María Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo

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Radio reporter María Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo was shot on October 8, 2017, while reporting on clashes between indigenous community members and riot police in the department of Cauca in southwestern Colombia, according to news reports. Vásquez, 31, who worked at an indigenous community radio station, Renacer Kokonuko 90.7 FM, was taken to a hospital in Popayán, the capital of Cauca, where she died a few hours later from injuries.

According to the official forensics report, it is unclear what kind of object was shot at, injured, and killed Vásquez.  

Vásquez was participating in and reporting on a protest organized by members of the Kokonuko indigenous community against the presence of a private company on land they view as ancestral territory, according to news reports. The community members set up a roadblock, where they were met by riot police. About 40 indigenous civilians were injured in the clashes, Isneldo Avirama, the community’s governor, told the Bogota-based press freedom organization Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP).

During the confrontation, Vásquez was injured by a homemade weapon that could have come from either side, according to news reports. An official at the national Attorney General’s office told CPJ the case is still under investigation and that authorities were investigating multiple hypotheses.

According to FLIP, Vásquez was attending the protest as a community member, but was also documenting the event, which is common practice among the station’s staff.  

“She had the same mission as the rest of us: to document [what was happening],” Emildre Avirama, a colleague at Renacer Kokonuko, told FLIP.

Renacer Kokonuko, which broadcasts from a small house in the indigenous territory, is the only official news outlet in the municipality of Puracé, according to FLIP.

Vásquez began attending media training in 2003, at age 17, according to a statement released by the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council. She contributed to Renacer Kokonuko’s news program “Amanecer Indigena” and “Minga,” a cultural program, and was acting coordinator of a regional communications program in 2014. Family members told FLIP she alternated her work at the radio station with farming strawberries, and had taken breaks from the station over the past two years to focus on supporting her three children.

CPJ did not find any evidence that Vasquez had previously received any threats for her reporting. A colleague at Renacer Kokonuko told FLIP that several unidentified people stopped by the radio station’s office two days after Vásquez was killed, asking for the names of other staff at the station.

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