The Terror is Back

The latest massacre against the Awa community is just the tip of the iceberg of one of the most horrifying offensive against the indigenous people of Southern Colombia that sums up to 60 deaths this year.

The massacre of an indigenous awa family in the Southern Colombian province of Nariño has shocked the country. First, because six out of 12 victims were children, including a six-month old baby. Second, because last February this same community had suffered the killing of 11 people massacred by the FARC guerrillas with knives and machetes. Third, because both leaders of the community and human rights organizations believe the Colombian Army could be involved in this dreadful crime.

The massacre happened in the reservoir of Gran Rosario, in the southern town of Tumaco, in Nariño province, the morning of the 26th of August. “It was around six in the morning. The children and some of us were in bed and the three women were in the kitchen. The rice and the beverages were already done. At that time, four men in camouflage and black hoods with small holes for their eyes showed up. They asked for Nemesio, my other brother, but since nobody answered, they pulled the six adults out to the living room, then they went to the bedrooms and pulled out everybody else. It was then that I managed to escape through the back part of the house, I ran for several minutes until I reached the river about 350 meters away from the house, there I hide until I could go and look for help”, remembers Javier García, one of the survivors.

The attack occurred at 35 year-old Tulia Sixta Garcia’s house, where several persons had gathered called by García to participate in a rice plantation. García had become a widow on May the 23rd when her husband, Gonzalo Rodríguez, was shot to death by a Colombian Army unit in a confusing episode.

According to the soldiers, Rodríguez had been pointed by an informant as a FARC commander of the 29th front. He was captured and his gun was taken away. Nevertheless, a report by the Prosecutors Office says that “the soldiers neglected to look after the prisoner and he ran to where the gun was lying. He started to shoot during his run but was shot dead by the troop”.

Sixta Tulia has another version, though. She says she was walking with her husband through the reservoir when a group of men dressed in camouflage approached them and took her husband to the jungle. Then she heard some shooting but when she wanted to come close to see what was happening, she was forced to go to the main highway. There she found her husband’s body, all curled up in the ground and with his head smashed. The body was only given to her at the morgue in Tumaco.

As she was sure her husband was part of the ‘false positive’ body count issue, she reported the case. Now, when she and her children are dead, Human Rights Watch believe the massacre could have been a retaliation against her and her family, and they have asked the government not only to investigate the most recent crime, but the death of Rodríguez in May.

The possible connection between these two events is so serious that the Prosecutor’s Office has sent a special team to investigate the case for the next two weeks. The director for the UN Human Rights Office has traveled himself to the region.

Military sources have said on their defense that they are certain there was no presence of the Army in the region at the time. On the other hand, many agree on ruling out the FARC for the same reasons. Nariño governor Antonio Navarro said “the only thing clear enough at the time is that the FARC weren’t responsible”.

The Prosecutor’s Office still has no hypothesis on the crime, but they do know the Awa are in the middle of the storm: the struggle for land and routes between the FARC and the emerging band ‘Los Rastrojos’. Furthermore, soldiers keep using them as informants and guides.

The violence that has overcome the Awa is linked to the drug that is grown and trafficked in their territory. It is a lose – lose situation. If some of them, moved by poverty and hunger, are seduced by the illusion of coca they will be at the mercy of drug traffickers. On the other hand, if they embrace neutrality and oppose drug trafficking destroying crops and labs, they will also get killed.

The situation is so critical the official indigenous murder rate has doubled. During this year’s first semester, there were 62 murdered indigenous, almost as double as last year. Half of them took place in Nariño. In most of the cases it is the FARC behind the crime. The case in Cauca province, located north from Nariño, is specially critic because the Nasa indigenous decided to destroy every trace of drug trafficking in their territory, and so became a military target for the guerrilla.

This is not genocide, or murder for ethnic reasons. “Actually, the explanation is territorial. Armed struggle and drug trafficking have been moving towards the South Western part of Colombia, to the provinces of Cauca and Nariño”, says Camilo Echandía, analyst and academic at Universidad Externado in Colombia. There is not only a huge indigenous presence in those territories, but an overwhelming absence of the State.

What is most worrying is that the strategy adopted by the government is running short. Nariño is the province with most mined fields and Cauca where the FARC has more initiative. The Police itself has suffered several attacks this years, such as the ambush where 11 agents died when they were trying to destroy a coca lab. Drug trafficking in the region is out of control. Freddy Padilla, army general, recently said the Colombian Pacific is not under control.

The massacre of the Awa brings attention to two points where President Uribe’s Democratic Security Policy shows weakness: the Pacific region and the indigenous people. The first one because there is no actual plan for the development of the region. And the indigenous because even though the FARC are their principal murderers, the Army is still failing on human rights with them.
Semana International delivers news about Colombia in English. Find more in our home