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Castro: Indigenous, in danger

Eighteen indigenous communities that live in Colombia are currently on the path to extermination or extinction. This is what was confirmed during a recent session of the People;s Tribunal that took place in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.

These are some of the cases that were presented there: Oil drilling in Arauca by the Spanish company Repso, and the U.S. company Occidental Oil, has gravely affected the U'Wa community and has pushed the Sicuani people to the edge of total disappearance.

During the mid-1990s, facing the violation of their dignity and territory, the U'Wa explained that they could commit collective suicide before allowing that to happen. Oil companies have converted the habitat of these indigenous people into ''exclusion zones,'' taking their physical space from them and contaminating their environment.

In Putumayo, the Cofanes and Sioneas people are in the process of being annihilated by violence. The U.S. oil company Argosy has invaded their lands.

In Choco, Antioquia and in the coffee growing region, the Embera people are being murdered and displaced. Businesses are hoping to optimize gold mining there principally the company AngloGold Ashanti. In Cordoba, the Embera Katio have denounced, on multiple occasions, the effects they have suffered from construction of the Urra dam.

In April 1999, they went to the Spanish embassy to request asylum. They asked that close to 2,500 surviving members of their settlement in Alto Sinu be admitted to Spain as political refugees. Communities that form the Wayuu tribe have lost their lands and have been displaced to the Alta Guajira or to Venezuela.

Their lands are now controlled by paramilitary groups and have been invaded by major gas and hydro projects. In the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, the Kankuamos have suffered from 228 political assassinations and the forced displacement of 400 families. Paramilitary groups have persecuted them because they have tried to defend and protect rich hydro resources in their territory.

Arhuacos, Koguis and Wiwas the other three communities that live in the Sierra Nevada-- have also faced violence, carried out by armed groups, and the intentions of national and foreign companies to make water privatization a major economic project in the region. In Guaviare, only 400 Nukak Maku are left. Invasion of their land by small farmers and armed groups is leading this nomad group to total physical disappearance. In Casanare, the Wipiwi also find themselves at a high risk of extinction because only 12 families, consisting of 83 members, are left.

How can we define this reality? There is no other definition than that of multiple genocides, or if one prefers the term, of multiple ethnocides. The disappearance of these communities is the death of languages, world-views, and cultures that make our country one of the most diverse on earth.

The awful aspect of this situation is not just the progressive vanishing of entire populations destroyed by the greed of multinational companies in the midst of conflict.

The most monstrous aspect of this situation is the complacent silence of Colombian society and the international community in the face of such grave and massive crimes. Indigenous communities are being annihilated in the midst of generalized indolence without any massive super-star concerts or protests by civil society demanding an end to this ethnocide.

Ivan Cepeda Castro is one of Colombia's leading human rights defenders and is the director of the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes, an umbrella organization for more than 200 Colombian human right organizations. This column originally appeared in El Espectador. It was translated into English by Annalise Romoser.