Colombia.
She was actively working to resolve disputes between local communities and developers, advocating against illegal land appropriation. Yamile had occupied various political posts, including as the Secretary General for the Santander government in Bogota and also aspired for the Mayor’s Office of Bucaramanga. In the last few years of her life, Yamile became increasingly active in environmental causes, particularly in the defense of the biodiverse wetlands of Santurbán against development, a region which supplies nearly 2 million people with freshwater.
According to her family and friends, Yamile received daily threats against her life and had asked the authorities for protection.
“She was very very aware of this issue [land litigation] and she said many times that she felt insecure.” - Alixon Navarro Munoz, journalist and friend of Guerra family
On July 20, 2019 Yamile was shot to death by two men in Floridablanca, Santander. She had just finished discussing a land dispute with them. A suspect was later arrested for her murder and admitted to being paid to carry out her assassination. According to reports, Yamile was the third member of her family to have been killed in relation to land disputes. Her father, Hernando Guerra was murdered several years previously.
Yamile’s assassination is part of a wave of violence and systematic killing of hundreds of social activists and human rights defenders in Colombia. According to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), at the time of Yamile’s death, over 700 community leaders and human rights activists had been killed since the country signed a peace agreement in August 2016. Most were murdered for confronting illegal drug trafficking and mining operations, with indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and women human rights defenders being most at risk.
Less than a week after Yamile’s death, thousands of Colombians marched all over towns and cities, holding up black and white photos of activists who had been killed, with signs that read: "Without leaders there can be no peace" and "No more bloodshed”.
Yamile Guerra was only 42 years old at the time of her assassination.