On November 10th, the Association of Indigenous Couincils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) released an open letter to US President-Elect Barack Obama, hoping to shed more light on their struggle and foster a relationship that will ensure “Life… can never again be transformed into means for private accumulation of power at the service of greed.”
With Obama’s victory so “reminiscent of recent precedent-setting Latin American elections, in which indigenous and mixed-race candidates triumphed over centuries of entrenched discrimination,” notes Marcelo Ballvé , there is a genuine hope in Colombia and throughout the world that such a relationship is finally possible with America.
Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, Colombia
Dear Mr. President-Elect,
First, please accept our sincerest congratulations. We congratulate you for having won because of the noblest aspirations of your people. We believe your election expresses the deep desire for change felt by the majority of the American people: change in the economy and society, change in international relations, and from there, we hope, a change in the relation between the United States of America and the indigenous peoples of the world.
During your historic campaign, you publicly noted some of what Colombians currently face: you acknowledged the murders of trade unionists by the regime and stated your reservations about a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, which our people have decided against through a democratic referendum, about which we have written before. We thank you for this, and now want you to know about the specific situation facing Colombia’s indigenous peoples.
In the past six years we have lost 1,200 people to assassinations by armed groups, both legal and illegal: right-wing paramilitaries, guerrillas, police, and members of the Armed Forces. These murders have created insecurity, and this insecurity has been used to strip us of our rights with what we call the ‘Laws of Disposession’, legislation and other institutional norms that legalize the loss of our lands, our fundamental freedoms, and our rights. These ‘Laws of Disposession’ dispose of Colombia’s mines, hydrocarbons, water resources, intellectual property, and national parks – all of these are brought under the ultimate rule of the Free Trade Agreement with the US. The FTA will mean that if Colombia tries to change the laws to allow its people to share in its resources, or take any independent action, then we will be obliged to compensate investors. We will have to submit our laws to international arbitration outside our own legal jurisdiction.
But in our view, the ultimate law is respect for life. In our view, the FTA puts commercial logic above the respect for life itself, not to mention international humanitarian law, and agreements such as the ILO’s Covenant 169, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide. These covenants, as well as the respect for life, have to date been ignored by the government of our country, as well as by your government.
Unfortunately both of our governments, yours with Plan Colombia, and ours with the so-called ‘Democratic Security’ policy, have done great harm to indigenous peoples and to Mother Earth, while multinational corporations have profited from the petroleum and gas contracts, mining concessions, privatizations, and low wages.
We hope that you will contribute to change all this. We hope that you will listen to our words. We have lost many lives defending these words. Words that we have walked and words we have backed up with our civil resistance. These are the words that we have shared throughout Colombia since October 10th, through the Minga of Resistance, a national mobilization we convened as indigenous peoples, in association with other peoples and processes.
We believe that the spirit of change in your people cannot be contained. We believe it is a powerful force and we hope it will join with the force of our words and with the need for change that has been crying out throughout Latin America. We invite you to come to listen to these words here in Colombia, and we are ready to articulate them there, if you invite us. Here or there, it is the same planet and our mission is the same: to protect it, to save us all.
Finally, we call on you to join with us in fulfilling our responsibilities to Mother Earth and to history. The first one, our collective Mother, has given all of us life. The second one, History, has reflected our growing pains and our errors. History has not matured into systems that reconcile it with the rhythms, pulses and mandates of Nature. We believe the very reason human beings and our societies exist is to create the harmony between History and Mother Earth.
As children of Mother Earth, we speak to you as to a brother or sister. As indigenous, we speak to you as peoples, obliged from creation to seek harmony between History and Mother Earth. To reconcile ourselves with nature is not an option, but an imperative. By transforming life into merchandise, by making sacred the accumulation of wealth, by enshrining greed, we believe our societies have entered a crisis, including the economic crisis currently faced by your country. The destruction of our peoples in Colombia is a consequence of that Historic error that has placed greed before life.
Brother President-elect Barack Obama, we do not write to ask or demand anything for ourselves, because we know that the death of our peoples and the destruction of our cultures for greed, signifies the beginning of the end for Mother Earth itself.
Before we disappear with our collective Mother, we have decided to speak and to walk our words. In the name of life, of change, let us listen to one another and make the effort to find a way to create harmony between our peoples and life. Let us create the conditions for new History. One where the sacred ends of promotion and protection of Life and Beauty can never again be transformed into means for private accumulation of power at the service of greed.
We await you.
With great respect,
Association of Indigenous Couincils of Northern Cauca ACIN (Cxab Wala Kiwe-Territory of the Great People) Cauca, Mother Earth, November 10th, 2008 Santander de Quilichao
(Cxab Wala Kiwe-Territory of the Great People) Cauca, Mother Earth, November 10th, 2008 Santander de Quilichao
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