One of the main avenues in Bogotá bore witness to a spectacular protest march yesterday afternoon, albeit with a deadly serious message.

I’d caught wind of the march while reading the paper in the 3-hour long queue for one of Colombian life’s many bureaucratic delights. The article was but brief, making mysterious reference to a shady organisation known as the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles). It also promised the spectacle of performance artists marching for their lives. I had to see it.

As it transpires, the back-story is troubling indeed: much darker than the colourful photos might belie.

In recent weeks, several art collectives in south Bogotá, many engaging in street theatre projects or similar, have received threatening leaflets from a paramilitary group known as the Águilas Negras. These leaflets denounce their art as being a defence of human rights; they demand that they cease immediately and leave the city, or face the consequences; they declare said artists a valid target for paramilitary reprisals.

Which has upset a few people who believe artists shouldn’t be threatened with death for performing.

It’s no accident that the march was scheduled for August 30th, to coincide with International Day of the Disappeared, a salient day for Colombia due to its exceptional history of politically motivated “disappearances” – the official tally exceeding 60,000 over the course of the internal armed conflict.

The protest itself was a vibrant challenge to the regressive forces of the Águilas. Between 500 and 1,000 artists of all ages marched to demonstrate their defiance, supported by an even greater number of the public along the length of the Séptima north of Plaza de Bolívar. It took around two hours for the march to dance, juggle and unicycle its way down the mile-long route, with the battle cry “¡Arte sí, amenazas no!” ringing out loud and proud.

Solidarity, clown brothers.