Monitor Wire Services
Pocaterra, vice president of the World
Council of Indigenous People, and a member of the Wayuu tribe which crosses Venezuela and Colombia, demanded "justice and punishment" for the
murderers of three U.S. activists killed March 5. The murderers, he said, "will go crazy
when they realize the importance of their victims."
The three campaigners were kidnapped on Feb. 25 in Colombia, where they were doing support work with the U'wa people. Pocaterra said "the indigenous people are distressed and mourning the loss of these three lives which formed an inspiration for everyone."
The group of activists was made up of two Native women and one non-Native man. Ingrid Washinawatok, was a Sioux, "a great fighter for ethnic issues, and coordinator of the United States Network of Indigenous Women," explained Pocaterra.
Washinawatok, a close friend of Pocaterra, and Laheenae Gay, from Hawaii, had come to the Colombian department of Arauca, in U'wa territory, in November on an invitation from Terence Freitas, another activist who had worked in the zone before.
Colombian authorities blamed the triple murder to
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But FARC leaders denied the group is to blame, announcing an internal
investigation and offering their condolences to the victims' families.
The Indigenous Women's Network and other Native rights group called for a full prosecution of those responsible, and an investigation into the responsibility of the U.S. State Department for this incident. Their press release stated that they believe that the U.S. destabilized negotiations to increase demand for financial support from the U.S.
"We attribute this assertion to the fact that exactly during the negotiations for the release of the three humanitarian workers, the U.S. State Department released approximately $230 million in military support for the allegedly Anti- Drug War in Colombia. The Colombian government then attacked and killed over 70 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC in an orchestrated attack. "
In the United States, Republican hard- liners used the incident to demand a tougher stand on Columbia. Reps. Benjamin Gilman and Dan Burton charged that the Clinton administration was "naively cozying up to Colombia's narcoterrorists," citing the a 1998 meeting between a U.S. State Department official and FARC.
The U'wa Defense Working Group called upon the State Department to fully investigate the possible role of paramilitary groups. "On several occasions last year, Terry [Freitas] reported being followed and observed by individuals believed to be associated with paramilitary activity. On the same trip, Terry was forced to sign a statement by the Colombian military, which essentially absolved the Colombian military of any responsibility for his safety. He interpreted this as an intimidation tactic..."
In Colombia, the U'wa have blamed both FARC and the army. The latter presented evidence to show the group holding the three activists had decided to kill them when Washinawatok became ill, needing internment in a health center they took her to for emergency care.
Other analysts in Venezuela stated that if the guerrillas are proved responsible, the action must have been taken without permission of FARC leaders, and could be the work of a faction opposed to a political solution for the 50-year conflict.
Venezuela's foreign minister, Jose Vicente Rangel, classed the massacre as "a provocation" against peace, launched against the United States and Venezuela in order to get international coverage for the Colombian conflict.
Pocaterra explained the three missionaries were working with the U'wa on a cultural preservation plan, namely an educational program. "They were not there for any political reason," said the leader.
"These deaths are absurd and pointless, and speaking as a Venezuelan and Wayuu Indian -- given the fact the murders took place in our country -- I ask the forgiveness of all the indigenous communities of the world," said Pocaterra.
March 11, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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