The mayor of an Indian reserve in the conflicted southwestern Colombian province of Cauca was gunned down while waiting for a bus to take him to a meeting with his community, government officials said.
A communique from the Interior Ministry condemned Friday’s death of the Indian Jaime Mestizo Pito, mayor of the Huellas reserve in the Caloto municipality.
The native, the document said, was shot twice as he waited for a public transport bus.
“After the attack, the indigenous leader was taken to the Valle del Lili Clinic in Cali, the capital of the neighboring province of Valle del Cauca, where he died this afternoon after twice undergoing surgery,” the communique said.
The ministry added that it had no information about possible threats against the Indian leader.
A total of 118 Indians were killed last year in Colombia, a country with 102 indigenous ethnic groups, compared with at least 34 this year, with the Nasa Indians of the southwestern province of Cauca accounting for the largest number of fatalities.
On Aug. 30, the Colombian administration and Indians of the country’s southwest region opened their first negotiating table in Popayan, capital of Cauca, the region from which the Nasa people demand the departure of Colombian security forces and illegal armed groups.
“Land and Territory” is the name given to the committee with which the parties opened negotiations and whose agenda was agreed on Aug. 15 during a visit to the region of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was met by some 15,000 natives.
Santos then traveled to La Maria, the emblematic Nasa reserve in the Piendamo municipality, to deal with the growing protest of Cauca Indians against the presence of the military, police and guerrillas on their ancestral lands.
That negotiating table and another three, which have been meeting successively, will soon deliver to President Santos a progress report on subjects negotiated, to try and find a definitive solution to the violence scourging the region.
The move is being led by the Association of Indigenous Town Councils of North Cauca, or Acin, a union of Nasa authorities representing an ethnicity of about 100,000 distributed in a dozen towns of northern Cauca, a region that in its southern part is home to the Guambiano Indians.
In July, Acin declared its people in “permanent resistance” in order to force the withdrawal of security forces and rebels from their territory.
Though the government has dismissed the possibility of ordering security forces out of the area, the indigenous demand was included in the negotiating agenda of the second working committee dedicated to “human rights, armed conflict and peace.”
The 1991 Colombian Constitution promises autonomy to the nation’s 102 indigenous ethnic groups.