Indigenous Leaders in Colombia Face an Unprecedented Wave of Violence

Indigenous Leaders in Colombia BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of slowdiet.it

While the world’s attention is focused on the Coronavirus pandemic or the tension in Ukraine, Colombia is experiencing a humanitarian crisis to which no one seems to be paying attention.

The Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz) recently denounced a massacre and another assassination of a social leader in Colombia. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the increase in violent crimes is an aggravating factor in cases of forced displacement in the country.

Last Wednesday’s massacre in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander department, resulted in the killing of three men between the ages of 28 and 38.

During the last few weeks, at least nine social leaders have been killed in Colombia, a series of massacres that show “a degradation of violence,” the organizations warned.

One of the victims is Breiner Cucuñame, who was 14 years old and wanted to be an indigenous guard. When he was not attending school, he patrolled with the elders with his red and green scarf, identifying those who guard the reserves.

Last January 14, members of the Jaime Martinez column, one of the FARC’s multiple dissident groups, shot him; Guillermo Chicame, another indigenous guard, was also killed during the attack.

“The indigenous guard has been characterized for being the organization that defends the territory against any interest that goes against the communities and is, in that sense, the first link that an armed organization like the Jaime Martinez that tries to impose its order and maintain the drug trafficking business,” explained the coordinator of the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz), Leonardo Gonzalez, to El Colombiano.

Indepaz has registered nine murders of social leaders to date in 2022, the same as the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Pares).

Breiner and Guillermo were joined on January 17 by Luz Marina Arteaga, a peasant leader, doctor, and land claimant who was disappeared five days earlier and whose body was found on the banks of the Meta River, and Mario Jonathan Palomino, a 35-year-old school teacher and environmental defender, murdered in Carmen de Viboral in Antioquia.

“The year 2022 began with serious affectations against social leaders throughout the country,” Pares said in a report.

“The scenario shows a degradation of violence that should be an early warning to the entire international community,” the organization said.

As reported by EFE, the 2021 figures, although lower than those of 2020 in terms of murders of social leaders (Indepaz counted 171, the Ombudsman’s Office 145 and the UN 78), are still alarming, mainly because the massacres were higher than those of 2020. A total of 96 were committed in which there were 335 victims.

This year the same trend continues: in 20 days, ten massacres have been committed, according to Indepaz. In other words, there is a massacre every two days. These are members of a family who are killed in the middle of a road, as happened in Ocaña (Norte de Santander) on January 20, or who are taken from their homes in the middle of the night to be murdered, as happened in the rural area of El Paraíso (Putumayo).

Since the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC in 2016, the groups that remained outside the agreement, such as the ELN or the Clan del Golfo, began a dispute for territory and control of illegal activities such as mining or drug trafficking to which others who left the agreement have joined.

This has led to this fatal start to the year, where “it’s not that there is an order at the national level because no group has national dominance,” Gonzalez said. Still, the ground has been prepared for violence to continue to multiply.

Community leaders or JAC presidents are murdered “so that it is easier for the armed groups to exercise their control” also, massacres are committed as a type of “violence that impacts the symbolic and frightens the enemy and the civilian population.”

It is a way, no longer of establishing territorial control by armed groups, but of “trying to impose norms, logics,” adds Gonzalez from Indepaz. “The practice of massacres is meant to leave a lesson.”

From the ancestral Embera Chamí territory in La Virginia-Risaralda, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) issued a statement of rejection to the national government and international organizations in the face of the systematic acts of assassinations and massacres that have been happening against “our indigenous brothers and sisters, especially the Indigenous People of Cauca.”

“We cannot accept that this social and armed conflict continues to exterminate the indigenous peoples in a war that is not ours. We cannot let go unnoticed the murder of those who have given their lives in defending the individual and collective rights of the communities,” reads the statement.