Use of Name of Indigenous People in U.S.-Backed Military Operation Denounced by ONIC

The following communique was released by the Executive Committee, of ONIC, the Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia, in Bogota, on October 23, 1997.

To the Commander of the Armed Forces: Take the Nukak-Maku Out of the War

We were horrified to read in the press yesterday that the U.S. antidrug czar Barry McCaffrey, launched the military operation Nukak-Maku against drug-traffickers and guerrillas in the department of Guaviare.

How can the Colombian Army arrogate to itself the right to use the names of the indigenous peoples to designate their operations and death machines? Our names and our languages are an essential part of our identity as peoples, they are not commodities in the market, and not even the state agencies may abuse them. The name of an indigenous people is not gratuitous or without meaning, as it is the way we identify ourselves to other indigenous peoples and vis-B-vis white persons, and those names always mean "people" which means it can't be used with the meaning of war, of killing people, which is what the Army is doing today.

Nukak is the name this group calls itself, in its language, "people," and Maku is the name that other indigenous peoples, who enslaved them in other times, have given them.

We especially reject using the name of our Nukak brothers and sisters for a military campaign, as it is a peace-loving people, harmless to others, and one of the few nomadic cultures that still exist in the world; and it is a campaign in which the Nukak will suffer the most, as has been the case already, for the bombings and fumigation with glyphosate in northern Guaviare have merely resulted in the coca crops spreading further into the jungle, into Nukak territory, expelling them. Using the name "Nukak-Makd" for military operations is tantamount to turning our Nukak brothers and sisters into enemies of the colonists and guerrilla groups.

We sound a warning to the country, and we hold the Government of Colombia and the Government of the United States responsible for the new dangers posed to the life of the already-decimated and peaceful Nukak people by the launching of major military operations in the Guaviare.

We demand of the Commander General of the Armed Forces greater respect for our cultures, and accordingly the name "Nukak-Maku" not be used in any military operation.

Today we are filing a tutela action [special legal action for protection from imminent violation of rights by the government] before the courts to ensure the effective guarantee of the right to life and right to a name of our Nukak brothers and sisters.