In early July, 64-year-old Segundo Ortiz was displaced from his land along with 1,700 other indigenous Awá in a remote jungle region in southwestern Colombia. He and many others had to walk for as long as two days to escape Colombian army operations in the region, finally seeking refuge in the small towns of Altaquer and Ricaurte. But one month later, tragedy struck the displaced Awá again when five of their leaders were dragged from their beds and shot to death on World Indigenous Day. It appears to many observers that the very forces that were charged with protecting the displaced Awá were the likely perpetrators of the massacre.
Tag Archives: indigenous
and Terry Gibbs
Our indigenous guide maneuvered the dugout canoe cautiously through the shallow waters of the Río Opogodó deep in the rainforest of Colombia’s Chocó region. We had traveled almost 12 hours from the departmental capital Quibdó down the Río Atrato and up the Opogodó when we approached a collection of canoes moored on a pebbled embankment. After seeing few signs of human existence during the previous three hours, the sight of a small Embera indigenous village consisting of some 20 open thatched huts on wooden stilts was a magical vision. Walking up a green and muddy hill into the mist-enshrouded village was like traveling back a thousand years in time. But the sense of peacefulness that greeted us as we entered Egorokera proved to be mostly an illusion. The modern day reality for the Embera is far from peaceful as communities from this indigenous tribe struggle to cope with malnutrition, disease, governmental neglect, and constant confrontations with Colombia’s armed groups.
Many Colombians were concerned that President Andrés Pastrana’s recent suspension of peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) would dramatically escalate the civil conflict. Their fears appeared to be well founded when the Colombian military initiated a massive bombing campaign against the former zona de despeje before sending in thousands of ground troops to retake the zone’s principal towns. The FARC retaliated by launching an extensive bombing campaign against urban targets and the country’s infrastructure. But for indigenous groups in the southwestern department of Cauca, the violence began escalating long before the collapse of the peace process. In recent years, both paramilitary and guerrilla forces have increasingly violated the neutrality of indigenous reserves, known as resguardos.