Screen capture from the trailer of “The River That They Stole,” a documentary by Colombian investigative journalist Gonzalo Guillen.

Indigenous Wayuu Children Dying From Corruption and a Stolen River in Colombia

Rick Kearns

Thousands of Wayuu children are starving and dying of thirst in northern Colombia as a result of the government’s damming of the Rancheria River which diverted the water to big farms, mines and wealthier areas according to activists; now the community has taken its case to an international court.

On February 6, Javier Rojas Uriana, legal representative of the Association of Traditional Indigenous Authorities of the Wayuu Shipia Wayuu (ATIAWSW), along with five other leaders petitioned the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to issue emergency cautionary measures to the Colombian government to allow for the community to regain access to the river in an effort to prevent further deaths and suffering.

According to a 2014 study commissioned by the Ombudsman of the region, in the last three years at least 5,000 Wayuu children have died of starvation and more than 37,000 Wayuu children are suffering malnutrition in the desert area of La Guajira, home to the community. Wayuu observers assert that the number of child deaths is closer to 14,000.

In response to the tragedies in the Wayuu territory, the Colombian government funneled $15 million dollars to the area for food and nutrition but the money did not reach the Wayuu community due to corruption asserted Uriana and other leaders.

"The measures they have taken have been insufficient and Cerrejon [a huge coal mine in the region], with the permission of the national government, now benefits from the only source of water that we have, leaving the community suffering from thirst and because of that many lives have been lost,” Uriana stated.

“The royalties have ended up in the pockets of the politicians and they have used us as an excuse to direct more resources for supposed programs that have never benefited us,” he added.

The attorney representing the Wayuu at the IACHR, Carolina Sachica Moreno, noted that the petition aims to ensure that the river is a public good that the community is entitled to by law.

“This, with the end being that the Wayuu community can access and enjoy the river in a secure, indefinite way with exclusive priority to the water, a good for public use that today is stopped in a dam to which the indigenous people have no access,” she said.

Uriana added that he wanted to direct comments to Native people in the north.

“Send them an SOS message, that we are seeking support from everyone so that they can help with the petition for precautionary measures to protect the Wayuu community and stop the genocide that is happening,” he stated.

Along with testimony from Wayuu victims and other forms of evidence, the case for the Wayuu will include the showing of “The River that they Stole” (El rio que se robaron), a documentary by Colombian investigative journalist Gonzalo Guillen.

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