Survival Alert is a fortnightly update on the state of indigenous peoples around the world from Survival International. Founded in 1969, Survival International is the globe’s foremost organization working for tribal peoples rights.
Last November I was in Colombia researching the situation of the Arhuaco tribe for tribal rights organization Survival International when I came face to face with the violence and brutality faced by Colombia’s indigenous peoples on a regular basis.
As I was driving through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains with Arhuaco tribal leader Rogelia Mejía, our car was ambushed by gunmen and riddled with bullets. Although Mejía was hit three times, he miraculously managed to escape with only minor wounds, and I and the two other passengers survived without injury.
Not everyone takes the best interests of Colombia’s tribal people to heart. (Photo: Copyright Survival)
Such brutal attacks on Colombia’s tribal leaders are not unusual. Many Colombian tribes have been caught in the middle of a civil war raging between paramilitaries, government forces and armed guerilla groups. Countless Indians have consequently been killed or were forced to flee their ancestral lands.
During my trip I managed to capture a rare interview with Dilia Torres, the widow of one of three Arhuaco leaders who were killed 22 years ago. Her husband, Angel María Torres, and two other Arhuaco leaders were traveling from their home in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada region to the capital Bogotá, when they were kidnapped, tortured and killed.
“The authorities told us that the government would compensate the families. But financial compensation cannot replace what I have lost. I lost my husband.”
The United Nations and the Colombian government both ruled that the Colombian army was responsible for the men’s deaths. Despite an international campaign by Survival and the Arhuaco, no one has been punished for the crime. Dilia is still waiting for her husband’s killers to be brought to justice.
Now Natalia Tena, a star of TV blockbuster Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter movies, has lent her voice to a campaign to bring the killers to justice. Natalia provided the voice-over to the rare and emotional interview with Angel’s widow Dilia.
Natalia Tena tells Survival, “Dilia’s story of the loss of her husband touched me deeply, which is why I am supporting Survival’s campaign against impunity for crimes against Colombia’s indigenous people.”
In the interview, above, Dilia talks to me about her despair and grief of the past 22 years:
“My husband, Angel, left from our home here for Bogota. But 10 days later we found out that he never got there. A search party was sent out to rescue him, but when we found him, he was dead.
“They could see from the men’s bodies that they had been severely tortured. My husband’s hair was gone, and his fingers were missing. The authorities told us that the government would compensate the families. But financial compensation cannot replace what I have lost. I lost my husband—and all hope of a life with my partner and family.
“It’s been 22 years since the men were murdered. The day he left our home, I went with him to the bus station. He was telling me about his plans for our life together, the life of our children. This is why it is so painful.”
Attacks on other tribal peoples in Colombia are also commonplace, such as the hunter-gatherer Nukak who live in the Amazon basin, or the Awá in southern Colombia. ONIC, Colombia’s Indian organization, estimates that 36 tribes are at imminent risk of becoming extinct. Only last week, the bodies of three Awá children who were killed in a massacre in 2011 were uncovered.
The gunmen who attacked our car in the Sierra Nevada that day interrogated me at gunpoint for ten minutes, asking for Mejía’s whereabouts. The gunmen fled when the police arrived, but I know that we were just lucky to escape with our lives.
Please send a letter to the Colombian President urging him to secure indigenous territories and ensure the Indians’ human rights are protected: His Excellency Juan Manuel Santos, President of the Republic, Carrera 8 n. 7-26, Palacio de Nariño, Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia
If you are outraged that indigenous peoples are continuing to be hounded and killed by so-called civilized predators, say how you plan to do something about it in COMMENTS.
Related Stories on TakePart:
• Survival Alert: India’s Human Zoo and Why It Must Be Stopped
• Survival Alert: Where Reindeer Decline, Tribal Peoples Falter
• Survival Alert: Botswana’s Bushmen Arrested and Tortured for Hunting While Tribal
Game of Thrones and Harry Potter star Natalia Tena has done a voiceover for Survival’s interview with Dilia Torres.
Valerie Newman is a campaigner at Survival International. Due to the sensitive nature of her work and to ensure she is able to travel back to Colombia, she is protecting her identity by using a pseudonym. Email Survival | @Survival