By Mauricio García Villegas, EL ESPECTADOR, June 13, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Edwin Dagua Ipia was born in the municipality of Caloto, in the northern part of Cauca Province. He was the sixth of seven children in a family of coffee growers. As a child he loved to play football, ride his bicycle, and read. When he finished his studies in high school, he took an interest in the history of his people, the Nasa people, and in the indigenous movement. People that knew him at that time noticed that he showed an early charisma and a great capacity for leadership. They thought that such virtues would take him a long way. They were right: little by little the indigenous authorities were giving him responsibilities, so that in 2016, when he was 26 years old, he was chosen Indigenous Governor of the Hellas reservation. He received the “chonta”[1] which is a traditional symbol of command. In that position, he did whatever he could to inculcate in the young people a more committed vision of the traditions of his people, and of the defense of their territory. But all of that was frustrated on December 7, 2018, when armed men intercepted him in the town (vereda) of La Buitrera and shot him to death. He was 28 years old.

Edwin was a friend of Cristina Bautista Taquinás, another indigenous leader, who also came to be a Governor in the reservation. She also was murdered, ten months later, in events that shook the country, among other things because, before she died, she said this: “If we remain silent, they kill us, and if we speak, the same . . .So we speak .” Edwin Dagua and Cristina Bautista make up part of a new generation of indigenous young people who are convinced that it is necessary to expel all of the armed actors from their territories, not just the guerrillas, but also the paramilitaries and the drug traffickers.

Both leaders personify the restraint of the new generations of indigenous people who will not negotiate with the illegals and who have an unquenchable will to move their people forward.

According to official figures confirmed by the United Nations, between 2017 and 2019, 339 social leaders were murdered in Colombia. Just until April 19 of this year, according to the Public Defender’s Office, 56 more were killed. Michel Forst, then the United Nations rapporteur, said last February that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the defense of human rights. At this writing, I join with a group of columnists who want to make more visible the lives, the struggles, and the tragedies of these murdered leaders. Our purpose is to make our readers more aware of this tragedy, so that it doesn’t remain secret and scattered, in the way that the killers prefer.

I am going to conclude with something that, if it were not in Colombia, would be excessive, because it’s obvious: the government’s first responsibility is to protect the lives of the people. There are murders in every country and sometimes it’s impossible for the government to avoid that. But the murders of the leaders in Colombia are not isolated events, unpredictable and impossible to anticipate. All of the people I asked, in order to write this column, told me that the murders of Edwin and Cristina were “deaths foretold”. In Colombia the government knows that the social leaders are being murdered by illegal groups.

The government’s responsibility is still more evident if we keep in mind that many of those leaders, such as Cristina and Edwin, were killed while trying to do what the government fails to do, in spite of the fact that this is its most essential responsibility: get the armed groups out of the territories and protect the lives of the people. Not only that, the leaders, like heroes, are doing it without weapons, and, on top of that, society is forgetting them.

[1] “Chonta” literally means a kind of palm tree. Nasa indigenous guards carry a staff made of chonta wood. See “An Inside Look at Colombia’s Indigenous Guards”, Robin Llewellyn, IC, December 11, 2017.

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