Drug Barons Massacre Colombian Indians in Trafficking Row
Gaëlle Sévenier, Free-lance Reporter
Juin 14th - 20th 2004 -Publication: The Big Issue in the North,
Hundreds of Wayuu Indians have been displaced after a violent massacre recently took place in the Guajira region of Colombia.
The massacres of what is estimated to be 100 Wayuu Indians by Colombian drug traffickers and paramilitaries has seen hundreds more Wayuu Indians flee over the border into Venezuela where they are now living in fear and poverty.
Maria Pinallo, a 40 year old Wayuu Indian, once lived raising goats with her six children in Bahia de Portee, a little port in the Guajira desert of Colombia. Three years ago, Jose Maria Borros, a.k.a. 'El Che Mabala", increased drug trafficking in the port. "A drug factory was built, planes would land there, many foreigners came to buy contraband," tells Maria. "When the wind would blow hard, our children would get sick from the citric acid and all the ingredients they put in cocaine. News of the indigenous families´ complaints soon found its way to El Che Mabala. One morning, they came with the Paramilitaries to exterminate us."
On April 18th, at 7am, approximately 200 armed men surrounded the 50 ranches of Bahia Portete. "In the desert, we can see people coming from far away, which saved our lives," explains Maria. She didn't have time to close her door or to take anything. She grabbed her youngest child in her arms and told everyone to run as fast as they could. Many didn't have time to escape.
Jose Vincente is only 8 years old. His mother told him to run and hide otherwise they would kill him. "I was running so fast... the sand was coming in my eyes... I was blinded" says the child. "I didn't have time to put my shoes on - my feet were hurting me so much." Jose Vincente draws in the sand how he escaped from the paramilitaries. He is certain that "they had my name on a list, they wanted to kill me " The young boy describes the paramilitaries he saw as all wearing moustaches and military suits with 40 buttons. He saw them killing men, women and children without mercy, decapitating them, cutting them in pieces, "like raw meat with their machetes". He also reported seeing people being burned alive.
Luis Angel, a fisherman of Bahia de Portete, not only left his house behind, but also the dead bodies of his two sons, 5 and 7, burned alive in his own truck. "I was visiting my mother that day, and I wanted to leave earlier but the truck didn't work." He heard his children screaming but there was nothing he could do. The mother of the two boys now lives with her cousin, Maria Pinallo, who takes care of her as she still suffers from psychological trauma. Luis Angel now only thinks of one thing: revenge. "There I have my animals, my land. I don't want to leave them to the paramilitaries. Of this I am certain: we will have our revenge for our dead family members."
The paramilitaries massacred everyone who did not escape. They only let one old man go after shooting him in one hand and cutting his other hand to pieces, ordering him to tell the others to never come back. The wounded hands had to be subsequently amputated in a Venezuelan hospital. The victime says he does not never want to come back.
Hundreds of Wayuu walked for days in the desert, without food or water, until trucks picked them up and helped them cross the border. Five days later the Colombia army arrived in the village and found pieces of dead bodies spread all over the area. Only 30 bodies were found. More than 80 are missing. "Probably drowned in the sea or buried," suppose the Wayuu. By the time the army arrived, the paramilitaries had fled. "El Che Mabala has his contacts. They knew the army was coming," accuses Maria. Today there is no one left in Bahia Portete. "A ghost town, with the spirits of the dead," continues Maria, holding back tears. "Why did they cut the people in pieces? They are butchers. There was nothing left to bury".
It is thought one of the prime reasons behind the genocide is control of the network of drug trafficking ports in the Guajira littoral. The Human Rights Commission of the National Police published a report specifying that the situation follows the policy implemented by the paramilitaries. "They are fighting for the domination of Bahia Portete, a town that moves a lot of contraband. Cargo ships come into the port with goods and later leave with drugs," official sources of the Colombian army indicated to El Tiempo. Paramilitaries and a group of guerrillas, "who are [both] illegal armed groups," have been fighting in the Sierra Nevada and the Guajira deserts for decades over control of the drug trade.
On May 22, during the United Nation's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held this year in New York City, Noeli Pocaterra, Vice president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, denounced the "Wayuu genocide". "The Forum's central theme was indigenous women involved in human rights, development and economic issues," tells Noeli Pocaterra. "I used this opportunity to denounce the problem of the displaced Indigenous people in the high region of the Guajira, persecuted by the paramilitaries. I asked for international humanitarian attention so that the High Commissioners of the United Nations would investigate the matter. A real genocide happened in Colombia, and we need international help." According to the Vice President, the problem of the paramilitaries and of the guerrillas in Colombia is nowhere close to being over and will probably generate many more internal and international "displacements."
Photo Gaëlle Sévenier, family of refugees