Death threat against 11-year-old activist sends outrage

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Francisco Vera, 11, who is well-known in Colombia for his environmental campaigns and defense of children's rights, gives an interview in Villeta, Colombia, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. The 11-year old activist who received a death threat over Twitter, says that he will continue to lead campaigns and urged other young people to use social media to support causes they believe in. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

VILLETA – A social media death threat aimed at an 11-year-old environmental activist has roused outrage in Colombia, a nation where attacks on social leaders are common and threats are taken seriously.

Colombian officials said they are investigating the death threat against Francisco Vera and President Ivan Duque recently promised in a television appearance that his government would find “the bandits” behind the Twitter message.

For his part, the boy says he will continue to lead environmental campaigns and urged other young people to use social media to “support causes they believe in.”

Vera, who has drawn comparisons to teenage Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, got together with six friends from school about two years ago and marched to the main park in his hometown of Villeta carrying cardboard signs and chanting slogans about climate change, under the supervision of his grandmother.

His Guardians for Life group now has at least 11 chapters and more than 200 members across Colombia. It planted hundreds of trees last year and petitioned Colombia’s government to ban single-use plastics. He spoke before the country's congress last year.

On Jan. 15, the boy received a gruesome, profanely worded death threat from a Twitter account using a false name in response to a video he posted urging Duque to improve internet access for children studying from home during the pandemic.

Such threats have weight in Colombia. The United Nations says that at least 53 community leaders were murdered in the South American country last year and it is examining reports of an additional 80 such slayings. The nation is struggling to achieve peace following decades of guerrilla conflict and clashes involving drug gangs and paramilitary groups.

Twitter suspended the threatening account and the boy received hundreds of messages of support, including a letter that was hand-delivered by United Nations officials. Signed by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, it congratulated Francisco for his work on behalf of the environment.