Armed right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia are threatening Indigenous Bari families in the country’s northern Catatumbo region for their alleged connections to guerilla groups, the Patriotic March Press Office reports.
Members of The Black Eagles, a coalition of drug trafficking paramilitary groups in Colombia, approached over five households on Thursday, interrogating tribal leaders with their weapons drawn. The paramilitaries were asking about a guerilla unit that was traveling alongside a nearby riverbank.
The Black Eagles presented no proof to the Baris that they were in any way connected to the guerillas. They also threatened to steal their land and crops if they don’t provide information about the guerrillas.
“There is a high risk in our communities in Ocbabuda and Suerera [villages in Catatumbo] of a possible displacement by illegal armed actors who are now present in this area,” a Bari elder told the Patriotic March Press Office.
“This is generating a violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
Bari leaders are calling on the Colombian government to intervene and protect them from the paramilitaries.
The Black Eagles’ threats were made days after the Colombian government and National Liberation Army, ELN, guerillas officially began the public phase of the peace dialogue in Ecuador. Part of their peace dialogues include protections for Indigenous communities like the Bari, whom the ELN and other guerilla groups have defended for decades.
But now that groups like the ELN and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, are abandoning armed struggle, power vacuums are being created in Indigenous areas like Catatumbo that paramilitary groups are taking advantage of.
In La Guajira, for example, a region not too far from Catatumbo, Indigenous Wayuu leaders have faced escalating repression in recent weeks, Agencia Prensa Rural reports. Many there have also been threatened for refusing to give up their lands.
The Bari are part of Colombia’s Indigenous Muisca people and have inhabited Catatumbo for over a thousand years.