Colombia mourns Lucas Villa

Hospital confirms brain death of Lucas Villa, the protestor who was seen shaking hands with riot police on the day he was shot.

Lucas Villa marching on the day he was shot. Photo: Taken from Twitter

Lucas Villa was shot at the Pereira viaduct on May 5. He has been in hospital ever since, receiving treatment for eight bullet wounds. However, the manager of the San Jorge de Pereira University Hospital, Juan Carlos Restrepo, told reporters this afternoon that there was nothing more doctors could do. The 37-year-old student has been declared brain dead.

According to a joint report released yesterday from Indepaz and NGO Temblores, 47 people have been killed since Colombia’s national protests began on April 28. The two organisations estimate 278 people have been victims of physical violence.

Every death is shocking. These protests are already far more violent than those of 2019 and 2020 combined. And every new act of violence fractures an already polarised nation further.

Personification of peaceful protests

Lucas caught the nation’s attention for many reasons. He was photographed talking and shaking hands with riot police on the day he was shot. He also messaged a friend the day before, saying, “We can all die here, but how can we leave our people?”

This is a sentiment expressed by many who protest, especially after police killed Dilan Cruz in 2019. However, it is unclear who killed Lucas.

Unknown men opened fire on a group that had gathered for a sit in at the Pereira viaduct after a day of demonstrations.

Lucas Villa was hit eight times and two other protestors were wounded. The student at Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira was also a yoga teacher, who just hours before had been seen singing and dancing during the march. 

Authorities have promised to find the perpetrators quickly. The mayor of Pereira, Carlos Maya, offered a COP$50 million reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible for Lucas Villa’s death.

Yesterday, hundreds gathered for a session of group yoga at the viaduct where Lucas was shot.

Colombia’s civil unrest

What began as demonstrations against an unpopular tax reform have spiralled into an ongoing expression of general discontent. And unfortunately, the violent altercations between police, protestors, vigilante groups, and the military are pouring oil on the fire. 

The government continue to label protestors as vandals. There are reports of state actors deliberately infiltrating peaceful protests to incite violence. But even a small number of non-peaceful protestors can do a lot of damage. Ultimately, however, no amount of vandalism begins to excuse the use of lethal force.

Peaceful protestors like Lucas feel they are taking their lives into their hands when they go out to demonstrate against a government they feel is deaf to their pleas.

If the government can’t change their ‘vandal vs. state’ mentality, it’s hard to see how things won’t accelerate further. For now, our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of Lucas and all those who have died in these demonstrations. 

Emma Newbery: