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An environmentalist child is shot dead in an attack on the indigenous guard in Colombia

Breiner David Cucuñame, 14-year-old from the Las Delicias indigenous reservation (Cauca), in Colombia.
National Natural Parks of Colombia

The assassination of all kinds of social leaders and in particular environmental defenders does not stop in Colombia. The most recent, that of Breiner David Cucuñame, a 14-year-old boy who accompanied the indigenous guard in the convulsive department of Cauca, has once again shocked a society that continues to add names to that tragic list. Although the motive for his murder has not yet been officially confirmed, he could be considered the first environmentalist murdered in 2022 in the country in the world where these crimes occur most frequently. One more victim that reflects the extreme vulnerability of environmentalists, indigenous people and minors in communities subjected to the crossfire of illegal armed groups in many territories of the country.

The photo in which the National Natural Parks Service of Colombia mourns his murder shows Cucuñame with his baton and his indigenous guard vest in the middle of a moor, surrounded by frailejones. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia has condemned the confusing attack that took place last Friday in which another person also died in the town of Buenos Aires.

The indigenous authorities attributed the authorship of the attack to dissident groups of the extinct FARC guerrilla who separated from the peace agreement sealed more than five years ago. The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) dismissed the adolescent as a “caretaker of Mother Earth, guardian of the Territory, Kiwe Thegna student indigenous guard of the Las Delicias reservation, child protector of life, Nasa of collective actions and big dreams ” . “The death of the young Breiner David Cucuñame, a champion of environmental protection in his community in Cauca, fills us with sadness,” President Iván Duque reacted on his social networks by asking the Prosecutor's Office for speed to clarify the facts.

The attack occurred in a rural area in the north of Cauca when the indigenous guard was carrying out its tasks of territorial control, after receiving information of the presence of armed men in the reservation. Upon arrival, the dissidents shot both the guard and the community, explained the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN). Guillermo Chicame, who was part of the security scheme for the leader of the reservation Fabián Camayo, who was also injured, died at the scene. The fire continued, and shortly after the young Cucuñame –who according to the testimonies was accompanying his father after a day of work– was shot on the highway.

In the reservations, the indigenous guard is usually made up of unarmed men and women who are in charge of the collective defense of their territories and carry batons as a symbol of authority. In other times, the armed groups respected them. However, in the midst of the fragmentation that has characterized the security crisis that Colombia is going through, both indigenous governors and members of the guard have also fallen in the midst of the incessant assassination of social leaders. At least 78 human rights defenders were killed last year, according to the UN Human Rights office, a list topped by the department of Valle del Cauca. The Ombudsman's Office raises that count to 145 social leaders and human rights defenders murdered in Colombia during 2021.

The north of the Cauca, where the majority of the Nasa people live, borders precisely on the south of Valle del Cauca and is a corridor for drug trafficking routes through its exit to the Pacific, which has turned the area into a powder keg. An archipelago of illegal groups operate there, among which are several FARC dissident groups, as well as the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN), drug gangs, and the presence of Mexican cartels has even been reported.

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In addition to the heavy legacy of drug trafficking and the armed conflict, there are added the risks of defending environmental causes, which have plenty of martyrs. Colombia has been identified for two consecutive years by the NGO Global Witness as the most dangerous country to defend the earth. Of the 227 murders of environmentalists registered in 2020 in the world, 65 occurred in the South American country. In its most recent report, Global Witness underlines that indigenous peoples are the most affected by violence.

Neither do minors They have it easy in the middle of the crossfire. On the same weekend, the murder of another girl has also mourned Colombians. Valeria Murillo, 10 years old, died on Sunday after being hit by the bullets of gunmen from the Clan del Golfo -a drug gang- that went through the wooden walls of her house, where she was sheltering with her mother, in an armed raid in the municipality of Medio San Juan, in the department of Chocó, on the Pacific coast. “We make an emphatic call to respect the life and integrity of the civilian population, especially children and adolescents,” the UN Human Rights office pleaded in condemning the crime.

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