Colombia: war, illegal mining encroach on indigenous communities

A landmine believed to have been placed by FARC guerillas exploded Aug. 15, killing an indigenous man and two workers who were repairing an power pylon that had been knocked down last week in an attack also attributed to the guerrillas in a rural area of Tumaco municipality of southwest Colombia’s Nariño department. The indigenous man was a member of the Awá people who had been hired as a guide by the Central Naraño Electric company. Tumaco, a city of some 170,000, has been without electricity for five days due to attacks on pylons. (EFE, Aug. 15) One week earlier, Embera and other indigenous peoples up the Pacific coast in Chocó reported that their communities had come under aerial bombardment by army helicopters in the Alto Andágueda area. A statement from the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Chocó (OREWA) said some 360 families, comprising about 1,500 people, were forced to flee the villages of La Palma, Masura, Unipa and Santa Isabel. No casualties were reported, but the statement said the displaced families were “constantly menaced” by forced of the national army, FARC and ELN guerillas. (OREWA, Aug. 6)

On July 21, the Indigenous Guard from the Awá community of Peña Caraño, Nariño, confronted a gold mining operation that had been illegally set up on their lands, within resguardo (indigenous reserve) Hojal la Turbia. The informal mining camp, of some 50 people, was using dredging technology (minería de aluvión) on the Río Mayasquer (a tributary of the San Juan, which forms the Ecuadoran border for several kilometers before joining the Mira that flows back into Colombian territory, meeting the Pacific south of Tumaco). The camp was subsequently abandoned, although the dredging equipment was left behind, and the miners threatened the Indigenous Guard, saying “We are going to get rid of you one by one” (a uno por uno los vamos ir acabando). The Indigenous Guard statement said, “[W]e do not permit legal or illegal extraction of the elements of nature in Inkal Awá territory, exercising our original law and the special indigenous jurisdiction that governs us.” (UNIPA, Aug. 6)