INDIGENOUS-COLOMBIA: the Awas lose their paradise
By Constanza Viera*
BOGOTA, Feb. 19 (IPS) – A local apparatus of the FARC insurgents recognized that it had killed eight indigenous Awa people, which it accused of being informants of the Colombian army. For the indigenous activist Hector Mondragon, “the nonsense” of this guerrilla force is to treat this case “as a problem of individuals.”
The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) specified that the killing was committed on February 6 at Rio Bravo, in the municipality of Barbacoas, of the southwestern department of Narinio, bordering Ecuador and along the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
The army maintains that just 10 days later, on Monday, it found a body in an advanced stage of decomposition in the rural district of Tangaral, in Barbacoas.
According to General Leonardo Barrero, commander of the army’s Brigade 27, the body was behind a fence of “more than 50 interconnected mines, with the objective of causing harm to the indigenous population that was looking for it to bury it.”
Local sources received unconfirmed reports about 35 deaths, while authorities from the Awa people estimate a minimum of 17, in at least two episodes.
For the “Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre” Column of the FARC, the eight Awas “gathered, by groups, information about us in order to then give it to the military patrols that carry out operations in the area.”
This irregular force alleged that the civilians “carried out explorations, located the guerrilla forces and then went to the military patrols for them to strike us,” and that “they have worked with the army in this task for two years.”
The FARC Column added in a declaration revealed on Tuesday that the killing “was not against the indigenous,” but rather against people who “accepted money and put themselves to the service of the army in an area that is the subject of a military operation.”
The United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Craig Johnstone, visited in the small community of Narinio called El Diviso, some 300 Awas who fled after the killing in the collective territory of Tortugania-Telembi, a two-day walk from El Diviso.
After hearing the story of the displaced, the second-in-command at UNHCR on Tuesday condemned “strongly the grave infractions of international law reported.”
“It is not true that the security forces are using the indigenous as informants,” said the Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, denying that the Awa form a part of the “Informants Network,” one of the most publicized programs of the security policies of the government of this country which is living a half-century of conflict.
Whether the accusations of the Sucre Column of the FARC are true or not, the fact is that in the lives and the territories of this pacific people, war has embedded itself, beginning in 1946 and with a partial truce between 1957 and 1964.
“The Awas are victims of a genocide whose course can be followed event-by-event in the last years,” the indigenous activist Mondragon told IPS.
“Those who assume that they are fighting the enemy ‘without regards to ethnicity’ come into a collision course with the indigenous and end up contributing to the ethnocide,” he warned.
Of the 41.5 million inhabitants of Colombia, 1.4 million are indigenous, which belong to 102 different ethnic groups.
In its July 2008 sentence, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (TPP) verified “the imminent danger of physical and cultural extinction of 28 indigenous peoples,” and classified the situation as “genocide,” although it did not apply this legal term to the Awas.
The TPP looks into cases of massive violations of human rights in the world and is the successor to what was called the Russell Tribunal, which tried crimes from the Vietnam War (1965-1975) and those committed by dictatorships in Latin America.
The TPP’s sentences have an ethical and non-binding character, but are based on international law and jurisprudence, and take into account the authority of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Its definition of impunity was adopted by the Organization of the United Nations.
In the case of Colombia, the TPP examined what benefits 27 multinational corporations and six domestic industries with wide links to foreign companies obtain from the war.
According to Mondragon, the Awa territory “is yearned for by the traditional speculative large-estate holdings, because it will become more valuable due to the IIRSA megaproject,” the acronym for the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America
In that zone, the IIRSA plans to connect the Pacific coast with the Putumayo River and make the tributary to the Amazon River navigable, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
Additionally, “Kedahda (a subsidiary of the multinational AngloGold Ashanti) is going after the gold, and the palm-tree growers are going after the land,” he added, in reference to international mining investments, on one hand, and to narcotrafficking and paramilitary groups that harvest palm oil, on the other.
For Mondragon, the war expels the indigenous, Afro-Colombians, and peasants “from economically strategic areas,” which “has brought about a lucrative business for those who are winning the war taking away lands and rights.”
“If we don’t see things from this strategic perspective, we’re collaborating with the dispossession,” he added.
*This article is one of a three-part series about the massacre of at least 17 indigenous Awa people, in February. The FARC recognized having killed eight. (END/2009)