A leader of the Nukak people from the Colombian Amazon has made a desperate appeal for his people’s survival before the country’s top human rights committee.
“We want to return to our forest,” said Joaquín Nuká, “From where the FARC guerrillas forced us out – why, we don’t know”.
The Nukak are a nomadic hunter-gatherer people from the Guaviare region of south-east Colombia. Survival International report that they have been forced to flee from their lands by the FARC, a left-wing army fighting the US-backed Colombian government. FARC reportedly claims the Nukak pose a security risk to their operations in the area.
Since first emerging from the forest in 1988, more than half of the Nukak have been wiped out, mostly by common diseases caused by contact with outsiders. They are now struggling to adapt to a new sedentary way of life, living on the outskirts of towns and relying on government handouts to survive.
“[In the forest] we lived amongst all the food of the jungle,” Nuká told national radio station, Caracol, “The food that they give us here in San José is good, it is white people’s food, but it badly affects the children, we miss our forest foods”.
Despite government efforts and an ongoing “War on Drugs” that has received considerable funding from the United States, coca cultivation for cocaine continues to ravage the region.
One of the most controversial methods employed to eradicate coca involves spraying deadly pesticides on the crops from planes. This has only served to push the farmers into ever- more remote regions in the jungle, provoking violence against the indigenous communities who live there.
Vice-president of the committee, Senator Alexander López, said, “The forced displacement … especially of indigenous communities such as the Jiw and Nukak, poses a severe threat to their survival as peoples… The Indians should return to their territories immediately and their way of life should be protected with dignity.”
The Nukak are one of more than thirty indigenous peoples who face extinction in Colombia according to national indigenous organization, ONIC, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Survival International is campaigning for the Nukak’s right to return to their reserve, on condition that it is made secure and that they receive proper health care.
Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry, said this week, “This desperately depressing predicament has gone on for far too long. The Nukak and other indigenous peoples have been left to bear the brunt of the government’s failed anti-drugs policies.”