In the middle of the fighting in Colombia

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In the middle of the fighting in Colombia

By Irrael Manuel Aguilar Solano


Irrael with all the evidence of the threats against his life by the FARC and paramilitaries. © Mark Chamberlain

On International Human Rights Day, (10th December) 51-year-old Colombian indigenous leader, Irrael Manuel Aguilar Solano writes about the injustice in Colombia for his people and his hopes for the future.

In the last 10 years, 46 men and women from the Zenú indigenous people in Colombia – my people – have been killed fighting for land-rights. We have given information about the people to the government.

But none of them have been punished for the murders.

They say that we live on very important land. This means that the land we have always lived on has a lot of resources – gold and nickel.

On the left are the guerrillas – the FARC. This organization started in the 1960s to share out the land more equally. On the right are the paramilitaries – armed groups who are against the FARC.

A report from Colombia’s National Centre of Historical Memory last year said that since 1958, more than 220,000 people have been murdered because of this. And more than eighty percent are innocent men, women and children – people like my community. They are in the middle of the fight between ‘left’ and ‘right’ groups and the armed forces.

But there are also people who have survived. They are not dead, but they lost their homes. In June 2014, 5.7 million people had officially lost their homes. And just in the first half of 2014, 64,000 people lost their homes. They lost everything: their home, possessions, neighbourhood, friends and sometimes even their family. They had to leave everything and start again.

I recently went to Europe with the Catholic aid agency CAFOD and the EC to fight for justice for the 46 of my people. Carmenza, a 51-year-old woman, went with me. She has lost her home three times since 1991. She lost her house, and she no longer sees three of her six children because she had to send them away to other areas of Colombia for them to be safe.

I am a victim in this. The Zenú chose me as leader in 2000. The day before, the previous leader got a letter saying that someone was going to kill him, so he left the job of leader immediately. Since then, every year people have written, texted or spoken to me saying they they were going to kill me.

I know this is not a joke: the 46 murders in my community show that they aren’t a joke. I know the men on motorcycles who come to tell me someone will kill me are serious - they have said the same to other people just before someone killed them. I carry a bag. This bag is full of printed documents that FARC and the paramilitaries sent to me. All the letters say that I need to leave my land or they will kill me.

And not only me; they threaten my family too. My wife was in hospital and when my daughters were visiting her, two men followed them. My son was seven years old then. Two men on motorbikes talked to him and asked where I was and what I was doing.

On Human Rights Day this year, I hope and pray that the British government thinks about me, my family, my people, my country. I want them to continue to fight for the rights of people with no power around the world. I hope that the British government makes the Colombian government get justice for the 46 murdered Zenú people and protects our community. And this justice wouldn’t only be for the innocent dead, it would be for the living – people who, like me, have to live in a war we didn’t start, but we want desperately to end.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).