Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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The beleaguered border
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
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Colombian soldiers and paramilitaries run Ecuadorian indigenous communities off their own lands.

“I´m not moving from here. I´ll die here,” said Eusebio Lucitante, a member of the Cofan indigenous group from the Ecuadorian Zuquié community. His village, on the banks of the San Miguel River, the Ecuadorian-Colombian, is tiring from moving from place to place, under pressure from Colombian paramilitaries´ and soldiers´ incursions on his home in Ecuador.

Incursions of Colombian soldiers and paramilitaries into bordering Ecuador are frequent and their targets are unlikely candidates: Ecuador´s indigenous and campesino communities. The military and paramilitary members argue that the villagers are guerrilla collaborators, or that these targets are guerrilla camps themselves.

There have been 17 Colombian military incursions into Ecuador so far this year. The most serious was on March 1 of this year, when Colombian soldiers raided a guerrilla camp just over the border. Diplomatic relations broke off after the deadly raid that killed a top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and more than two-dozen others. Relations have still not been restored.

But the diplomatic tensions have not stopped the Colombian armed forces from more incursions onto Ecuadorian soil, such in the town of Barranca Bermeja in April and in General Farfán in October, both under the guise of seeking “guerrilla accomplices.”

Disappearance and displacement
Entire communities have disappeared following some of Colombia´s incursions. In other cases, they have been displaced into the Ecuadorian jungle.

“We have to go further in to protect our family,” said Neptalí Lucitante, a shaman from Zuquié and Eusebio´s brother.

“War has come again,” he said, adding that everyone knew that they would be displaced once more.

For the residents along the San Miguel and Putumayo Rivers — the natural border separating Colombia from Ecuador, that “war” started in 2000, when paramilitaries tried to displace rebels who were controlling the border area in Colombia´s Putumayo department. As in other parts of Colombia, the paramilitary strategy consisted of hostage-taking in the communities where the militiamen thought it to be a “social base of the guerrillas.” They massacred or pursued those who fled, even far into Ecuadorian territory.

The paramilitaries´ presence ended the existence of the Shuar community of Charip, which was settled along the San Miguel River. The community was divided into two parts before it was displaced into the Ecuadorian interior, to form two new communities: Nakays and Charip. The Shuar are considered a warrior people and they are feared by neighboring communities. Nevertheless, they could not fend off the new forms of war that they faced from a different civilization.

Plan Colombia reaches Ecuador
Miguel Wambutza, a teacher in the Shuar community of Santa Carolina, another community that was also destroyed by the arrival of paramilitaries, links the battles along the San Miguel River with Plan Colombia, a multi-billion-dollar counter-drug and counter-subversive initiative funded by the US government since the start of the decade.

“Plan Colombia arrived and we had to abandon our land so we wouldn´t die,” said Wambutza, who now lives in Lago Agrio, the provincial capital of Sucumbios, where he gets by on occasional jobs as construction worker.

Like Charip and Santa Carolina, Kichwa communities of Kuriyaku, Betano and Shiguango Tarupa were also displaced along with the Cofan village of Avie.

Plan Colombia also brought aerial fumigations of coca crops, which not only failed to achieve their objective, but also damaged crops in other parts of Colombia, such as the Nariño province.

But they also caused large displacements of entire Colombian communities, such as the Afro-Colombian population, which came to settle on the Colombian side of the San Miguel River, and form a community San José, across from the Afro-Ecuadorian community La Providencia.

“They are not our relatives and they´re causing us great damage,” said Felipe Noteno, a resident of La Providencia. His fellow community members complain about the new arrivals´ fishing and hunting on their lands, a result of the Colombian´s side lack of jungle.

In effect, the people of San José fish with explosives, killing small fish and damaging the river. They also go further inside Ecuadorian territory to search for animals to hunt.

Authorities in La Providencia invited leaders from San José to discuss the outstanding issue.

“They came to the meeting with machetes and shotguns and told us that they were clear that that side is Colombia and this side is Ecuador, but that they must also support their families. We had to stay quiet,” Noteno said.

The Kichwa communities along the Putumayo River have also going through their own troubles, as the arrival of Colombians displaced by the fumigations has caused the appearance of mestizo populations on indigenous lands.

“We let them settle, as a display of solidarity, but they don´t understand that this land doesn´t belong to them, and now they even want to sell it to go somewhere else,” said Paco Chuji, president of the Federation of Kichwa Nationality Organizations of Sucumbios.
Indigenous under fire from all sides
The Ecuadorian army has increased its patrols along the border following the March 1 raid on Angostura. Nevertheless, the military is far from providing border communities with security, because they also face their Colombian counterparts´ application of a stereotype that the communities are guerrilla collaborators.

“The army cannot distinguish between daily life along the border and being ideologically tied to the guerrillas,” said Laura González, a researcher with the border team from the Regional Foundation for Human Rights Consulting. “That´s why they confuse forced collaboration with complicity.”

The Ecuadorian army has made the communities along the border even more like hostages on their own lands, because when they find temporary Colombian guerrilla camps in Ecuador, they raid into the indigenous communities surrounding these camps, she said.

This was the case in the Kichwa community of Santa Rosa de Yanamaru, which after an incursion of Colombian helicopter had also to face harassment from the Ecuadorian military.

The Ecuadorian army is also responsible for the displacement of indigenous communities.

“They didn´t help us; they told us to leave,” said Wambutza, the teacher from Santa Carolina.

For its part, the Ecuadorian government has wanted to face the reality on the border with the so-called Plan Ecuador, an integral plan of intervention and development in the region, but it is stalled.

President Rafael Correa himself had to face reality: “Plan Ecuador has not advanced. It´s stuck in the proposal stage,” he said during a weekly radio address.

With two armies against them, and paramilitaries who act with total impunity along the border,  plus a lack of government support, more indigenous communities in the San Miguel and Putumayo Rivers are condemned to displacement, destroying their community fabric, abandoning their land to move deeper into the jungle for safety.
—Latinamerica Press.


Paco Chuji looks at shells from bullets that were fired from the village of Santa Rosa de Yanamaru. (Photo: Luis Ángel Saavedra)
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