On May 9, 2019, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Colombian documentary filmmaker Mauricio Lezama Rengifo in the village of La Esmeralda, a violence-plagued region near the Venezuelan border in Arauca department, while he was conducting interviews, according to news reports.
A camera operator, Ricardo Llain, was grazed by a bullet in the attack and was transferred to a hospital; he was later released, according to those reports.
Lezama was working on a film about Mayo Villareal, a political activist and nurse from the region who treated victims of Colombia’s long-running guerrilla conflict, according to the Arauca newspaper El Mirador. Lezama also worked as a film consultant to the Arauca government, according to the newspaper.
In a video posted on Twitter in the evening of May 9, Arauca Governor Ricardo Alvarado blamed the killing on members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Alavarado told reporters that the FARC may have mistaken Lezama for a government informant, according to news reports.
Colombian press freedom organization Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) issued a statement disputing Alavarado’s claim and calling on authorities to investigate connections between the filmmaker’s killing and his documentary work.
Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero condemned the attack on Twitter and said that additional government troops as well as investigators from the attorney general’s office have been dispatched to the area.
The Colombian attorney general’s office replied to CPJ’s email inquiry on the case, but declined to comment on the record. CPJ emailed several addresses listed on Governor Alavarado’s official website, but received delivery errors.