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Written by Andrew E. Miller, D.C. Advocacy Director for Amazon Watch

Death threats in Colombia arrive in many different forms. A recent threat to a health care union came in a foul-smelling box. Inside: the severed head of a dog and a handwritten letter stating, “This is how you will die, sons-of-bitches,” followed by eight names.

The U’wa recently received a different, if no less ominous, message. This past Friday unknown persons sent them a photo of a sheep dressed up in military attire and carrying an assault rifle. In the background is the El Cocuy mountain, which the U’wa are currently protecting through peaceful protest.

The image may seem absurd but the implicit message is deadly serious: That the U’wa are somehow associated with one of Colombia’s illegal armed groups, whether an anti-government guerrilla army like the FARC or ELN or one of the neo-paramilitary groups. This implication, in turn, indicates that they are considered to be “military targets” of another armed actor.

U'wa Indigenous Guard. (Photo Credit: ASOU'WA)

U’wa Indigenous Guard. (Photo Credit: ASOU’WA)

There is no legitimate rationale for using violence against the U’wa. They are extreme pacifists by culture (considering the mere presence of weapons in their territory as violence) and have always been transparent about their actions. In this case, they are protecting an ecologically fragile and spiritually significant part of their own territory from damage.

This latest photo threat is part of an apparent campaign of increasing intimidation as the U’wa protest carries on. El Cocuy has emerged as a significant tourist destination, benefiting local political elites and tourism operators. The current mobilization implies a loss of revenue, especially when thousands of Holy Week tourist reservations were cancelled.

The U’wa have passed evidence of the threats along to Colombian officials and demanded a proper investigation. Ongoing solidarity for the U’wa mobilization is going to be important as they face the specter of potential violence to disband their nonviolent protests.

Amazon Watch has launched an urgent action on behalf of the U’wa. We support their demand for direct dialogue with Colombia’s Minister of Environment. They have asked for international support to curtail tourism on El Cocuy until an independent environmental impact study can be carried out. Please take action today on their behalf!

Public Denunciation

U’wa ancestral territory – March 27th, 2016

We, U’wa indigenous people, denounce to the Colombian and international community that, in the development of our peaceful collective action for the defense of our sacred territory at Zizuma Mountain initiated this past March 18th in the sierra nevada El Cocuy, we have seen such situations as:

  1. The stigmatization, accusations, and threats to the personnel of the U’wa Indigenous Guards and the supportive campesinos who are currently located at the concentration points around Zizuma.
  2. Throughout time, the U’wa people can be characterized as supporting the conservation, care, and protection of our Mother Earth, through the practices of our uses and customs. We demand respect from the functionaries of Colombia’s National Parks system who have de-legitimized our process of defense and protection of our Mother Earth.
  3. Once the “dialogue and coordination tables” were set up, we have witnessed with great concern events that have presented themselves, such as the photo received on March 25th, 2016, which tries to implicate the U’wa community as people that belong to illegal armed groups. We demand that the competent authorities investigate and clarify these images that attempt to damage the good reputation of our people and put in imminent risk our physical and psychological integrity.
  4. Over the years, the U’wa people have initiated collective actions in defense of our ancestral territory and our legally-titled reservation, stemming from the heart of our U’wa communities. We have seen the loss of the lives of our brothers and sisters in different police eviction actions we have suffered as we defended our collective rights. Our dignity as an ancestral people has been the flag of our process of struggle and resistance to preserve balance and life on this blue planet.
  5. We say “No!” to the affront against our unified U’wa people, who have always been characterized by our peaceful collective struggle in defense of life and the survival of peoples in resistance.

Association of Traditional U’wa Authorities and Councils – ASOU’WA

(This article originally appeared on Amazon Watch. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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