Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Indigenous massacre demonstrates cycle of violence

On February 4th, 17 members of the Awá indigenous group, including women and children, were massacred on their reservation (resguardo) in the southwestern Colombian state of Nariño. A week later, on February 11th, 10 more Awá were killed. Families throughout the resguardos have been displacing since the massacres occurred, out of fear of further attacks.

As the news arrived here to the Peace Community, shock and sadness were accompanied by doubt about the media and government’s attribution of the crime to the FARC. Several community members commented that they figured the Uribe administration wanted to accuse the FARC in order to stymie calls for the negotiation of a humanitarian accord after the recent unilateral release of 6 hostages held by the FARC. Such doubt is not just general skepticism about the government’s constant quickness to blame the FARC for nearly any and all crimes committed in the country. When the Peace Community suffered it’s own massacre of 8 community members in 2005, the Uribe administration immediately blamed the FARC. The community maintained that paramilitaries in collaboration with the army were the perpetrators, and finally, years later, soldiers and paramilitaries are confessing their responsibility for the crime.

In the end, it looks like the FARC were responsible for the Awá massacres. As the facts come to light, the heartbreaking cycle of violence that exists in Colombia is once again visible: On February 1st, a group of army soldiers entered two villages in the resguardo, mistreating and threatening families into sharing information on the whereabouts of FARC guerrillas. When FARC guerrillas entered on February 4th, they rounded up 20 men, women and children, tied them to trees, and killed 17 of them (3 escaped), some with knives. Those who escaped say that the FARC committed the massacre out of anger for the supposed collaboration with the army.

Like the Peace Community, indigenous communities in Colombia attempt to remain neutral in the armed conflict. Also like the Peace Community, such requests to be le

ft out of a war that is not theirs are frequently ignored, and the consequences are often deadly. A fiercely independent and well-organized group, the Awá have repeatedly sought to denounce abuses and demand help from various Colombian government institutions, with almost no response.

Click here for a translation by the CIP Colombia Program of a declaration by the UNIPA and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), denouncing the attacks as well as the government's long history of inattention to massacres, displacements, arbitrary detentions, food and medicine blockades, and other atrocities. The account is difficult to read for the brutality it describes, but I think it's important to bear witness to these tragic events in an effort to make them less common.

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