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A Call for Help; Paramilitary Death Squad Targeting Indigenous Leader

The life of Indigenous Colombian leader Flaminio Onogama Gutierrez is in imminent danger according to Amnesty International Canada.
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The life of Indigenous Colombian leader Flaminio Onogama Gutierrez is in imminent danger and Amnesty International Canada (AIC) is approaching the Canadian and Colombian governments and the international community for assistance.

Onogama is a prominent Embera leader in the Cauca region of Colombia and had also been in leadership of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (known as ONIC in Spanish). As a respected national leader he was invited in 2010 to speak in Canada about threats to indigenous people throughout his country. The recent threats however are specifically targeting Onogama and four other indigenous leaders.

The infamous paramilitary death squad known as the Black Eagles sent a profanity-laced death threat to Onogama and other leaders in February and, according to various sources, authorities believe that the Black Eagles are also responsible for torturing and stabbing to death Onogama’s nephews Berlain Saigama Gutierrez and Jhon Braulio Gutierrez on January 1st of this year.

“We know that the Black Eagles paramilitary group sent a threatening letter to Flaminio after his nephews were killed,” said AIC spokesperson Kathy Price in an interview recently.

“We know that armed men showed up at Flaminio’s residence, were hanging around his town and were hanging around outside of the wake for the murdered nephews,” Price said, adding that the nephews were killed because they warned their uncle of the threats.

“We are very concerned for his safety,” she added.

Price noted that the Colombian government has provided some protection for Onogama but that the threatened leader believes it to be inadequate. AIC and other allies are urging the Colombian government to increase the protective measures and to further investigate the murders of his nephews who were also leaders in their Embera communities.

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In his appeal to the international community for assistance, AIC’s Secretary General Alex Neve provided some background on Onogama’s work and experience.

“Flaminio and the Indigenous community of La Esperanza (which means "Hope") have opposed the arrival of powerful coal, copper and gold mining interests in the area, as well as paramilitaries seeking to impose cultivation of illicit crops on indigenous lands,” Neve wrote.

“Last month, we were in intensive meetings with MPs, Senators and government officials in Ottawa who are now acutely aware of this crisis, as they must be in light of Canada's obligations to monitor human rights impacts under the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” he continued.

“We need the Canadian government to use its influence as an important commercial partner of Colombia to press for effective protection of indigenous lives, lands and rights. Trade and investment must not trump human rights!” Neve asserted.

The call for support has been well received in Canada, Price stated, and that many people were outraged at the threats facing Onogama.

“However, the other tragedy is that Flaminio cannot do the important work he was doing before, of defending his community while his life is in imminent danger,” Price added.

As of press time the Colombian government had not responded to requests for the added protection for Onogama or for further investigations into the deaths of his nephews.