BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Aureliano Socarreño, 79, and his grandson Julio, 14, two Indians from the Nasa West reservation in the central western region of Colombia, are the latest victims of violence by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
While they were walking along Planadas, in the department of Tolima, last Nov. 18, Socarreño stepped on a landmine buried by the FARC and was killed in the explosion.
Other members of the tribe rushed to help him, entering the landmine field. It was there that Socarreño’s grandson also succumbed to one of the explosive devices. A National Army soldier who was taking care of them also died, while two more Indians were hurt in the rescue attempt.
General Henry Torres, commander of the Fifth Division of the National Army, told local media that the FARC actions “are a clear violation of humanitarian international law by a drug trafficking group.”
The truth is that, besides placing bombs, kidnapping people and holding them for years, financing itself through narcotics trafficking and other illegal activities, and even abusing its own ranks, the FARC also relentlessly attacks the indigenous population of Colombia.
From 2002 to 2010, 1,500 indigenous have died at the hands of the terrorist organization, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).
“One thousand five hundred indigenous killed in eight years is a number that truly makes one think about the ignorance and barbarity the FARC use to deal with their issues,” said Gloria Amparo Rodríguez, specialist in indigenous legislation at the Universidad del Rosario.
Since 2004, 80,000 Indians have been displaced from their native lands because of FARC aggression, according to ONIC.
“Our indigenous people cannot walk freely on their land,” said Luis Evelis, an indigenous leader and ONIC representative. “The guerrilla force has them surrounded by landmine fields, or they murder their leaders to weaken the communities, sowing fear and forcing the [natives] to disperse. [The FARC want] control of strategic areas for their fight against authorities and to grow coca leaves.”
There are 1.3 million indigenous people in Colombia, or 3% of the population, according to the 2005 census.
In November, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stated “the security of the indigenous Colombians is at risk, and UNHCR expresses its concern about the serious acts of violence faced by the indigenous communities of Embera-Katío, Embera-Dobida and Senú in Antioquia, and the Awá People in the department of Nariño.”
After the death of FARC leader Alfonso Cano, the Colombian Army was able to verify that the terrorist group routinely assassinated indigenous leaders of the Awá community in 2009, as captured in this communication found on one of the guerrilla leader’s computers: “The Mariscal Sucre column executed eight indigenous bandits, snitchers rejected by the community, captured when they were exploring for the Army.”
According to ONIC, 40% of Colombian indigenous leaders have been threatened by the FARC.
The departments of Antioquia, Nariño and Cauca live in a precarious situation with regard to the aggression against and murder of indigenous, Colombian daily El Espectador reported.
During the first six months of 2011, 19 indigenous were murdered in Antioquia, while the Embera communities of Nariño have already been declared by ONIC as being in danger of extinction.
“The different armed players cannot continue killing us,” said Evelis to local media after the FARC murdered Fabio Domicó Domicó, leader of the Embera community last November in western Antioquia. “The Colombian state and government must immediately implement actions to preserve the lives of our leaders and the survival of our communities.”
For Cecilo Medina, political scientist at the Universidad Javeriana, the FARC’s intentions in murdering indigenous leaders and displacing communities are clear.
“Historically, indigenous Colombians have been neutral with regard to the conflict,” he said. Nevertheless, the FARC seeks control of their lands to “turn them into bases for cocaine trafficking.” What better way to accomplish this than to kill the community leaders and force the rest of the population to disperse."
Medina added the FARC often accuses indigenous individuals of collaborating with authorities before executing them.
President Santos has made clear he will protect the indigenous of Colombia.
Upon assuming the presidency last year, he said, “The Colombian government is committed to protecting our indigenous communities. We are committed to protecting their sacred lands, their environment, and we respect their neutrality with regard to the conflict, but we will not allow [the FARC] to continue running over our indigenous people and their leaders. Each indigenous community is part of a great joint security strategy the government is implementing to keep peace in the country and put an end to the FARC.”