Conflicts & War

Colombian indigenous community struggling to recover from triple murder

By Irene Escudero

Inda Sabaleta, Colombia, Aug 17 (EFE).- Juan Orlando Moreano would have turned 35 last Thursday.

But despite his violent and untimely death, those who knew him on the Awa indigenous reservation of Inda Sabaleta, where he served as alternate governor, say his legacy of struggle for the survival of his people will live on.

Moreano was killed on July 3 along with Carlos Jose Garcia (his nephew) and John Faver Nastacuas by a criminal gang known as “Los contadores,” a triple homicide that has dealt a harsh blow to this indigenous reserve located a few kilometers from the southwestern Colombian port city of Tumaco.

“I’d denounce (the crime) and name names, say what happened, if I didn’t have a family,” one of Moreano’s relatives said. Garcia’s wife, for her part, faced death threats and was forced to flee the reservation with her daughter.


Moreano’s friends and colleagues on the reservation sensed his life was in grave risk and accompanied him everywhere he went. He had been targeted for some time and was escorted by a security detail, including his nephew. But they let their guard down that day.

The alternate governor was in a meeting on the reservation with roughly 100 other people, including children and the elderly, to discuss the security situation for the umpteenth time. “Los contadores” had killed an indigenous man, the latest in a series of murders, the night before.

Those who knew him said he had made himself a target by refusing to be intimidated and standing up to the gang, which Mexico’s ombudsman’s office says has links to Mexican cartels and is engaged in drug trafficking, extortion and coca-growing in that southwestern region.

That Sunday, as Moreano was leaving the meeting, someone called out to him on the main road, just meters from the entrance to the reservation. He turned around and was shot several times by an assailant from that criminal gang known as “Marihuano.”

Garcia, who had pledged to retaliate against any attempt on his uncle’s life, used his only weapon – a police baton – to strike the assailant in the arm. But he also was gunned down.

Following the incident, the family says prosecutors and forensics personnel took a week to arrive at the crime scene.

Also killed that day was John Faver Nastacuas, the bodyguard of another Awa leader who was wearing a bulletproof vest and survived. Several others were wounded and have not returned to the reservation since. All eyewitnesses to the shooting now have a target on their backs.


“It’s sad to know that now all that’s left are photos, videos, but something that we know has to live on is his legacy: his love for his people, his respect for our principles. It’s the only way we can keep going as Awa people and remain strong in the face of adversity,” said Dayana Bisbicus, education counselor of the National Indigenous Unit of the Awa People (Unipa).

Bisbicus met Moreano at a training session and the two formed an unbreakable bond, united by a desire to work on behalf of their people.

“The deeper the roots in terms of culture and identity, the greater strength there will be to resist what causes us harm,” she said.

Moreano had planned to travel to Bogota for the inauguration of leftist President Gustavo Petro on Aug. 7. Instead, Bisbicus went in his honor, saying she wanted to express to the new government the need to “take into account these territories that have been historically neglected.”


The killing of Moreano is just the latest in a series of blows the Awa people have suffered.

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