|Massacre in Colombia
drug competition traps peasants, indigenous tribes in middle
|Madeleine Diaz / La
|Colombia’s civil war
between paramilitary groups and guerrillas has resulted
in a massive migration of Wayuu Indians into cities and
neighboring countries. More than 700 Wayuu, including
those above, live in poverty in Maracaibo,
Cabo de la Vela, Colombia - At least 34 farmers near the
Venezuelan border were massacred June 15 in the latest violent
competition to control drug production and distribution.
The killings followed an incident two months earlier in which a
Wayuu Indian village in the Guajira desert of Colombia was wiped
out, with more than 100 people dead or missing, according to
On one side of this lethal struggle are right-wing paramilitary
organizations; on the other are leftist guerrillas called the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Their conflict, once
ideological, now includes control of drug-making territories.
In the middle are peasants and indigenous tribes that, with few
weapons and few choices, are pressured into growing coca, from which
cocaine is processed. Wayuu are streaming across the border into
Venezuela, whose officials have denounced what they call the "Wayuu
"I asked for international humanitarian attention so that the ...
United Nations would investigate the matter," said Noeli Pocaterra,
vice president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, who spoke
recently to a U.N. assembly on indigenous issues in New York. "A
real genocide happened in Colombia, and we need international
Government forces in Colombia are stepping up efforts against
conservative paramilitary groups and leftist rebels, whose violence
contributes to the U.S. State Department finding that "Colombia is
one of the most dangerous countries in the world."
Meanwhile, the country continues to endure the most dire refugee
problem in the Americas, with an estimated 3 million people
uprooted, including 19,000 refugees now in the United States,
according to a report in May by the private U.S. Committee for
The June 15 killings took place around 5 a.m.
Thirty-four farmers from Tibu, many of them bound hand and foot
by ropes from their hammocks, were slain, survivors and government
officials in Colombia and Venezuela said.
Government officials and survivors hold the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Columbia, or FARC, responsible.
According to the survivors, FARC accused the farmers of
collecting coca leaves for the paramilitary groups.
Two months earlier, on April 18, it was the rival paramilitary
forces doing the killing.
Wayuu villagers had complained about increased drug trafficking
in the area, as well as the chemical smells from a nearby
"A drug factory was built, planes would land there, many
foreigners came to buy contraband," recalls Maria Pinallo, 40, who
raised goats with her six children in the small port of Bahia de
Portete. She is now a refugee in Venezuela. "When the wind would
blow hard, our children would get sick from the sulfuric acid and
all the ingredients they put in cocaine."
She said the drug lord who controlled the area heard of the
complaints and wanted to ensure that there would be no witnesses to
the increased contraband sales.
"They came with the paramilitaries to exterminate us," Pinallo
The paramilitary group, known as the United Self-Defense Forces
of Colombia, or AUC, were scheduled to begin peace negotiations this
month with the Colombian government.
In April, witnesses said, about 200 of them surrounded the 50
ranches of Bahia de Portete.
"In the desert, we can see people coming from far away, which
saved our lives," Pinallo said.
She grabbed her youngest child and told everyone she could to
run. Many, she said, didn't have time to escape.
Jose Vincente, 8, drew in the sand to show how he ran through the
blinding sand to escape Bahia de Portete. He said he saw them
killing men, women and children, decapitating them, cutting them in
pieces "with their machetes." He reported seeing people being burned
The paramilitary group released only one person, survivors said.
The elderly man was shot in one hand and slashed in the other, and
he was ordered to tell the others never to return.
After the massacre, hundreds of Wayuu walked for days in the
desert, without food or water, until trucks picked them up and
helped them cross the border into Venezuela.
Five days later, the Colombian army arrived in Bahia de Portete
and found body parts spread over the area. Only 30 bodies were
found, according to Wayuu, who helped bury the dead, and more than
80 people are missing.
Colombian officials, supported by American aid, are trying to
bring home some of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced in
drug and political battles over the years.
Luis Alfonso Hoyos, with the Department of Colombian Social
Actions, said that since 2002 the government has returned 80,000
Colombians to their homes.
It's unclear whether survivors of the Bahia de Portete bloodshed
will ever go back.
Luis Angel, a fisherman from Bahia de Portete, said he will
avenge the deaths of his sons, ages 5 and 7. "Of this I am certain,"
he said. "We will have our revenge for our dead family members."
Today there is no one left in Bahia de Portete.
"A ghost town," said Pinallo, "with the spirits of the dead."
Galle Sévenier, a freelance journalist specializing in Central
and South America, has a master's degree in mass communication from
the University of Denver.