Thursday, August 10, 2006


The Awa Indians in Colombia held a news conference to mark World Indigenous Day. It began with a moment of silence for five of the tribe, killed by masked gunmen 570 kilometers southwest of Bogota.

"It hurts my soul to have to inform you of the death of my people," Doris Puchana, leader of the Awa Indian tribe, told journalists at the Bogota news conference.

One of the victims was Jesus Moran, a traditional Awa leader at Chaguichimbuza.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Wednesday condemned the massacre of the five. Roberto Meier, Colombia's representative of the UNHCR, described the killing as "brutal murder."

Doris Puchana, who took over the leadership of the Awa from Moran, also condemned the killings, saying "my soul aches because these are my people, in my care."

Luis Evelis Andrade, president of the National Indigenous Colombians Association, called for an investigation into the massacre to figure out how such events could occur in a heavily militarized area.

Fabio Trujillo, interior minister for Narino, told media that the Awas appeared to have been killed on suspicion of aiding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Some 23,000 Indians were displaced from their ancestral homelands last year by violence stemming from Colombia's four-decade-old conflict and another 5,731 cases have been reported this year, according to Colombia's Indigenous Organization, an advocacy group.

The displacement has threatened to decimate several of Colombia's 80 indigenous communities, the U.N. said.

Amongst those communites is the Nuvak.

Until 1988 the outside world knew nothing of the existence of the Nukak, a small tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers who have lived in the vast rainforests of south-east Colombia for centuries.

Les than two decades later, the arrival of the civil war in their corner of the Amazon Basin has forced more than half of the Nukak community of some 500 to flee their ancestral lands. The last big exodus came in April, when 77 Nukak sought sanctuary in the town of San José de Guaviare. Their situation is dire: they cannot return to their lands, but their culture will disappear if they stay put.

"We have warned repeatedly that indigenous groups in Colombia are at risk of violence and even of extinction amid the ongoing conflict. This is a tragedy not only for them but for the whole of humanity" said Roberto Meier, UNHCR's representative in Colombia.

Indigenous culture is closely linked to the community's ancestral lands, and forced displacement leads to the loss of traditions, culture and language. To avoid this fate, many communities try desperately to stay on their lands despite the threats and violence.

The Bari are one such people – they have refused to move from their land near the border with Venezuela despite the heavy presence of irregular troops and the great risk of violence. Concern is also growing about Embera communities caught up in fighting sweeping Chocó department near the border with Panama.

"Our worry is great," one indigenous leader forced into exile told UNHCR recently. "We see that our culture is dying, we fear that our young people will lose the traditions of their ancestors and we do not see how the problem will end. It did not start yesterday, but today the violence is worse. What are we going to do? As long as the armed groups are on our territory, we cannot go back."

The following is from China's People's Daily.

L. American indigenous people protest marginalization

Indigenous people in Latin America on Wednesday marked International Day of Indigenous People by expressing anger at their marginalization and grief over the suffering they have had to endure.

In Colombia, five members of the indigenous community, the Awa, were killed by nine heavily-armed paramilitaries in the rural Colombian area of Barbacoas early on Wednesday who burst into a house in the village of Altaquer in the southwestern region of Narino, which borders Ecuador.

One of the victims was Jesus Moran, the traditional Awa leader at Chaguichimbuza.

"Wednesday is nothing more than a day of mourning," said a statement from the National Organization of Indigenous Colombians, which added that 32 indigenous people had been murdered since January.

In Guatemala, the National Coordination of Rural Organizations organized a demonstration to protest what they described as government marginalization of the Maya, who make up 42 percent of the country's population.

The demonstration also called for agricultural reforms and an end to racial prejudice.

In Argentina, more than 1,000 indigenous people in the northeast region of Jujuy blocked the highways leading to Bolivia and Chile, demanding that the government return their land.

However, in some parts of Latin America there were signs of progress for indigenous people.

Mexican President Vicente Fox attended a ceremony in the northern state of San Luis Potosi, where indigenous people have the right to administer justice in accordance with traditional practices.

In Bolivia, the country's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, is leading a project that includes giving land to indigenous people.

The land reform was officially launched on July 3. The project includes measures to find new markets for the crops traditionally grown by Bolivia's indigenous peoples.

However, non-governmental organizations said more than 50 million of the continent's indigenous people lived in poverty and international bodies and social activists were far from finding any solutions, including the efforts spurred by the International Day of Indigenous People, which began in 1994.

Mexico's indigenous people continue to report the highest infant mortality rates, the lowest salaries, the worst access to basic education and health services, and the greatest prejudice against their culture.

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