Civilians Under Fire: The Crisis of Colombia Indigenous Communities

Fall 1999 Tour
The Colombia Human Rights Network and
U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office

Leading Colombian indigenous activists Eulalia Yagarí González and Jesús María Ramírez Cano, will visit nine cities across the United States between September 23 and November 6 to tell their personal stories of advancing indigenous and human rights amidst increasing violence. Eulalia and Jesús will address the complex conflict in Colombia, the challenges and threats that indigenous peoples face, and their efforts to defend their land, the environment, and their culture. Eulalia, an Embera-Chamí, assemblywoman, and representative of the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia, will also speak to the fragile preliminary peace negotiations occurring in Colombia. Jesús, a Colombian lawyer, will discuss proposed escalations of U.S. military involvement, and how the international community, specifically the U.S. government and U.S. citizens, can support peace and respect for human rights in Colombia during this critical time.


Colombia's 1991 Constitution included unprecedented laws protecting indigenous political, territorial, and cultural rights. However, indigenous territory in Colombia often includes resource-rich land, making indigenous communities a prime target for actors in Colombia's long-running internal armed conflict. Multinational investors, state development plans, and armed actors, including left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and Colombian security forces fight for control of their land.

This ongoing struggle has resulted in the deaths of many indigenous leaders and activists and the displacement of many more. In March 1999, three U.S. citizens, including two Native American activists, were killed by Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while they were working for indigenous rights with the U'wa people in Northeastern Colombia.

The Embera-Katío people of Northern Colombia have lost numerous leaders in recent years while protesting the construction of the Urrá hydroelectric dam on the Sinú river. Following the most recent assassination of an Embera-Katío leader, 2,500 Embera applied for asylum in Spanish on April 29, 1999.  See below for a timeline of events.

An unprecedented peace movement has been growing in Colombia, a country upheld as Latin America's oldest democracy but plagued by the longest running civil conflict in the hemisphere. At the same time, Colombia is in the midst of the most serious human rights crisis in the Western Hemisphere. Violence in the country's civil war has increased dramatically in the past year. Thousands of civilians have been caught in the cross-fire. Indigenous communities, in particular, have been targets of violence.

Join Eulalia and Jesús at events in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Burlington, and Boston. See schedule and contact info below.

For more information on the National Tour or how to get involved in promoting peace and human rights in Colombia, contact the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office, Phone: (202)232-8090, Fax: (202)232-8092.


Tour Schedule (September 23 - November 6, 1999)

September 24-27
New York City
Colombia Media Project
P.O. Box 1091 GPO New York, NY 10116
Tel: (212) 802-7209

September 28-October 5
New Jersey
Colombianos por Alli
Tel/Fax: 973-328-4484

October 7 - 11*
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

October 12 - 17
Washington DC
Colombia Human Rights Committee
P.O. 3130 Washington, D.C. 20010
Tel/Fax: (202) 232-8148

October 18 - 20
San Francisco, California
CHIBCHA - Colombia Human Rights Information Committee
P.O. Box 40155
San Francisco, CA 94140
Tel/Fax: (415) 282-6941

October 21-25
Los Angeles, California
Colombia Human Rights Committee
P.O. Box 4643 Laguna Beach, CA 92652
Tel: (714) 859-5880

October 25 - 28*
Seattle, Washington
Seattle Colombia Committee
In coordination with AFSC, Seattle

October 29 - 31*
Burlington, Vermont

November 2-6
Boston, Massachusetts
Colombia Vive
59 Fenno St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tel: (617) 868-7770
Fax: (978) 452-5711


*For more info on Philadelphia, Seattle, and Burlington events, contact the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office, Telephone: (202) 232 - 8090, Fax: (202) 232 - 8092, Address: Suite 200, 1630 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington D.C. 20009


Timeline of the Embera Struggle

In 1993, the state-owned company Urrá S.A., along with Swedish company Skanska and the Russian firm Energomachiexport began construction of the Urrá hydroelectric dam on the Sinú river near the municipality of Tierralta Northern Colombia. It is in a tropical jungle zone, part of Paramillo Nature Preserve. If the dam, already completed, is filled, it may flood 7,400 hectares (18,278 acres) which will include 15% tropical forest and 7% Embera territory. The dam construction has already caused environmental devastation including, significant decrease in the fish population in the main bodies of water which small fishing, peasant and indigenous towns depend on.

The Embera people's legal protests to stop construction and negotiate for compensation have been met with violence. Paramilitaries operating with the tacit support of the Colombian military and police have tried to silence them through threats, killings, disappearances, and displacement.

1981 Urrá dam road construction begins

1982 Contracts are signed with Russian firm for fabrication, financing, managing of Urrá project

1989 14,000 hectares of land are declared public use land for Urrá S.A.

1991 New Constitution gives Indigenous peoples rights and specifies that Indigenous territories are inalterable and nontransferable.

1993 Colombia's National Institute for Natural Resources (INDERENA, now the Ministry of Environment) grants an environmental license for construction of the dam

1993 Karagaví Indigenous reserve created, 193,510 hectares with 816 people (Nearly one-fourth of Colombia is indigenous reservations. 80% of indigenous people live on 479 self managed reserves)

1993 study by state-owned Atlantic Coast Electric Company (CORELCA) finds that construction of the dam will require 5,575 people to move, including indigenous people

1994 May -- Embera request that dam construction stop and that the environmental license be revised

1994 December 13 -- Embera forum demands that the Minister of the Environment conduct an impact study of dam construction

1996 January - Sinú river is diverted at Urrá dam and environmental problems ensue

1996 November - Urrá S.A. agrees on compensation to indigenous people

1996 December - Urrá S.A. refuses to abide by agreement

1998 February - Indigenous peoples of the Sinú and Verde rivers file suit against Urrá S.A.

1998 June -- Paramilitaries displace 303 indigenous people from the community of Sabaleta

1998 July 12 -- ten Embera leaders are detained

1998 August 25 -- Embera elder Alonso Domicó Jarupia is killed by paramilitaries from Colombia's largest paramilitary force, Autodefensas de Córdoba y Urabá

1998 September 19 -- Efraín Jaramillo, a consultant to the Embera, is assassinated

1998 November 10 -- Colombia's Constitutional Court rules in favor of the Embera and suspends dam construction until consultative process is reached to provide for compensation

1999 January -- Embera leader Alejandro Domicó Jumí is assassinated

1999 January 27 -- Houses abandoned by displaced Embera are burnt

1999 January 29 -- paramilitaries enter Karagaví reserve, make threats, and displace 3 families

1999 January 31 -- 40 people including 10 Embera are detained at a paramilitary roadblock

1999 February 11-- Urrá S.A. complies with court sentence due to national and international pressure focused on the Embera case

1999 Staff of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), who support the Emberá, receive death threats and ONIC advisors are forced to leave the country

1999 April 24 -- Embera spokesperson Lucindo Domicó Cabrera is assassinated by 8 shots to the head and back

1999 April 29 -- 2,500 Embera apply for asylum in Spain

1999 August -- Urra withdraws unilaterally from negotiation table



ASPROCIG, La Asociación de Productores para el Desarrollo Comunitario de la Cienaga Grande del Bajo Sinú
Spanish/English web resource on the construction of the Urrá I and Urra II hydroelectric dam
Calle 16 No 21-60, Lorica, Córdoba Colombia
Tel: 57 0947 736368





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