Monday, 21 November 2011

Colombia: murders for “sustainable” development

In memory of Kimy Pernia Domicó
photo: Kathy Price, Amnesty International
On 2 June 2001, Kimy, a leader of the indigenous Embera Katio, was abducted by armed men. Never seen again, he had just guided a Rights and Democracy delegation from Canada to the Urra damsite, recorded a video, criticized the US-led FTAA, and was about to speak to the Council of Canadians in Vancouver – a major embarrassment to the Colombian and Canadian governments. Five years later, as part of the 'amnesty' process, rightwing paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso confirmed that he planned Kimy's assassination. After deportation to the US for drug-dealing, he admitted to massacres supported by Colombian army and security forces. The Canadian government deliberately ignored this evidence in signing a Free Trade agreement with Colombia. Mancuso's personal assets and land grabs have been estimated at US$25 million. The Urra dam was more destructive, and involved even greater profits.

1951- engineers plan a damsite on the Sinú river. Though a small power development, it would flood the traditional territory of the Embera, turning it into a polluted swamp. So-called environmental assessments in later decades ignore the impacts, holding no consultations with native people. “The engineers have come to our huts, but … just to take tourist photographs," said Kimy.
1946 to 1958 - the “Violencia”, civil war which killed 200,000 and made 2 million refugees; land grabs by sugar and cotton barons. Small coffee farmers are displaced or hired as thugs.
1977 - the Sinú valley, including Embera territory, is declared a 'public utility' – i.e., a sacrifice zone.
1994 – Urra Dam construction begins. Embera people paddle to Bogota to protest against construction, its threats to the bocachico fishery, and their right to survive on traditional territory. The dam consortium includes Swedish, Russian and Colombian transnationals, and Dutch and Canadian banks – the latter backed by the Canadian Export Development Corporation. The environment minister states "The construction of Urra will continue, because it offers more development opportunities than ecological ones. We publicly assume the responsibility. This is a ministry for sustainable development, not for the conservation of resources.” The government divides communities, corrupts some leaders, and establishes small 'special territories' (we would call them reserves) for the Embera and U'wa peoples.
1996 – Colombia gives the go-ahead to fill the reservoir immediately,
1994-99 – the Embera occupy the consortium building and the Swedish embassy. Labelled 'subversive' guerillas, 10 indigenous people, as well as a Cordoba University professor and two environmentalists, are 'disappeared' by paramilitaries in the pay of the consortium. In 1996, the Embera Katio occupy the Spanish Embassy to ask for political asylum. In 1998, Alonso Domicó Cabrera, the Embera's spiritual leader, is killed in his home. Soon after, his successor Lucindo Domicó Cabrera. Later, paramilitaries detain a dozen Embera, threaten them and burn their canoes before killing Alejandro Domicó.
December 1999 to April 2000 - Embera indigenous people walk 700 km to Bogota, occupying the garden of the environmental ministry for four months, until the government agrees to halt flooding and study its impacts. One year later, the agreements have not been fulfilled, two more Embera leaders have disappeared, the reservoir rises. Flooded out, 250 natives must live in poverty in the nearest town. Final murder toll: 32. This is a general pattern in Colombia, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of union leaders and peaceful protesters have been assassinated by paramilitaries.
April to June 2001 – as an international human rights campaign begins, Kimy Pernia Domicó is murdered. His daughter Martha Cecilia, accepts Rights and Democracy's John Humphrey human rights award on her father's behalf. Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow says, “The disappearance of Kimy highlights the pressure on the developing world, on the poor and on First Nations to hand over their water resources for private benefit, no matter the cost. We are here in Canada with delegates from over 30 countries to push back, to protect the world’s water from the corporate forces that want to profit from it, and today we’re doing this in Kimy’s name.
2002 - the Columbian Bureau of the UN Human Rights Commission warns that indigenous peoples of Colombia are threatened with extermination in the next 10 years.

2003 – CETIM/AAJ submission to UN Human Rights Commission: “20 people die daily of whom 15 are unarmed persons assassinated inside their homes, in their places of work and in the streets. One thousand persons have been displaced per day for the last three years, a high percentage of whom are members of the indigenous community: they represent 12 % of the displaced people, whereas the full indigenous population is only approximately 0,6 % of the entire population of the country.” In the previous year alone, 150 indigenes were murdered.

2007-2010 Hollman Morris Rincón's investigates massacres, embarrassing the US and Colombian governments. Commercial networks boycott him. Harvard invites him to a prestigious Nieman Fellowship. The US government refuses to issue a visa.

2010 - Canadian Conservatives muzzle Rights and Democracy.

2010 – Canada and the US sign Free Trade agreements with Colombia.

Who benefits? Corrupt politicians, big landowners, rightwing warlords and druglords, Canadian and other mining interests seeking cheap power, foreign bankers and investors. And above all, the currently-postponed FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) meant to funnel resources to the US. Colombia is on the cross-roads of continent-wide investment in the Panama Puebla Plan (PPP) highway, the Atrato canal [linking two oceans] and the Integration Initiative of the South America Regional Infrastructure (IISARI). According to CETIM-AAJ, all aim to tie Latin America closely to the United States.
Based on dossiers by Kairos, Amnesty, Council of Canadians, FOE Colombia, videos on Youtube. See also our previous posts on violence in Chiapas and Guatemala.

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