The WayĂșu people are in danger of becoming extinct. According to Amnesty International, this indigenous group is one of 34 Colombian nations that are in immediate danger of disappearing forever if something is not done immediately.
The WayĂșu or Guajiros, who are Arawak, are among the few Latin American ethnic groups that have been able to avoid European acculturation over the centuries.
Angelica Ortiz, a WayĂșu, testified at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) earlier on in the year and spoke about how large scale coal mining in Colombiaâs Guajira peninsula has gravely impacted her community. The Cerrejon mine (a BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata joint venture) is one of the largest open pit mines in the world.
Mining development has gone on despite the Colombian constitution recognizing the right of the indigenous people to manage the resources found on their territories.
Ortiz says that her people have higher rates of diseases, including cancer, and their environment has changed as sources of food have disappeared. There has been an increase of violence as women are being raped and people are being killed. Many have fled the area and if this continues, the whole WayĂșu people will be dispersed and their culture will be lost forever.
The mining companies are now trying to deviate a river, which is currently the Guajiraâs only source of water, a region prone to drought. Ortiz said, âTerritory, for indigenous peoples, is life,â and âmining is equal to misery.â
Linda Cabrera, from the AsociaciĂłn Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho, told the IACHR that mining industries create war-like conditions in rural and indigenous areas with a disproportionate impact on women.
In 2009, the Constitutional Court of Colombia determined 34 Indigenous Nations â including the WayĂșu â to be in imminent danger of physical or cultural extermination due to the impact of armed conflict and forced displacement. The Court called the situation âan emergency which is as serious as it is invisible.â
In a 2010 report, Amnesty International documented an intensification of threats and attacks on indigenous communities and their leaders in Colombia. Those who raise their voices in opposition to such projects continue to be targeted with threats and killings.
Last year, it emerged that thousands of WayĂșu, who mostly neither speak nor read Spanish, had been given derisive names on identity cards issued by authorities.
A petition to the President of Colombia and the Secretary-General of the United Nations to intervene and save the WayĂșu has already attracted nearly 20,000 signatures, you can add yours here.
Watch UN film “Wayuu Gold, Fighting for Access to Fresh Water”:
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