I wasn’t aware of the work of Alvaro Miguel Rivera, a Colombiano living and working in a FARC controlled area of Colombia who was dedicated to LGBT individuals and HIV positive people in what could be called one of the most homophobic regions in the country: El llano oriental (Colombia’s rural eastern plains).
Back in 2001, Alvaro was living in Villavicencio, Meta, in a region set aside by the government as a ‘safe haven’ zone where FARC guerrilla members could walk around without fear of government intervention (it was part of a failed effort to reach peace with the armed insurgents). Alvaro, who had finished a degree in Agricultural Engineering, worked in a region known for it’s cattle ranches and was already known as a public advocate for sexual minorities and those who were HIV positive.
He loved Villavicencio, not the least because his family lived there. But, as FARC troops began to move in, Alvaro began to receive anonymous phone calls, felt he was being followed by strangers, and reported harassing calls to his employers with the intent to tarnish his repuation. In April of 2001, he finally reported it to the local authorities and they told him that they could only wait until something actually happened to take any action. Police only began to investigate when Alvaro went public sending a series of e-mail messages to different organizations (at the time, I translated some of them on his behalf, and alerted human rights organizations in the United States, including IGLHRC).
All this in a worsening environment for those in the area who were HIV positive. In October of 2001, El Tiempo reported that the FARC had begun to require local residents to get tested for HIV and were giving a week-long ultimatum for people who tested positive to leave the region.
A week after the article was published, Alvaro actually reported having attended a meeting held between local hospital personnel and members of the FARC in which the FARC agreed to temporarily suspend the program. El Tiempo had reported that by then, they already had access to testing equipment and had tested more than 3,ooo individuals for HIV.
The ‘safe haven’ zone might have been lifted since then, but the death threats and harassment against Alvaro continued, forcing him to leave a place he loved so much. He decided to move to Cali – the third largest city in Colombia, following Bogota and Medellin – where he became the Director of Colectivo Tinku, a local LGBT rights organization.
He also became one of the founders and leaders of the local gay chapter of the Alternative Democratic Pole political party (which is why, the moment I read “Pole LGBT leader murdered” headline, I feared it might be Alvaro).
Alvaro was murdered in his apartment on Friday night. I am saddened not just at the loss of Alvaro’s life pero also at the fact that even with my own following of events in Colombia around the FARC, that I didn’t know about Alvaro’s work.