CORINTO, Colombia – “Please help me make this video viral! The army just killed my wife! Please help me spread it! … They killed Juliana … We don’t have weapons, we don’t have drugs, we don’t have anything, this man killed her. Look, we’re not wearing anything, they killed Juliana, that man shot her in the head.”
Unable to contain his tears or anguish, Francisco Larrañaga pleads for help in a video that he recorded himself. His wife, Juliana Giraldo Díaz, a 38-year-old transgender woman, had just been killed instantly by a bullet that a Colombian soldier fired from his gun while she passed through a military checkpoint.
The shooting took place at around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 24 in a rural area of Cauca department in southwestern Colombia. Giraldo was in the passenger seat of the car that Larrañaga was driving.
Two versions of why the soldier opened fire are circulating in the Colombian media: One indicates the car did not stop at the checkpoint, while the other says the vehicle was backing up.
General Marco Mayorca, commander of the Colombian Army’s 3rd Division, supported the latter version. In an interview with Caracol Radio, Mayorga said a soldier reported having shot the vehicle’s tires when it was backing up near the checkpoint because he thought it was preparing to crash into it.
“The soldier said he shot the tires to stop the vehicle,” Mayorga added. “It seems to me that a bullet hit the pavement and changed course … unfortunately hitting Juliana.”
President Iván Duque and Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo condemned the shooting on Twitter. Duque has called for a swift investigation and added the person responsible should be prosecuted fully under the law.
Holmes said that the soldier involved in the shooting and other uniformed men who were with him when it happened have been relieved of their duties. Colombia’s attorney general has also launched an investigation into whether Giraldo was targeted because of her gender identity.
The Transgender Community Network, a trans rights group, notes Giraldo is the 28th trans person killed in Colombia this year. The Transgender Community Network says violence against LGBTQ Colombians has increased during the first eight months of 2020, with at least 63 people—including 17 trans women—killed.
‘Juliana did not die. They killed her’
A protester who stood outside the 3rd Division’s headquarters in the city of Cali held a sign that read, “Juliana did not die. They killed her.” Thousands of other Colombians gathered in front of army installations in Medellín, Popayán and other cities to express their outrage over Giraldo’s death.
The incident has shocked Colombian society in general, but especially the LGBTQ community, which has strongly criticized the military and has demanded justice. Giraldo’s death has only increased their anger because they have previously documented numerous complaints of abuses and excess use of force by soldiers and the police.
Laura Weinstein, director of the Fundación Grupo de Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans (GAAT), a trans rights group based in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, told the Washington Blade that Giraldo’s death demonstrates structural violence in Colombia where the armed forces—whether legal or illegal—remain very powerful.
“Juliana’s death ends up reflecting a violent country, where those who have weapons predominate and end up doing harm,” she said.
Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ advocacy group that works in areas along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, noted Giraldo’s death highlights trans people’s vulnerability in the country. Castañeda told the Blade the idea of a “deflected bullet” that struck the ground and ended Giraldo’s life is inconceivable because the type of weapons that soldiers use shoots multiple bullets and not just one.
“The wound that killed Juliana was on her head and she was sitting in the vehicle … and there was no sign of a military checkpoint,” said Castañeda. “Witnesses insist that the army fired, not to dissuade, but to end her life.”
Weinstein said an “accident” cannot be a justification for ignoring what happened.
“Something did happen here, which was not done the way it should have been done,” she said. “As I have been able to read, they say that there was no military checkpoint where they detained people, but that the military came out of nowhere, from the middle of the woods and this is not the way to proceed.”
“In general terms the LGBT movement in Colombia is highly concerned,” added Castañeda. “We see that the achievements obtained in the area of human rights are gradually being lost, that the State, far from being a protector and guarantor, is assuming a role of violator and of non-prevention or punishment of violence. On the other hand, the levels of fear are increasing due to the social effects and the messages of terror that this type of violence instills in the entire community.”
Castañeda said neither Duque nor his administration, much less the Interior Ministry, which implements LGBTQ-specific policies, have spoken about this case or those of the more than 60 other LGBTQ Colombians who have been killed this year.
“Not even this type of violence motivates them to convene and to work,” Castañeda told the Blade. “For Caribe Afirmativo, the current government’s omission makes it clear that the protection and guarantee of the human rights of LGBTQ people is not in its interest and its silence in the face of State crimes such as Juliana’s shows a complicity with violence.”
Weinstein added her organization, as part of Colombian civil society, must demand a just outcome to Giraldo’s death.
“We trust that justice will fulfill its role and return the trust, which we do not precisely have, due to the enormous violence to which we are constantly subjected,” said Weinstein.