By Sinikka Tarvainen (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – A Colombian indigenous organization on Thursday accused the government of lacking the will to protect indigenous people from armed groups, after the massacre of five people by suspected guerrillas.
“Indigenous organizations are the only movement which has so far had the sufficient strength to rise against the national government” and its mining policies that are harmful to the environment, said Rubiel Liz, spokesman for the indigenous people’s organization CRIC in south-western Cauca department.
Thirty-eight indigenous people have already been killed in Cauca this year, according to broadcaster Caracol. The national indigenous people’s organization ONIC puts the number of killings at more than 100 in the entire country since President Ivan Duque took office in August 2018.
Duque’s announcement that 2,500 soldiers will now be sent to Cauca is not likely to improve the situation there, Liz told dpa, because the government “wants the movement to lose strength.”
Duque made the announcement in the Cauca town of Santander de Quilichao on Wednesday, saying the state was “united in its rejection of the execrable events” that occurred in the area on Tuesday.
Armed men travelling in several vehicles opened fire on a convoy of vehicles carrying Nasa indigenous people in Tacueyo municipality. Indigenous leader Cristina Bautista and four members of an indigenous guard were killed. Six people were injured.
Liz attributed the killings to dissident members of FARC, a guerrilla group that was demobilized following a peace deal in 2016, but more than 2,000 of whose members remain active.
The bodies of five other people were also found on Thursday in two rural areas of Cauca’s Corinto municipality, Senator Roy Barreras said. Defense Minister Guillermo Botero attributed the killings to drug traffickers.
The victims were not indigenous people, according to broadcaster RCN.
“Cauca has got out of control!” Barreras tweeted.
Five guerrilla, criminal or paramilitary groups are vying for territory in search of transport routes for cocaine and illegally mined minerals in Cauca, according to media reports.
They attack indigenous communities trying to prevent them from entering their territories.
The territories are protected by indigenous guardsmen armed only with sticks.
Duque said groups responsible for the Tacueyo killings “have wanted to maintain the drug trafficking business and with weapons try to intimidate indigenous communities.”
Colombia is the world’s top producer of cocaine, a drug made from the coca plant that is grown in Cauca and other regions of the country.
The president said a rapid deployment force would be sent to Cauca to seize control of the territory, close drug trafficking routes and dismantle drug trafficking gangs.
But Liz said the army had so far not provided efficient protection to indigenous communities.
“This government has policies favorable to mining projects,” he said. “Indigenous communities represent a different way of thinking about territory, Mother Earth, life, and this does not suit them.”
Colombia has 115 indigenous groups, according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). About 1.9 million people out of the country’s 48-million population identify as indigenous.