By Carolina Ávila Cortés, EL ESPECTADOR, September 28, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Since 2018, the government has reported 23 cases where indigenous people were the victims of explosive artifacts. The Embera, Eyavida, and Dóbida communities in Antioquia are among the most affected. In Ituango, the Jaidukamá reservation continues to wait for land mine removal in their territory.
Ernesto Jumi, a 32-year-old Embera Eyabida indigenous man, was working to provide food for his wife and 8-year-old son. They lived together with three other indigenous families in one of the houses on the Jaidukamá reservation in Ituango (Antioquia Province). Last Wednesday morning September 9, several of his neighbors at the reservation heard an explosion and they thought it was some combat between the Armed Forces and the FARC dissidents that are in the area.
After 5:00 in the afternoon the family noticed that Ernesto was late in coming back, something unusual for him, as he always quit work at that time. Nobody had any idea where he was. At 7:00 in the evening several members from the reservation, including the community leader and Ituango Council member, Delio Domicó, went out into the dark to look for him. They found his body near the reservation school. For several days he had been in charge of pulling the weeds on that parcel so that the community could plant corn. He had been killed by the detonation of an explosive artifact that nobody had suspected. That was the explosion that they had heard in the morning.
“The first thing we did was tell the City Services in Ituango, as well as the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia (OIA), the Public Defender, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, so that they would go and take care of his body. We could not do that, because we were afraid that there were more artifacts. Some of us stayed close to his body until the Army and the Sijin (Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol) could come on the following Monday (five days later) at 3:00 p.m. to perform the legal procedure for raising the body,” recounted Delio.
The Jaidukamá reservation, located in northern Antioquia, is surrounded by land mines. It’s an enormous territory of some 1,370 hectares, where nearly 360 members of the community live. It was a territory dominated by Front 18 of the FARC. Now four years after the Peace Agreement with the guerrillas, it’s disputed by the dissidents of Fronts 36 and 18 and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known as Clan del Golfo by the government forces).
Delio believes that the territory has been mined since 2006, “because in 2009 we had another accident with another comrade who fell when he was six hours away (on the trail) from the community of San Román.” But the danger has been there for years. With the implementation of Plan Colombia by former President Andrés Pastrana, and, later, after the combat and bombardments of the former guerrillas. That group’s offensive strategy then was to install mines on the trails, in order to hit the soldiers.
But the worst consequences have been for this community. For several years they remained confined to their homes and farm parcels that were close by, without being able to go by mule to get their daily food, nor to the plants they used for remedies and for their artisan creations. Added to that was the deaths of their members. “The indigenous communities are always very united, so when a person dies it affects all of us; the families were terrified and they couldn’t use the trails or go out and get their food,” added Domicó. The case of Ernesto revived the fears they have felt for nearly a decade.
The community knows which trails are the riskiest and the areas where the mines are. This usually works in the outskirts, but the mine that killed Ernesto was inside the reservation; that means the danger is much closer. The trail to get to the school is around there, and it’s close to the pasture where the cattle graze, and to some plantings of plantain. Talking with Delio, you can feel his concern. It looks to him that the mine might be left over from a battle in April of 2019 between the Army and a group of FARC dissidents.
According to the people that live on the reservation, the Army was there for 20 days. When the dissidents were being defeated, the battle was around the houses and the people were caught in the middle of the shooting. They informed the authorities, even the OIA and the Public Defender, but the leaders complain that nobody did anything. Colombia 2020 asked the City Clerk in Ituango, and also the Mayor of the Municipality, Edwin Mira, but both were sure that they had never heard of the event, since they were not in those positions then, and weren’t in the area. The Mayor, however, stated that the mine could not have come from the battle in 2019, but could have been installed a few days before by the armed groups.
We also asked the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace (OACP), headed by Miguel Ceballos, and they said that there was no record of such a battle. That agency is the one in charge of coordinating the mine removal program that is leading the cleanup of hidden mines in these territories. “What is not clear is whether it’s a munition that was planted but didn’t go off, because everything indicates by the way it was activated that it’s a land mine or another kind of improvised explosive artifact. That’s what’s being figured out,” responded Martha Isabel Hurtao, part of the group, Integrated Action Against Land Mines, in the OACP.
Even though Ituango is a Municipality that’s prioritized in the National Action Plan Against Land Mines after the Peace Agreement with the FARC, they have not been able to do humanitarian land mine removal, because of the presence of armed groups in the area, especially in this reservation.
What’s going to happen in this case, according to Martha Hurtado, is that the proceedings will be carried out that are necessary to include Ernesto’s death in the statistics of victims of land mines, and they will analyze the possibility of assisting the family under the provisions of Statute 1448. One of the omissions in that law is that it does not contemplate attention and reparation for indirect victims of land mine accidents, Ernesto’s wife and child in this case.
There will also be a land operation by the Armed Forces to inspect and make sure there are not more mines or explosive artifacts in the area. With respect to the five days that it took to recover Ernesto’s body, Hurtado answered that access to that area was very complicated, and they could not use military helicopters, because of the presence of armed groups.
More than 400 indigenous victims since 1990
Starting last year the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia (OIA) has warned of the risk that these communities are being exposed to in Antioquia. The Public Defender has also sent early alerts No. 009—19 of those for Dabeiba; No. 027 –19 of those for Urrao and Frontino; and No. 014 –20 of those for Murindó (Antioquia). In that last municipality the first accident happened when a young indigenous woman who was pregnant was hit by an explosive artifact that was activated by a pig. In Dabeiba at the end of last year there was another accident where three people were injured and one was killed.
“Between 1990 and September of 2020, Antioquia has registered 23 indigenous victims. Of these, eleven cases took place this year, which shows an alarming increase,” noted Jan Philip Klever, Director of the United Nations Program in the Service of Action Against Mines (UNMAS) in Colombia.
According to Decontamina, the total number of indigenous people affected by land mines in Colombia, between 1990 and until August of 2020, was 411. The municipalities most affected were the reservations in Ricaurte, Tumaco, and Samaniego (Nariño Province); San José de Guaviare (Guaviare Province) and Jambaló (Cauca Province)
So far in the Duque administration, the number of indigenous victims totals 23 people, mostly located in the municipalities of Frontino and Dabeiba (Antioquia Province); and Buenos Aires and Caldono (northern Cauca). The information gathered by this agency shows that 154 of the total indigenous reservations in Colombia are surrounded by land mines; that means 20%. In 123 municipalities where there are 236 legally constituted reservations, it is not safe to work there doing humanitarian mine removal, according to Descontamina.
They are already working with some of the other reservations on programs to educate people about the risk of the mines, using an ethnic focus. This includes training the communities in their native language. This year there have been 97 activities that educate about the risk of the mines and 2,029 indigenous people have attended. They have also signed contracts with communities and indigenous organizations to strengthen those programs, along with others, such as the OIA, the Awá people (Nariño Province and the Barí people (Norte de Santander Province).
“W have to train the indigenous guards, not just repeating the messages of prevention, but also to teach them how to render first aid when there is an accident, and guarantee empowerment and leadership for the women as the principal caretakers,” maintained UNMAS. Besides, the spokespersons for that group insisted that these are palliative measures, but the solutions need to be structural, with a greater presence of government agencies and a pathway that pays attention to ancestral practices and the worldview of these communities.