I received the following handwritten letter from José Montaña Peroza, the leader of the 669-member Hitnu community at La Ilusión on the reservation of Las Vorágines in the Department of Arauca, Colombia. It was directed to the participants at the international forum on reconciliation that I attended in Arauca, in May 2012. The letter described how the war over the region’s natural resources, fueled by foreign companies, has affected Hitnu livelihoods. José wrote that the Hitnu live in a state of violence and fear that has destroyed their tranquility. I was moved by the simplicity and power of his text, which I quote here in translation:
“We cannot seek sustenance for our families, gather fruits, hunt for meat. Violence has robbed us of these customs: To be gathering, to be dancing, to be doing Arts, among other occupations. To be tranquil fishing; communicating among ourselves freely, Appreciating everything about our culture that relates to nature.”
The Hitnu leader concludes:
“We don’t want any more war. Let us build peace. Let us change attitudes. We deserve it. We are human beings.”
On my return from Colombia, I learned that the Hitnu is one of the indigenous communities facing extinction in Colombia. The Hitnu were granted special protective measures by Colombia’s Constitutional Court in December 2011. The threat continues to be quite real.
To read more about my trip to Arauca, see “Organizing for Peace in Arauca, Colombia,” at www.usip.org/in-the-field/organizing-peace-in-arauca colombia.