Kidnap Britons: background on Sierra Nevada, Colombia

September 19, 2003

This page was created in 2003 and may contain language which is now outdated.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia, where a group
of tourists has recently been kidnapped, allegedly by leftist rebels,
is a huge mountain that rises out of the Caribbean. It is home to
three unique, related Indian tribes: the Kogi, Arhuaco and Arsario,
who have been at the forefront of the movement for Indian rights in

All three tribes are characterised by a complex spirituality and
distinctive clothes and houses. But despite the Indians' peaceful
nature, for several decades the Sierra Nevada has been a battleground
between the army, left-wing guerrillas and paramilitary armies that
has seen the Indians caught in the crossfire.

Dozens of Indians have been killed in the quasi-civil war raging on
their land, and the lower slopes of the mountain have been colonised
by settlers, many of them growing coca and heroin poppies for the
drug trade. In February this year an Arsario village was bombarded
for several days by the Colombian army, forcing the inhabitants to

Sierra Nevada Indians