In Colombia, the search for children who disappeared in a plane crash weeks ago has brought together the Armed Forces and indigenous representatives on the ground. Almost a hundred people from the communities of the country’s Amazon joined the operations that seek to find the whereabouts of the minors. They unite indigenous wisdom and military intelligence in the hopes of giving the country the news they have been waiting for weeks.
Jarvy Gómez wonders how the children could survive, if he, 20 years old and in good physical condition, is exhausted after a week. He answers: the elders of the community feel the heartbeat
He was part of the group that found the plane. His partner thought it was a house, he knew it was the aircraft. Inside it was his uncle, Herman Mendoza, social leader of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC). One of the three adults killed in the accident. Painfully, he returned with his seven companions to the military base, where they were greeted as heroes for the find. That was on Monday, May 15. Two weeks after the accident.
Now, after days of intense searching for the four children presumably surviving and missing since the accident, he is going back to Araracuara, deep in the Colombian Amazon jungle.
Jarvy is from the same community as the injured, where he is, in his words, a “follower.” After a historical process of assimilation, they try to recover their roots: language, medicinal knowledge and spiritual relationship. For this reason, “you can only enter the jungle with permission.”
Pedro Sánchez is the commander of the Special Forces. His motto is: seek them until you find them. From the San José del Guaviare airstrip, the military operations center for the rescue, he receives 25 indigenous guards from the Amazonian departments of Caquetá and Putumayo. “I also have indigenous blood”, he tells them in the first contact and recognizes the community work and defense of the territory that they carry out in their places of origin.
“We are not looking for a needle in a haystack, but a flea in a rug,” he explains in a meeting room, where he shows the new searchers maps, data and traces of what is known as ‘Operation Hope’.
More than 150 members of the Public Force are on the ground. Several dozen indigenous people from different communities and jungles have come together in recent days to help. Sánchez acknowledges that ancestral advice and wisdom have helped them find tracks. From a eaten passion fruit to an improvised shelter, in which the children could have hidden.
They’re using all sorts of resources to find them: audio messages, food drops, and even heat-scanning planes. The operation carries several million dollars in expenses. It became a national and worldwide search. Especially since Wednesday, May 17, when President Gustavo Petro announced that they had been found. It was bad inside information.
These are four minors, ages 13, 9 and 4 years and 11 months, whose whereabouts have not been known since May 1, when the accident occurred.
The Colombian Family Welfare Institute, ICBF, informed Petro that they had been found alive and that they were “in good health.” However, the military forces, which are in charge of the search operations, could not corroborate the information that the ICBF had provided to the Presidency. The president had to delete a tweet in which he gave the expected announcement.
I have decided to delete the trill because the information provided by the ICBF could not be confirmed. I’m sorry about what happened. The Military Forces and the indigenous communities will continue in their tireless search to give the country the news it is waiting for.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) May 18, 2023
Among the indigenous rescuers who are going to take over from Jarvy Gómez is an indigenous Siona from Putumayo. Leandro Ibáñez tells that he has flown for the first time. He has been with the public force. Upon arriving in San José del Guaviare, Commander Pedro Sánchez hugged him. The relationship between military forces and indigenous organizations had never been like this before.
The first left-wing government in the history of Colombia has a former guerrilla as president, Gustavo Petro, and an Afro-descendant, Francia Márquez, as vice president. Among the high officials of the Executive is the director of the Land Restitution Unit, Giovani Yule. He is a sociologist, political scientist, and also an indigenous leader. Along with the directors of the Victims Unit, Patricia Tobón, and Family Welfare, Astrid Cáceres, he coordinates care for the members of the communities that participate in the rescue.
In fact, they have moved their operations center from San José del Guaviare to Calamar, from where the rescue ships are leaving for the jungle. It is the indigenous minga. The same one that in Cali stopped the city in 2021 to protest against a regressive tax reform, is today asking the jungle to return the children. Miguel Romario is an indigenous Murui who will participate in the rescue. When he speaks to the press, before entering the jungle, he is clear about something: “The jungle is waiting for us. We will find them in three days.”
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