Indigenous solidarity activists murdered by FARC

In early March guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) murdered U.S. citizens Terence Freitas, Lahe`ena`e Gay, and Ingrid Washinawatok. The three had travelled to northeastern Colombia to visit the U'wa indigenous community to support bilingual education programs, part of the U'wa's struggle for survival amidst advancing oil exploitation and escalating armed conflict. For the U'wa, the oil is the blood of the earth, and its purpose is to ensure balance in the world. Terry had spearheaded the U'wa Defense Working Group, an effort by concerned environmental and human rights activists to provide support to the U'wa. Lahe`ena`e and Ingrid were both leaders in the indigenous rights movement. Lahe`ena`e was most director of the Pacific Cultural Conservancy International; Ingrid Washinawatok, of the Menominee Nation, worked with the Indigenous Women's Network and many other indigenous rights organizations. All three have left behind grieving family and friends throughout the indigenous rights, environmental rights, and human rights activist community in the United States and internationally.

Acknowledgment by the FARC of its responsibility for these heinous killings after days of speculation as to the perpetrators fueled a new round of speculation as to motive. Was it a base "anti-gringo" attitude (despite the fact that all three devoted their lives to questioning, not promoting, the official U.S. role internationally)? Is there some community of interest between the FARC and foreign oil interests, insofar as oil development might present opportunities for extortion? Did the killings reflect instead a split within the FARC, and an effort by a more hard-line faction to torpedo the peace process? For now, these questions go unanswered.

Some Republican members of Congress and media commentators used the killings to criticize Clinton Administration engagement with the peace process. Julie Freitas, Terence's mother, objected to this "pro-military solution" position in a letter-to-the-editor in the May 22, 1999 Washington Post: "I have watched in disbelief as editorial commentators and some members of Congress have attempted to use the murder of my son ... to justify an increase in military aid to the Colombian armed forces. I am equally appalled that the killing of my son by left-wing guerrillas is being used to undermine the peace process in Colombia, a process aimed at ending years of violence that has taken thousands of lives, including now my son's.... I strongly object to having my son's murder used to pressure the Clinton administration to abandon support for peace initiatives in Colombia. Employing his death as a means to continue perpetrating violence in Colombia grossly contradicts everything my son believed in."

The sense of loss, sadness and anger that so many of us have felt as a result of these killings are well-captured in the "Hawai`i Protocol and Statement of Petition in Regards to the Deaths of Lahe`ena`e Gay, Ingrid Washinawatok, and Terence Freitas, Colombia, March 4, 1999," which we excerpt in this issue.

At a farewell ceremony held April 10 at the Moyaone Burial Grounds, of the Piscataway Nation in Maryland, the seeds sown and gift of their lives made by Terence, Lahe'ena'e and Ingrid were highlighted as three birds circled overhead.



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