Blood for Oil? Indigenous Leader Murdered in Colombia

Rick Kearns

Masked gunmen murdered Awa official Juan Alvaro Nastacuas Pai on November 29, shooting him twice in the head, killing him instantly. Pai was the governor of the Inda Guacaray reserve in southwestern Colombia. Awa leaders and supporters say that Pai’s murder is not an isolated event and is another example of official indifference to a community facing severe pollution and in danger of extinction.

As a result of this latest tragedy, Awa leaders are calling on the Colombian government to comply with its own constitution and protective measures ordered by an international court; within days of the murder both regional and national officials denounced the murder and promised justice.

According to a press statement of the Indigenous Unity Organization of the Awa People (IUOAP), addressed to national and international authorities, the assassination of Governor Pai was part of a pattern.

“Sadly, the denounced fact, far from being an isolated event, adds to the systematic violations that the Awa people have suffered and has become the fourth murder this year of leaders and traditional authorities,” the IUOAP release stated.

“On top of that,” the statement continued, “we have had to live with institutional negligence, non-existent effective prevention and protection measures, and a lack of immediate action on the part of state entities and institutions.”

The Awa leaders pointed to orders decreed by the Constitutional Court of Colombia that would safeguard the community, enacted in 2009 and 2011, and to cautionary protective measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in their press outreach to the international community.

For Awa allies such as the Jose Alvear Restrepo Attorneys Collective, the murder of Pai, coming as it does after the slain governor had lead an unsuccessful attempt to stop the oil spills that had contaminated the community’s water supply, “deepens the negligence and historical abandonment by the state before the imminent forced displacement and physical and cultural extinction faced by a community that is caught in the middle of an armed conflict, illicit growers, and fumigations that deprive them of their fundamental right to water.”

While the Awa have not publicly responded to the official reaction, on December 1 both Governor Raul Delgado Guerrero of Nariño, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, publicly called for a swift investigation into the murder and capture of the responsible parties.