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Latest Murder of Indigenous Union Leader an Attack on Self-Determination

Indigenous Colombian leader Fernando Salazar Calvo was shot to death outside his home on April 7 and authorities are calling for an investigation.

Indigenous Colombian leader Fernando Salazar Calvo was shot to death outside his home on April 7 and local authorities are calling for a "top-level" investigation into the murder of Calvo who was also a noted human rights worker and spokesman for an indigenous miner's association.

“We don’t want a shoddily run, local investigation of the case,” says Hector Jaime Vinasco, Coordinator of Mining Issues for the Cañamomo Lomaprieta Indigenous Reserve, and former Governor of the Reserve.

“We’ve had too many awful, local investigations. We need pressure for a top-level investigation, now,” Vinasco continued.

“What is under attack are our rights to self-determination and autonomy. Our rights to regulate our own ancestral mining, under our own jurisdiction.”

Calvo was a representative of the Reserve's Ancestral Mining Association (known as ASOMICARS in Spanish) as well as President of the Miners Association Union (MAU). Embera Chami people have been mining gold in that region since before the Spanish invasion, using traditional methods that do not include chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. The community has also banned large-scale mining operations.

Calvo as well as other indigenous Embera Chami leaders have received death threats in the last year due to their defense of their ancestral mining and prevention of outside operations on their territory.

Along with other leaders Calvo had also been granted precautionary measures of protection from Colombia's Constitutional Court due to the threats and past assassinations of Ember Chami leaders such as that of former Governor Gabriel Ángel Cartagena who was killed by paramilitaries in 2003, one year after having been granted the same precautionary protection.

"The murder of Fernando Salazar Calvo constitutes an act of aggression against our collective right to the ancestral territory, the indigenous authorities of the Cañamomo Lomaprieta Reserve, the rules of our organizational processes, basically those of the mining process, to the leaders of our reserve and to the community in general," according to a press statement issued by the Traditional Authorities of the Cañamomo Lomaprieta Reserve (TACLR).

The TACLR is urging President Juan Manuel Santos to conduct a thorough, independent and truthful investigation into the murder of Calvo and for the Chancellery to follow up with the precautionary measures of protection issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year to ensure the safety of Embera Chami leaders and the entire community.