Indigenous Sacred buildings repeatedly burnt in Sierra Nevada

On 14 December 2021 in the Wiwa Indigenous village of Arimaka, sacred buildings were burnt. This follows the burning on 12 December 2021, two Kankurwas (ceremonial buildings) and a meeting house partially incinerated in the Kankaumo Indigenous village of Minakalwa

The burning of these sacred spaces occurred only days after the four indigenous tribes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta publicly rejected the construction of the Besotes Dam which they considered would mean cultural and physical extermination for them.

Besotes Dam

The Besotes Dam would be built on one of the Sierra Nevada’s most important rivers the Guatapurí and according to the four indigenous tries living in the Sierra, Kogi, Wiwa Kankuamos and Arhuacos in whose ancestral territory this Dam would be built. For the four indigenous tribes the Guatapurí is the mother river basin since it connects the mountain peaks, to the paramos, rivers, lagoons, wetlands and finally terminating at the Sea. As well as, irrigating the tropical dry forest on its way.

According to the Indigenous worldview (“cosmovision”) the location of the Sierra Nevada as one of the world’s highest coastal ranges and with its 348 sacred sites, surrounded by what the indigenous communities call La Linea Negra (the Black Line), make it the “Heart of the Earth”. The traditional ceremonial activities that the four tribes conduct in this area are essential to preserve their spiritual and cultural identity and their management and preservation of natural resources in the area are vital for the ecological balance of the world. In 2018, a Presidential Decree 1500 was issued recognising the Linea Negra. However, the Besotes Dam will damage over forty-one sacred sites, within the “Black Line.”

Listen to what the communities have to say about the Besotes Dam

There have been other recent incidents in the Arimaka community and against Wiwa Community leaders. On 7 October 2021, in the Wiwa Sheyamake-Arimaka community, there was an attempt on the life of community leader José Antonio Mojica Daza. This was the third attack, on16 September 2021, at that time he was shot in the back whilst travelling on a motorbike fortunately he was wearing a bullet-proof vest provided by the National Protection Unit (UNP, spanish acronym) and was unharmed. The bodyguard that had been assigned to him had been withdrawn three months prior to this attack.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has granted precautionary measures in favour of the Wiwa Indigenous Peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, for the preservation of the life and personal integrity, to respect their cultural identity and to protect the special relationship they have with their territory.

Wiwa Indigenous Village

Recommendations to the Colombian Government

  • To urgently and thoroughly investigate the burning of the ceremonial sacred places and prosecute those responsible
  • Ensure that the National Protection Unit, and the Police of the Department of La Guajira take all necessary actions to safeguard the life and integrity of José Antonio Mojica Daza along with his family who has survived three firearm attacks against him.