Colombia: Indigenous Peoples Mobilize for Autonomy and Peace on their Territories

Colombia: Indigenous Peoples Mobilize for Autonomy and Peace on their Territories

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July 25, 2011

The oldest and strongest grassroots indigenous organization in Colombia, The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), has issued a call for a “Minga of resistance” to restore autonomy and peace throughout Indigenous territories in the Colombian state of Cauca.

The call for a “Minga”–a term that refers to a traditional gathering or activity for the collective good–arrives just ten days after The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) carried out a series of violent attacks in at least 5 indigenous communities.

As noted by the WW4 Report, “In the early hours of July 9, FARC guerillas attacked the central plaza of the indigenous Nasa (Páez) village Toribio in Colombia’s Cauca department, leaving two civilian residents dead and 73 injured. The attack, with improvised explosives, came at the start of a market day in the village.”

IPS News provides a more detailed account of the events in Toribio,

Because Jul. 9 was market day, some 1,500 people were packed into the central plaza in Toribío. Suddenly, shooting was heard nearby, and there was a loud explosion in a street parallel to the plaza, in back of the church where some 40 people were attending mass.

Over a radius of 400 metres, pieces of gas cylinders – used by the leftwing rebels to make homemade bombs – as well as the bumper of a rural bus sliced down from the sunny sky that morning. The bus transmission was blasted 70 metres before it ended up embedded in the wall of the parish priest’s house.

The explosion came from a bus full of gas cylinders that the insurgents apparently rolled down from the Project Nasa central offices to the police station, one block downhill. But the station is a concrete fortress and barely suffered a scratch.

The FARC also launched explosives “that fell in places with a heavy civilian presence”; the guerrillas had no concern for “the magnitude of the damage,” the office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) said in a communiqué.

According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a total of 124 people were injured, 3 were killed and 474 homes were destroyed in Toribio.

FARC carried out additional attacks in the indigenous communities of Jámbalo, Corinto, Caldono, Mondomo and Siberia; though they were nowhere as destructive as the attack on the Nasa village.

A joint statement from CRIC, the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of North Cauca (ACIN) and the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Caldono-Nasa (CXHAB) warned that the attacks placed even more pressure on the indigenous population: they threaten “our autonomy, our peaceful inhabitation of the land, and our existence as peoples,” the statement reads.

The ongoing war between guerrilla armies like FARC and the Colombian government has ravaged Indigenous Peoples for decades. In recent years, however, FARC has increasingly targeted Indigenous families, individual leaders and entire communities. The Colombian military, on the other hand, is well known for its so-called false-positive attacks and for routinely disregarding the rights and safety of Indigenous Peoples.

It’s at the point now where more than half of Colombia’s 102 distinct Peoples are at risk of extinction; and the situation is only getting worse. “According to the mid-year report by the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a think tank in Bogota, Cauca is one of the five regions where the armed conflict has recently escalated and the government forces have reportedly ‘adopted defensive strategies,'” says IPS. “There are some 15,000 troops in the northern part of Cauca province, and on Thursday another troop increase was announced.” In response to this, FARC is bringing in more fighters and recruiting even more indigenous adults and minors.

“The war has absorbed all other dimensions of national life, subordinating politics to the military priorities of both camps,” says the CRIC in its July 20 statement (ES), which announces the Minga. “If we don’t stop this war, the country will witness a terrible massacre of civilians and the destruction of a good part of the peaceful political and democratic initiative that we indigenous people have brought to fruition with an enormous effort over the space of many years.”

The CRIC continues,

The Minga has three purposes: First, the demilitarization of indigenous territories and stopping the militarization promoted by the army and the FARC. We reiterate to these actors the urgency of taking down their military bases and encampments that are in indigenous territory and that they stop utilizing civilian assets for the purposes of war. We know that they will not do this voluntarily, and that it will require enormous pressure from Colombian civil society. In the next few months, with the intervention of all the indigenous communities in Cauca, accompanied by organizations that fight for peace, we will take action—as we have in prior situations—towards the dismantling of police and army trenches and bases, along with the FARC encampments which are in the middle of citizen populations.

We do not seek to give a military advantage to either side, but to defend the lives and autonomy of the communities. We hope that both sides understand that our purpose is essentially humanitarian. We ask our friends to do what they can to make the government and the FARC understand. And we remind the armed actors that indigenous territories are cultural assets, specially protected by international humanitarian law, and thus should be left out of military actions.

