Forgotten in the dust of northern South America: a story of the Wayuu
September 26, 2017
In the northernmost regions of South America, a Caribbean wind gusts across an arid landscape. The sun beats down with no remorse, day after day, the clouds in the distance no more than a Fata Morgana. Here, right on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, the Wayuu people trek with their donkeys from their villages to the waterholes to retrieve water for their everyday needs. For them, this desert is home, but foreign thieves have come in the night to steal their goods and curse their land.
Long before colonisation, the Wayuu would hunt and fish for food and they would drink from the rivers, or the gods would visit them in their dreams to tell them where to dig waterholes. Today, they live from what they can buy, as well as from the goats they breed and the plants they sow. The rivers and waterholes continue to sustain them. But for how long?
In recent years, the Wayuu have been the victims of a continued persecution by the Colombian and Venezuelan states. The border that runs through their land has separated communities and makes it hard for working family members to provide their family in rural areas with money and food. The Cerrejón coalmine on the Colombian side is one of the largest in the world and has contaminated their rivers, or dammed them so that they run dry. To make matters worse, thanks to prolonged droughts induced by a rapid changing climate, their animals are dying, their crops are failing, and the waterholes they dig only provide brackish water.
The Wayuu have asked for help, but nobody has heard their plea. The Colombian government has made promises it hasn’t kept, and the economic and political situation of Venezuela has meant a total abandonment of their people. In the past handful of years, thousands of children have died due to malnutrition or dehydration—over 10,000 by some accounts—and yet nobody bats an eye. But what can we do about it?
We can start off by raising awareness about the plight of the Wayuu. Hardly anybody even knows they exist, the forgotten people of the Guajira desert, so it’s time to wake up. Last year, Colombian journalist Gonzalo Guillén made a documentary about the relationship between the Wayuu and the coalmine on their territory. However, not a single Colombian TV channel played the film. We can raise awareness about the Wayuu by sharing this Spanish film for the world to see, so that at least the suffering of the Wayuu will no longer be a secret. Watch and share ‘El río que se robaron’ (the river they stole) below: