The indigenous Awas in the midst of war

( Translated by Rolf Schoneborn,  a CSN volunteer translator)

By Constanza Vieira

BOGOTÀ, Febr.19 – FARC commandos slaughtered eight indigenous Awas, whom they had accused of working as informants for the Colombian military. Ariel Avila, an expert on military issues, is certain that indigenous groups in the departamento (province) of Narino “have formed a kind of ronda campesina (peasant round)like the ones in Peru.”

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, have already referred to the AWA rondas campesinas,i.e. autonomous peasant patrols,  Ávila told IPS. “I have heard of this type of organization.”

Avila is a member of the Armed Conflict Observatory, Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris (New Rainbow Organization), which differs from other think-tanks because it does local monitoring.

“The question is as to whether the army initiated these rondas or whether the Awas themselves initiated them. According to FARC the government exerts pressure, engages in blackmail, by way of rewards, Familias Guardabosques ( subsidies for landowners who choose not to grow coca in a certain area)”, and other social programs, according to Avila. “But they also acknowledge that it was their own decision”, so he says.

The rondas campesinas started cropping up in the North of Peru in the late 70’s as a way to control cattle-rustling and serve as arbiters in land and boundary conflicts. At some point there were up to 400.000 local committees in Peru.

The Peruvian government under Alberto Fujimori /1900 2000) decided to militarize the rondas in the early 90’s, even in areas where there were no guerrilla activities and those rondas that refused to cooperate with the military in its counter-insurgency measures had to suffer the consequences.

According to the experts, the demise of the Maoist guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) antedated the capture of its leader Abimael Guzman in 1992, when the campesinos no longer cooperated with them but rather decided to confront them, and the Peruvian military opted for modernization.

Narino province, 33.2668 square kilometers of rugged Andean mountains is located in the Colombian South-West, has the most forced internal migration and the greatest number of minefields in all of Colombia.

All warring factions in Colombia fight over this no man’s land, militarily speaking, which serves as a corridor for drug traficking and a clandestine resupply area.

According to the Observatory the following can be said about the military situation in Narino:

The security forces will ibe increased by 1,000, i.e. from 17,000 to 18,000.

FARC and the leftist ELN (Army of National Liberation), the second guerrilla organization started being active in Narino in 1987 and 1985, respectively.

Today FARC has 600 fighters in the field here: the Marshal Antonio José de Sucre Column (with about 150 -160 members, who are responsible for the Awa massacre), the mobile column Daniel Aldana and three so-called fronts.
The ELN has 300 members in Barbacoas, Samaniego, and La LLanada. These are municipalities, where the killings took place.

The entire South-West of Colombia is fiercely being fought over by the two guerrilla organizations since 2005.

Although 32,000 members of right-wing paramilitary groups were demobilized after negotiations with the government there are also new groups and remnants of the militias of the drug traffickers: Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), Nueva Generacion, Autodefensas Gaitanistas and the Rastrojos (the Weeds), all told 600 combatants.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621

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