Colombia – The forgotten victims

February 7, 2013 6:05 pm

Imagine a world with no technology and no comfort. A world where the moon is just a bright fascinating round-shaped light in the night sky and no one has ever even dreamt about space shuttles. That’s the world of Nukak, a small tribe that lives between the Guaviare and Inírida rivers in south-east Colombia. Or at least it was. Before 1988 the Nukak never got in contact with other human beings but the people of their own tribe. They used to be divided into small groups of nine/thirteen people, mostly nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in the deep forest far away from the rivers. But since when, 24 years ago, coca growers started occupying their land, the Nukak have been forced to leave the rainforest. The consequences have been unimaginable.

More than 50% of the entire tribe have died while the survivors moved to the closest town, San Jose del Guaviare, looking for means of support.

The ongoing Colombian conflict is exacerbating the situation. From 1964  the country has been torn by a bloody armed conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the Colombian army. They all claim to fight in the name of the stability of the country and the protection of the citizens while, in fact, the conflict revolves around the cocaine trade.

In these days the Colombian government and the Farc (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) are negotiating in Cuba in an attempt to end five decades of conflict. Five decades of violence that have led the country on the edge of the precipice. Unfortunately words don’t match reality.

Last year the Farc and the Colombian government made a deal to stop the armed forces from kidnapping civilians. Only few days ago, despite the deal, Farc spokesman, Jesus Santrich, has claimed that kidnapping civilians is a collateral damage of any war. On the 31st of January four government soldiers have been killed by Farc rebels in southern Colombia as result of a government offensive in the north.

The negotiations are still going on but so far it seems hard to see a way out. Among all the land reform issues, the Farc have put forward the proposal to hand over 25 million hectares (20% of the country) to the country’s poor. If accepted, this reform will question again the indigenous’ fate.

Will they have their lands back? Probably not. Even if the government and the Farc reached an agreement, fixing the country after five decades of guerrilla would take years. It would take even more time to eradicate the cocaine trade, which, in certain remote parts of Colombia is the only choice people have to survive. Growing corn, rice, potatoes and vegetable doesn’t pay back while  growing coca assures a safe income.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations will be, the indigenous tribes won’t have a say in itNukak Columbia

National and international organisations have been trying to stem the problem. In 2009 Colombia signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stating that Nukak, Wipiwi and all the other Colombian tribes have the right to stay on their lands. According to the declaration, the government has also the duty to protect them from any external threat.

But such a violent and blurred political situation would hardly lead to a peaceful and final resolution.

In 2006 the Colombian government tried to move the Nukak back to the rainforest but the conflict makes the area too dangerous. More or less 200 Nukak are now in San Jose del Guaviere, even if they usually end up living under the level of poverty and without any medical help.

The Nukak are just one of the 32 Colombian tribes at risk of extinction. Even if their land ownership rights are recognised in international law, they all undergo the same destiny. Wipiwi, Amorùa, Wachina and Arhuac will soon disappear both because of the violence of the Colombian conflict and because of their lack of immune defence system, even for common illnesses. If the socio-political situation in Colombia doesn’t change, in less than 10 years the indigenous tribes will all be extinct. Millenary traditions, languages and habits will be lost forever. The moon will keep shining but the Earth will be a little bit poorer for it.

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