Friday, December 18, 2009

One Year Anniversary of Murder of Edwin Legarda by Colombian Army

On December 16th 2008, Edwin Legarda, the husband of Colombian indigenous leader Aida Quilcue, was killed when the Colombian army ambushed Aida´s car that he was driving that morning. Aida Quilcue at that moment was the Chief Councilor for the Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and spokesperson for the Minga of Social and Community Resistance. The CRIC believe that the bullets were meant for her for the fierce criticism of the Uribe government.(1)

Photo: We demand justice for State Crimes.

On December 16th 2009 we traveled to the Totoro municipal, Cauca where the murder occurred to take part in an event to commemorate the anniversary of Edwin’s death.

After being repeatedly shot in 2008, Edwin managed to drive 3km´s, thus avoiding any tampering of his vehicle or person which could be then be later used to attempt to cover-up the extrajudicial killing by presenting him as a guerilla.

The Observatory of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law of the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group (CCEEU) a coalition of nearly 200 human rights group from Colombia, Europe and the U.S. reported 1,492 non-combat killings by the Colombian army between July 2007 and June 2008. According to the CCEEU, in the majority of cases the state is responsible, due to direct action or tolerance. (2)

Photo: Dario Toto, an indigenous leader, shows us the place where he came across the vehicle with Edwins still just alive at this point

Aida said that if her husband had not bravely driven these 3kms whilst injured, the army would have managed to successfully carry out the false positive then the government would have been able to portray the indigenous movement and the Minga of Social and Communitarian Resistance (which Aida led in social mobilisations in October 2008) as a ‘terrorist organisations’.

The event, attended by Indigenous from across Cauca and other social organizations, began with a symbolic march along these three kilometers, down a dusty unpaved road, accompanied by the sound of sweet, soothing, soul filling Andean indigenous melodies.

As I walk, I look at faces of compañeros around me, listening to their voices and laughter and imagine what Edwin was like. Even though I had shared just two hours with Aida and her daughter, their warmth and humour had been striking, I imagine Edwin must have had a great sense of humour and a great heart.

It is important that the Colombian state´s war against the poor and social organisations does not become just a list of shocking figures.

We arrive at the place where the army had fired 106 bullets at Aida´s vehicle, piercing it 17 times, not knowing she was not in the passenger seat that day. The place is now marked by a memorial, around which we gathered to share music, dance and words.

The current Chief Councilor of the CRIC, Alcibiades Escué spoke about how the event was not only important to support the family, but also to continue denouncing the murder which was a direct attack on the entire movement to both the national and international community. Legarda’s killing took place just two weeks after the Minga of Social and Community Resistance had completed its historic march from Cauca to Bogota, one of the most important acts of collective resistance that the Colombian indigenous movement has carried out.

Legard´s killing is not an isolated attack against the CRIC and the Minga. The 16th December 2009 was also the 18th anniversary of the Nilo massacre, where 20 indigenous people from the Huellas-Caloto community, including five women and four children, were murdered as they met to discuss a struggle over land rights in the estate of El Nilo in northern Cauca. In 1998, President Ernesto Samper acknowledged the responsibility of state actors in the massacre, and on behalf of the Colombian state apologized to the families of the victims and to the Nasa community of Northern Cauca.(3)

The night before this significant and tragic anniversary for the Cauca indigenous movement, two men laid hidden under the beds of Escue´s children waiting until they had gone to sleep. They jumped out and tied up the two children, announced themselves as members of the “Aguilas Negras” paramilitary group and said this was a warning and then left.

On October 29th 2009, Marly Guamanga was murdered in the Damina area of Cerro Tijeras indigenous reserve, Suarez municipality, Cuaca department.

On November 11th 2009, Reinaldo Bomba was murdered in the Bella Vista area of Cerro Tijeras indigenous reserve.

On November 13th 2009, Nilson Campo was murdered and Egdio Huila was seriously injured in the Damian area of Cerro Tijeras indigenous reserve.(4)

This is part of a systematic persecution of not just indigenous, but also afro-colombian and farming communities, whose struggle to remain in their ancestral lands gets in the way of powerful economic interests.

“They have returned to search for what was left after the first plundering 517 years ago. They are motivated by economic interests and seek land, water, gold and other natural resources. Wealth that the “investor friendly” government, is handing over to the highest bidder.” (5)

Aida, trembling at moments yet remaing a dignified emotional composure, spoke about the need to continue speaking out against not just the murder of her husband and the displacement of indigenous community through violence but also to speak out against the multinationals and European and US governments that drive it.

On the same day, Jose Goyes, another indigenous leader, took part in the climate justice mobilisation in Copenhaguen and spoke about what was happening in Cauca, making the links between climate and social iisues

"In the area (Cauca) we have the Anglo Gold Ashanty gold company from South Africa, Union Fenosa from Spain, and Carton Company from Ireland and ... the Cosega company, which is a gold enterprise from Canada. These multinational companies are causing large displacement, threats and even massacres and death sentences to indigenous communities. In our territories the paramilitary groups are supporting the state policy and the multinational policy through the use of violence. Cosega resource from Canada have a large interest in the area and the paramilitary groups have supported their political wish by threathening most of the indigenous leaders that are resisting the exploitation." (6)

Yet despite this huge powerful real threat against their human rights, primarily the very right to life, people continue to laugh, love and organise to resist this genocide against their cultures. This day was both profoundly sad, especially while watching Edwin´s daughter perform a dance in memory of her dad, yet at the same time it was a celebration of life, with shared food, song, laughter and ritual.

Photo: Banner " They can cut off our wings but never our desire to fly"

(1) Assassination of the husband of Ms Aida Quilcue

(2) Colombia: UN confirms ‘systematic’ killings of civilians by soldiers

(3) Embattled Cauca: A New Wave of Violence and Indigenous Resistance, by Mario A. Murillo

(4) Three murdered in Cierro Tijeras Reserve, Cauca

(5) Instruments of War by ACIN

(6) Colombian paramilitaries assassinate indigenous leader in the name of Canadian multinationals

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