SARAVENA, Colombia—On Jan. 19, Sonia Lopez was working late in the office of the Joel Sierra Foundation, a human rights group based in the city Saravena, Colombia, just south of the Venezuelan border. It was hot and muggy, and she was exhausted. Normally, she wouldn’t have been working so late, but intense conflict between armed groups in the department of Arauca, where Saravena is located, had left 83 dead and more than 2,000 displaced since early January, putting a premium on her organization’s work.
At 10:45 p.m., shots rang out. Armed men had fired pistols from two cars approaching the front of the office building, before abandoning one of the cars on the corner and fleeing the scene. Lopez, in the rear of the building, was unsure of what was happening—but attacks on civilians had become common in Arauca in previous weeks. She feared the worst.
Simeon Delgado, the security guard on duty at the complex that evening, emerged from his post after the gunfire stopped to investigate the abandoned car. That was the moment the car bomb exploded. He was killed instantly. The explosion destroyed the nearest building and tore holes in the exterior of Sonia’s, leaving offices exposed to the open air as flames danced in the previously quiet street. Five of Sonia’s colleagues were also injured in the blast and required hospitalization.