They are indigenous people fighting to defend Colombia’s forests, rivers and lakes, but together the communities have become prime targets for death squads who are trying to clear the land of its indigenous inhabitants. As no state is capable of defending its citizens, and the authorities’ failure to punish paramilitary violence in the Colombian countryside has only encouraged violent crime, the indigenous are now being used by drug gangs to flush out their rivals, to secure drug trafficking routes, and to generate funds for their criminal activities.
The five hectares owned by the Chuino indigenous people, near Quindio, has become a focal point for the gangland wars for control of the drug trade in Colombia. The community are the only ones who still live on the land where Chocó Indians have been for thousands of years. The local paramilitary group used to provide protection for the community as a result of the group’s ties to the local drug mafia. “We agreed not to approach each other,” Luis Garcia, from the Chuino community, told the United Nations’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “We told them that we don’t want them here,” he added.
However, as the violence increased and the chocó began attacking the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the level of intimidation and fear of violence became palpable. The same small men, who used to be pillars of the local community, now bomb and assassinate locals. “Now it’s just the Chinos,” said Fermin Magana, the Chuino’s peace negotiator. “[Other guerrillas] have left us alone and we’re even starting to work for them.”
The lack of resources at the community’s disposal has left Chuino with almost no possibility of defending themselves. The community have been allocated just 10 hectares to live on, but Chocó state is impoverished. There’s hardly any infrastructure; most of the infrastructure left over from the Farc’s guerrilla siege has been destroyed, and the population lacks basic services such as potable water. As a result, the conflict has continued, now with much more violent outcomes. The warring parties and drug gangs in Colombia are increasing their efforts to disarm communities and replace them with gangs. In Acayú, near Ucuta, at least 50 bodies have been found over the past six months in the Naya River. In Acayú, the ruthless drug gangs and criminal groups have cut off the veins of indigenous land so that they can only harvest drugs with the river’s water.
Colombia’s president was recently heavily criticised for attempting to impose new laws that would force the country’s indigenous peoples to give up some of their ancestral land and claims – legislation that is being widely denounced as undermining a 2002 agreement signed with the guerrillas, the Bloque Meta group, to protect Indigenous lands. But it is too late. There’s very little the UN has been able to do to help improve the situation.