Colombia: nomadic Amazon tribe caught between paras, guerillas

A Colombian photographer whose photos of the Nukak tribe have helped publicize their plight has received threats, apparently from right-wing paramilitaries. Juan Pablo Gutiérrez had been working in the southern Colombian Amazon documenting the Nukak, whose lives have been devastated by the loss of their lands at the hands of armed groups and coca-growing colonists. Last month, Gutiérrez received an e-mail from a sender identified only as “Callon001,” which read: “Stop fucking around [deje de joder] with your photos and your undesirable position as a human rights defender. You’re a left-wing guerrilla dressed up as a photographer. We want you to know…that we are following your footsteps, we know where you live and where you’re going, and if you continue to fuck around, next time it won’t be a letter. We will come and find you in person.” (Survival International, SI, Sept. 19)

Ironically, the Nukak are also under attack by the real guerillas of the FARC. Survival International reports that just days before Gutiérrez received his threat, FARC fighters hijacked the first attempt to provide medical aid by boat to the near-extinct Nukak Indians . Survival reports that medical staff were forced to abandon all their supplies, which included stretchers, surgical equipment and computers. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), which owns the stolen boat, told Survival that the FARC guerillas gave those on board 20 minutes to flee.

The boat was on a tributary of the Río Guaviare en route to the Nukak Makú Resguardo, created in 1993 to protect the Nukak people’s homeland. Many have been displaced from the reserve by political violence and live in camps on the outskirts of San José del Guaviare and other towns in the region, periodically returning to the reserve.

Survival calls the incident a huge blow for the vulnerable Nukak, who have little or no access to health care. Last month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) listed the tribe as one of 35 Colombian indigenous groups in immediate danger of extinction.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said, “Colombia’s interminable civil war has wreaked death and destruction on the Nukak. For the tribe’s nomadic members, it spells absolute disaster. The hijacking of this boat denies them their only source of healthcare. It seems cruel and unfair that this innocent party is suffering the most.” (Survival International, Sept. 12)

See our last posts on Colombia and the struggle for the Amazon.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.