Indigenous community elder murdered in northern Colombia

Colombia’s largest indigenous organisation has denounced the murder of an indigenous community leader in the north of the country. José Manuel Pana Epieyú was killed on Friday 13 September as he travelled between the Maicao zone and the city of Riohacha in the department of La Guajira. Reports said he was forced out of the vehicle by armed men who then killed him.

José Manuel was a traditional palabrero, or pütchipü, in the Karaquita reserve. The term refers to an elder who mediates and advises on disputes within Wayuu indigenous communities, emphasising dialogue as a means of resolution. He was also a member of the Autonomous Council of Palabreros for Human Rights, which worked to protect indigenous communities which have experienced disproportionate levels of violence and inequality.

‘To murder a Palabrero is to attack the reconciliation of words, of Wayuu words. We reject [this] and demand swiftness in the investigation which respects the Wayuu culture’, said the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC).

Last month, the ONIC said that 97 indigenous leaders and activists had been murdered in Colombia during the previous twelve months. A number of others have since been killed.

José Manuel’s death came on the same day as 58-year-old rural organiser Gustavo Pérez was also killed in northern Colombia. Gustavo had previously requested security measures after receiving paramilitary threats but authorities denied the petition. More than 500 social activists have been murdered in Colombia since the peace deal was signed in November 2016.