The UN Declaration on the human rights of indigenous peoples is absolutely clear that military bases cannot be constructed without first undertaking “adequate consultation” with indigenous peoples’ authorities and communities; and the Constitutional Court has stated that the Declaration is a part of customary international law to which the State is bound. Consequently, we do not accept the establishment of Batallones de Alta Montaña within indigenous territory, as announced by the national government. The government violates the Constitution and the law by imposing them without our consent; moreover, they are not useful in protecting civil society and we do not need them to maintain order in the reserve. We will take legal, political and humanitarian action against their installation. We call on the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples to issue a statement about this imminent failure to respect international norms.

The second purpose of the Minga is to invite the national government and the guerilla fighters to Humanitarian Dialogues in the Cauca indigenous territory in order to demand compliance with International Humanitarian law. For dialogue on these issues to occur, the CRIC and its regional organizations have formed a special commission, with participation from women, senior citizens and ex-governors, charged with supporting the authorities, that is responsible for presenting our viewpoints to the armed groups. We will send formal invitations to the President of the Republic and the commander of the FARC.

The issues that we propose to discuss with both actors are those that we have been promoting in the Red de Iniciativas de Paz desde la Base (Network for Grassroots Peace Initiatives): the immediate cessation of youth recruitment or use as informants; the prohibition and punishment of sexual violence, particularly against women; the use of landmines and weapons with indiscriminate effects; and respect for autonomy, given that international treaties recognize it without discussion.

With the FARC we additionally want to discuss problems related to the militia and the promise of the Secretariat to not recruit indigenous people, which has been repeatedly broken. With the government, we view it necessary to discuss ceasing the installation of military bases in the middle of civilian populations and the recruitment of informants; as well as to clarify the order to destroy community housing because we remain unconvinced by the explanations given by the President and the Defense Minister.

The third purpose of the Minga is to reinitiate public debates with the government and the insurgency about political and territorial proposals that are at play. As we are convinced that resolving the conflict requires political negotiation, we commit to raising the political level of these dialogues and debates and we ask the actors to commit to clarifying their strategic positions.

The Minga of resistance for autonomy and territorial harmony and for ceasing the war based on the fundamental and ancestral right that we are in charge of our own affairs, of territorial harmony, and community harmony. Likewise, international instruments recognize our right to self-determination as peoples with our own political institutions that we freely choose. We have taken all these measures as part of the Safeguard Plans that the indigenous peoples of Cauca have created in order to prevent their physical and cultural disappearance, and whose acceptance by the State is required in light of sentence 025 of the Constitutional Court. We call on Colombian civil society, the Episcopal Conference and the international community to contribute to the creation of conditions of protection and respect for the actions we take.

To undertake the Minga we need the political and humanitarian support of all our friends. We call on all to join us in protecting sacred and humanitarian sites and in efforts to free Mother Earth from the war and harmonize the land.

We have also decided to recover, for the community, the indigenous youth who participate with armed groups. We will take two actions to make this happen: First, we will strengthen our plans of Returning Home through dialogue, political discussion, harmonization, and remedy, which will put us all back on the path of the indigenous struggle for dignity; and Second, we will undertake emergency actions so that recruited children return to their homes; we understand that FARC says the do not defend this prohibited practice, which should make it easier to deliver the minors to their families and communities.

We maintain our position of seeking an autonomous solution for the situation of the illegal economy. We recognize that growing coca, marijuana and poppy seem to be a solution for some families to resolve the distressing economic situation, which in turn opens the door to a growing economic crisis, a crisis of values and a crisis of governance. We reiterate our commitment to strengthening actions to resolve this problem; in this respect, we will carry out a consultation with the communities to determine the primary elements necessary to form a strategy. We call upon the national government, the United Nations, and the international community to support the adoption of a Regional Plan to solve the illegal economy, which should not consist in eradicating illicit crops, but rather in changing the current economy to one that is more in harmony with nature.

For our part, we will definitively strengthen our Indigenous Guard, which has taken up the mandate of being actors for peace and caretakers of the land. With the Guard, and with the participation of all communities, we will strengthen internal territorial control. The Board has adopted an internal plan to enforce the mandates that various congresses have approved.

Darío Tote, a Coconuco indigenous leader who is the regional coordinator of the educational programme of the CRIC, told IPS that the Minga will be setting out within the next two weeks, by marching across their own territories that have been occupied by armed groups.

“In the minga, we set out, but we don’t know when we’ll return,” said Tote.

Special thanks to Ryan and Laura Seelau ( and Alex Cachinero-Gorman for help with translations.

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