Social Issues

Indigenous group of Colombia’s Catatumbo region demands end to violence

By Geraldine Garcia

Tibu, Colombia, May 16 (EFE).- The Bari people, one of the indigenous groups of Colombia’s lowland Catatumbo region, gathered over the weekend in this northeastern city to demand their right to live in harmony with nature and preserve their ancestral lands, or “Ishtana.”

Hundreds of indigenous men, women and children heeded the call of the “Ñatubaiyibari” Association of Traditional Authorities of the Bari People” and arrived from remote parts of the Catatumbo River basin to make their voices heard.

They were undeterred by the suffocating heat in Tibu, an oil town in Norte de Santander Department that is located near the border with Venezuela.

Entire families, including children riding on their parents’ shoulders and members of the elderly population, gathered at a spot in Tibu’s Los Higuerones sector where an indigenous land-rights defender, Camilo Borou Bosachira Axducaracyara, had been killed exactly one month earlier.

“We demand that the death of our brother, Camilo Borou, be cleared up, that it not go unpunished,” one sign carried by two Bari indigenous protesters read.

Some walked barefoot. The men wore traditional loincloths or underwear and the women dressed in typical skirts, some with their breasts uncovered, and carried craft baskets made of natural fibers.

During their journey to Tibu, the representatives of that indigenous community, also known as Motilon-Bari, sang songs in their native language, Bari Ara, and in Spanish, displayed the bows and arrows they use to hunt and fish and carried wildlife such as a monkeys, snakes and opossums.

The 6,000 members of the Bari indigenous community live in the Catatumbo River basin – which is spread over the municipalities of Tibu, El Carmen, Convencion, Teorama and El Tarra of the northeastern department of Norte de Santander and has a sizable presence of guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers – as well as in communities on the other side of the border in Venezuela.

Around 100 indigenous people representing more than 56 Bari communities in Venezuela also made the long trip to Tibu to show their support for the demonstration and their unity as a single people, crossing the jungle in treks of 10 hours on foot and eight on horseback.

“If they mistreat one Bari, they mistreat all (of them),” Miguel Agbatrai, a representative of the Association of Bari Indigenous People of Venezuela, told Efe.

The Bari have a reputation as fearsome warriors who resisted the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the encroachment on their lands in the 20th century by the oil industry, although this weekend’s demonstration unfolded peacefully.

Among the participants were three generations of the Iquiakorora community, who traveled by river in canoes and walked along jungle paths to reach Tibu and assert their land and identity rights.

“Protection of the water and the environment. We demand the national government guarantee our right to life and put a stop to the killing of our communities’ leaders and members,” Yean Clokt told Efe in his native language.

The Bari community’s human rights coordinator, Alexander Dora, said the demonstrators also are calling on both the national and local governments to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling that mapped out a more expansive demarcation of their territorial boundaries and requires that they be consulted about any use of their lands.

The gathering wrapped up on Sunday night with a vigil in which the participants asked their gods to bring an end to the violence in their communities and permit them to enjoy their lands in peace. EFE


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