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Colombian activists stand against xenophobia after mayor’s response to crime involving Venezuelans

BOGOTA, Colombia – A group of activists recently met to protest a xenophobic backlash that Venezuelans are facing in Bogotá, Colombia. They were concerned about the city mayor’s response to two murders.

Venezuelan Wilkerson Hernández, 28, is facing charges in the murder of Officer Edwin Caro, 24, a patrolman with the National Police of Colombia. The March 10 shooting in Bogotá happened after Caro and another police officer performed a traffic stop and a search.

Hernández took off running. Caro’s partner caught up to Hernández and arrested him. He is being held without bond. Feet away from where Caro died, after he was fatally shot in the face, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López talked to a group of reporters.

“We have seen some very violent acts from Venezuelan migrants,” López said in Spanish. “This isn’t just theft. First, they murder, and then they steal. We need guarantees for Colombians.”

Edmundo López, a Colombian lawyer and activist in Bogotá's Chapinero neighborhood, participated in the meeting against xenophobia. He said making these types of generalizations is problematic as Venezuela’s mass exodus persists.

“Venezuelan people here in Colombia are welcome, [they] are good people, [they] are working people,” the activist said.

Wilkerson Hernández, right, stands accused of killing Officer Edwin Caro, 24, left, during a search on March 10 in Bogotá. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

This wasn’t the first time anti-xenophobia activists were concerned about López’s statements about Venezuelans and crime in Bogotá. Late last year, López talked to reporters after Oswaldo Muñoz, 41, was murdered while riding the public bus.

“I don’t want to stigmatize immigrants but there are some Venezuelans involved in crimes who are making our lives impossible,” the mayor said.

Venezuelan Luis Nehomar García, 25, is facing charges in the murder of Muñoz. García, also known as “Chómpiras,” was involved in what prosecutors described as a group of assailants’ attempted cell phone robbery and fatal stabbing on Oct. 29, in Bogotá. There were three other suspects involved.

Luis Nehomar García, right, was arrested in the fatal stabbing of Oswaldo Muñoz, 41, left, on Oct. 29, in Bogotá. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Officers arrested García in Cúcuta, a Colombian city near the porous border with Venezuela where illicit smuggling networks operate. There is an inter-state standoff at the border, as Colombian President Iván Duque accuses Nicolás Maduro of supporting narco-terrorist groups.

Alejandro Daly, a Colombian activist who also participated in the meeting against xenophobia, worked on a social media campaign to raise awareness about the plight of Venezuelan refugees. He did so before Duque legalized the status of up to 1.7 million undocumented Venezuelans.

“We are always against violence, but we are also against xenophobia and discriminating someone for being who they are, [for] being born in Venezuela,” Daly said.

The United Nations estimated there are at least 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide. The U.N. refugee agency has reported Venezuelans have faced issues with xenophobia and discrimination in Colombia and Peru.

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About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.