On Sunday, October 2, 2016, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC rebel group) and the Colombian government called it quits four years after negotiating a peace deal. Fifty years of war was finally over.
The agreement was signed, terms were decided, a deal settled, and an accord was authorized. However, in a shocking twist of fate, the citizens of Columbia decided against the treaty in a nationwide vote.
This last-minute turnabout sent chills through those that were most affected by the war; one of Columbia’s native populations called the Awas. Human rights organizations around the world were devastated by the news. They knew all too well, that a non-peace deal could mean further unnecessary deaths, like the unforgettable Narino Massacre by the FARC.
Who Is the Ferocious FARC?
There were twenty-six massacres in Columbia between 1928-2005. Out of these, the most remembered is Narino. One morning in February 2009, FARC rebel associates entered an Awa village. The hooded assassins did not give any forewarning.
The disguised men are called FARC, a revolutionary party. The guerilla group believes in Marxist-Leninist ideology and was founded in 1964. The FARC are known to use an assortment of military tactics in addition to unconventional methods, including terrorism.
The Awa felt the act of violence as the sun slowly rose. The FARC pulled out their guns and fired. Bullets ripped into huts. Witnesses report the shooting went on extensively. Two shacks were hit with machine gun bullets, killing 12 people, including eight children.
Who Is the Brave Awa?
The Awa are ancient aboriginal inhabitants, whose population is 32,555. They occupy the areas of Northern Ecuador and Narino in Southern Colombia. By tradition, they hunt, gather fish, and plant crops. Today, they have cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, and guinea pigs.
On those dark days during February 2009, they became targets of FARC. The Awa would have no time to plant or farm the livestock nor would they escape.
The conflict was between government forces, drug traffickers, and rebel groups. The Awa would not be the first to experience such fright. Throughout the last decade, armed groups murdered almost 2,000 people. In fact, 70,000 fled their rainforest homes to get away from recurring conflicts. The thought of their children becoming child-soldiers was horrendous.
That dreadful morning was yet another blow against the indigenous, the survivors recalled. With nothing to defend themselves, they woke to terrifying screams and sounds of bullets. The Awa were defenseless and unprotected. These people watched helplessly, as their loved ones were butchered.
The Struggle of the Awa
Like most of Colombia’s 84 native groups, the Awa, before the massacre, were always struggling to stay neutral. Life was hard enough and conflict was not their interest. However, the FARC did not see it that way. Days before the massacre the FARC and the government demanded Awa choose between the two. They sided with neither.
This choice would cost them. The FARC frequently mandated food and shelter from the Awa. If they refused, there were consequences. The Awa feared the FARC. At the same time, the national army, who were less threatening, questioned them about rebel actions.
The FARC were responsible for the continuous killings of indigenous leaders throughout the years. The rebels targeted Indians who they accused of being spies for the military. A survivor of the massacre states, “We didn’t want to be a part of this conflict and we were never informants for anybody.”
The FARC reprimanded the Awa for one family’s refusal to make blackmail payments. The massacre was the punishment.
The Awa Blood Cries out
The nightmare was not over. In 2016, Columbian citizens refused to vote for peace. The Awa realized that if there is no peace accord, there would be no protection from FARC. As they fight for survival, the blood of the Awa will continue to spill. On their land, the rapidly growing military presence generates apprehension, terror, demise, and dislocation. Where will they go? Where will they hide? Who will defend them? As the Awa look back at the unforgettable Narino massacre they have no answers. An Awa native said, “FARC and these forces have dressed us up and have used us as their human shields.”
Scared, some of the survivors escaped to the mountains. The thought of going back to their ancestral lands terrifies them. They hold FARC responsible for the Narino massacre. So, alone they wait and hope for the beginning of peace. The indigenous people are screaming for the Colombian regime to go back to the negotiation table with all appropriate political parties. This will ensure that the Awa and other tribes can return home without harm.
By Jomo Merritt
Edited by Cathy Milne
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Image Courtesy of Roman Trocaire’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License