‘Armed militias’ oppose Colombia’s Tumbes tribe

Image copyright AFP Image caption At least two activists have been killed in recent weeks.

Colombia’s largely indigenous Natives group, known as Tumbes for the mountain range where they live, is fighting against environmental destruction, environmental injustice and the erosion of the environment.

It has won the backing of political leaders as well as UN and UNEP advisers.

Now, as a result of Donald Trump’s plans to protect the environment, its members fear they will be targeted.

Photo: Radio Caracol

Originally, the Tumbes’ more than 100,000 members were born and raised in Colombia’s rich coffee regions.

They settled in the surrounding cloud forests and along the border with Ecuador.

In many ways, they have made spectacular progress. A mere 100 years ago, the ethnic group lived on small indigenous reserves facing a constant threat of aerial bombardment and indigenous rights being repressed.

But the group has increasingly faced attacks from armed paramilitaries and far-right groups.

In October, members of the group were violently assaulted by paramilitary forces.

Juana Buitrago, a leader of the Tumbes, has been held as a hostage by the right-wing group for more than five years.

Photo: ABC TV

The violence has had a devastating impact on the group’s leader and their culture.

Ms Buitrago has suffered extreme physical and mental pain.

“With my condition, I do not see how I can continue in politics,” she told BBC News, after being kidnapped by the paramilitaries.

“My children don’t understand why their mother does not get well. All they want is to see their mother.”

Even their environment is under threat from the increase in logging and illegal oil drilling in the area.

But in the years since Ms Buitrago became the focus of the conflict, many in the Tumbes community believe she has always used her experience to fight for those who cannot defend themselves.

“We want to keep fighting for the Tumbes,” she said.

“We feel like we are protected by environmental justice and equality because we have our tribe.”

The community organisation has not been deterred by the attack on Mr Moreno, its leader, and by attempts to extort funds from him.

It responded by condemning the attack and providing the $200,000 (£145,000) that he needed to escape.

Many see Mr Moreno as a human rights icon and success story.

Mr Moreno’s bodyguard Fernando Salazar said: “He is our chief priest and hero.

“He has saved all of us. When he is injured, he does not tell us to be afraid. He tells us to continue. He tells us to continue.”

Though many members of the Tumbes say they will carry on fighting for the environment, they are worried about other aspects of the threats that the community faces.

For one, the group worries that Mr Moreno’s seizure of $40m in cash from an Ecuadorean bank has made him a target for possible assassination.

Colombia’s President Iván Duque and the government, known for its right-wing supporters, say they have not backed any plan to attack the group.

But they too have rejected plans by the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

“The administration and the president himself opposed these decisions,” Mr Duque said.

“There is no question of leaving the Paris Accords, and this decision is without any mandate.

“We will stand up for [Mr Moreno] and the values the United States of America stands for.”

He says he will not allow the Tumbes to be a punching bag for opposition politicians looking to score political points.

“Our task is to create a democratic climate and clarify things,” he added.

“We have to explain why this is the right thing to do.”

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