Each year, Fredman Herazo Padilla, a key figure in the Afro-Colombian community of San Basilio de Palenque, would present the Festival Cultural de Tambores y Expresiones Culturales. A staunch defender of human rights, Fredman also led workshops empowering young people in the community and was a vocal campaigner for the protection and promotion of the palenquero language.
The orator and community leader was having lunch in La Apartada in Córdoba on 15 January 2021 when he was shot multiple times before being pronounced dead. His murder is being investigated.
According to figures from Indepaz, Fredman was the eighth social leader or human rights defender to be killed in Colombia in 2021. That number has now risen to 14. Five ex-FARC combatants who signed the Peace Agreement have also been killed in 2021 alone. For the most part, Colombian authorities have taken no effective action to defend human rights and environmental campaigners or to investigate their killings. But the threats issued on Twitter to a popular 11-year-old environmentalist sometimes referred to as Colombia’s Great Thunberg, went too far and drew massive protests on Twitter and even from President Duque.
Fredman avidly promoted Afro-Colombian culture, particularly his local language, palenkero, and consulted Afro-Colombian communities around the country about human rights. He also took part in roundtable discussions on Colombia’s Afro-majority Pacific Coast.
In a town renowned as a haven of freedom, African culture and resistance, his assassination comes as a fierce blow to the community of San Basilio de Palenque.
‘For the murder of Fredman and all of Colombia’s leaders. Today it was Fredman, tomorrow it could be your son, your father, your brother. We will march on Sunday, Palenque. Thank you,’ announces a local leader in Palenque.
On Sunday January 24, locals marched to show their indignation at Fredman’s assassination, and the murders of what LAB calculates to be over 1,100 social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia since November, 2016*.
A banner reads ‘Fredman Arturo Herazo Padilla, forever.’ ‘Thank you for your great contribution in strengthening the ethic and cultural values of the community of Palenque.’ A Facebook post reads ‘His community, San Basilio de Palenque, laments the death of our social leader and cries out for justice.’
Palenque, the first free slave town in the Americas, is well-known for its resilient Afro-Colombian culture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site of cultural patrimony. A wall in Palenque is painted with the visage of Afroneto, a local rapper from the group Kombilesa Mi, who created a new genre of rap in palenkero: Rap Folklóriko Palenkero. The words ‘Fredman lives on’ have been incorporated into the mural.
To this day the town is hugely significant in the history and identity of Colombia and Latin America. Contributing unquantifiably to Colombia’s musical and cultural diversity through the fierce preservation of African and slave traditions. A local tourist guide and musician writes: ‘the community is demanding justice’.
Fredman’s funeral was celebrated the previous Sunday in large numbers. The march this Sunday shows Palenque’s rejection of his murder and a clear demand for justice.
*Indepaz registers 971 murders of social leaders and human rights defenders from November 24, 2016 when the Agreement was signed, up to July 15, 2020. They register a further 139 deaths from July 15 – December 30, 2020, and 14 murders in 2021 up to this date.
Photos and videos courtesy of community leaders in Palenque.