A senior commander of Colombia’s largest guerrilla organization said today that his group will investigate whether its troops killed three American activists last week, and will punish anyone found responsible. However, Raul Reyes, a member of the seven-member ruling junta of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said that he was not aware of any signs that his organization had any role in the killing of American Indian activists Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe’na’e Gay, and environmental activist Terence Freitas.
The killings have sent shock waves throughout the indigenous and progressive communities in the U.S., where the three activists were well known and deeply admired. Washinawatok was a member of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin and was one of the most well known American Indian activists. Gay directed the Hawaii-based Pacific Cultural Conservancy International. Freitas, under the auspices of the U’Wa Defense Working Group, defended the environmental rights of the U’Wa, an indigenous community close to the Venezuelan border. The three activists were kidnapped on February 25th by an armed group in civilian clothing and were found shot to death this past Friday.
The U’Wa Defense Working Group has called on the State Department to investigate the possible role of right-wing paramilitary groups. They have also asked FARC to investigate and clarify their role in the killings. Some are linking the killings to the U.S. oil multinational Occidental Oil, whose application for a drilling license in U’Wa ancestral land is pending before the Colombian government. Freitas had been working closely with the U’Wa communities to stop Occidental from conducting exploratory drilling. According to the U’Wa Defense Working Group, Freitas had reported being followed and observed by individuals believed to be associated with paramilitary activity who are suspected of being allied with the oil companies. He also was forced to sign a statement by the Colombian military that essentially absolved them of any responsibility for his safety.
An outraged U’Wa leader said that he was sure the FARC were responsible for the slayings. Washington has demanded that the FARC admit guilt and hand over all persons connected to the murders. The Colombian government also blames the FARC for the killings. Colombia’s anti-kidnapping czar, Jose Alfredo Escobar, said that the military had intercepted radio communications by guerrillas giving orders to execute the three Americans.
- Victoria Maldonado, a Colombian filmmaker who has been working on a film on indigenous communities in Colombia. She is also with the Colombia Media Project.
- Melina Selverston, Director of the Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and their Environment, which also encompasses the U’Wa Defense Working Group, where Terry Freitas worked. She worked with the three activists on this latest trip to Colombia. Call the Coalition for Amazonian Peoples at 202.785.3334.
- Esmeralda Brown, Chair of the NGO Committee of the United Nations for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and colleague of Ingrid Washinawatok. She is also with the United Methodist Office for the United Nations.