The blind-folded and bullet-ridden bodies of activists Ingrid Washinawatok, 41, Lahe’ena’e Gay, 39, and Terence Freitas, 24, were returned to the United States yesterday from the Venezuelan field where they were found last week.
The three Americans were abducted in Columbia and later killed by members of Columbia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. The murder victims had been trying to set up an educational system for the U’wa nation, a local Indian group, and were arrested by armed guards for going to the U’wa reservation “without guerilla authorization.” Washinawatok and Gay were both North American Indians and activists, and Freitas was an environmentalist and human rights advocate.
Many believe that the murders were spurred by a spider bite that Washinawatok suffered. The guerillas took her to a clinic, but when they were told that Washinawatok would have to stay at the clinic, refused and left with her. A Colombian military intelligence report stated that the guerillas decided to shoot all three hostages because they feared punishment for allowing a U.S. hostage to die from lack of medical attention.
Raul Reyes, a senior leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, stated that a low-ranking official was responsible for the murders and had acted without the approval of superiors. U.S. officials had originally requested that the guilty parties be extradited to stand trial back in the U.S. Reyes said, however, that “[w]e will not turn over our fighters to any state” and said that the man who ordered the murders will likely face a firing squad.
All three murder victims were dedicated activists who went against State Department warnings in order to set up the school system. “Ingrid Washinawatok was an integral part of the lives of many native Americans and other traditional peoples, nationally and internationally. Her place in our community will not soon be filled, if ever,” said the American Indian Community in a statement.