The indigenous people are now marching 186 miles from Cali to Bogotá. The movement is now a They left on 10th November and their expected arrival is 20th November.
Two days into this second mass march, on 12th November at Ibague the ESMAD anti-mutiny police attacked 300 women at the head of the procession. But the women broke through and led the entire procession to a rally in the town centre.
As Verito Covaría, representative of the natives from ONIC, frankly claims “if Uribe wants to make history by killing us, we are going to commit collective suicide by government hands, we will take to the streets”.
The Uribe administration has experienced the biggest protest since coming into office: more than forty thousand indigenous people have mobilised from different corners of Colombia, walking for eight days, for over eighty miles, from Cauca to Cali. What motivated their manifestation and why did they continue their venture even though their efforts were marred by killings and injuries?
The protest is a call for recognition of the systematic discrimination of the 102 indigenous groups of Colombia. They march for lack of viable alternative and what they perceive as necessity: the Colombian National Indigenous Organisation (ONIC) warns that 18 of the native groups are being pushed slowly towards extinction .
The indigenous population are no longer self-sufficient because they do not have enough land to sustain their communities. They have been used as pawns and moved across the board of Colombia in the drugs trade game. They are forcibly removed from geographically strategic territory for the growth, production and trafficking of drugs by groups competing for control. Caught in the crossfire between the various governmental and rebel actors, they are the victims of discriminate violence and violations of human rights. The extent of internal displacement is demonstrated by statistics of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): they record the incident of displacement in Colombia as the second highest after the Sudan .
Many of the local Colombian Laws are greatly detrimental to these populations, including the Mining Code (Ley 685/2001), Water Resourcing (Ley 46/1999), the Forest Law (Ley 1021/2006) and the Rural Statute (Ley 1152/2007). To expand on one example, under Colombian law, water resources can be privatized. In forethought, the growing threat of water scarcity and geopolitics of water resourcing have triggered companies such as the American owned Monsanto to take advantage of the lucrative opportunity to monopolize local Colombian water resources. For this end, indigenous people have been forced off their land and curiously have been deprived of the most basic element needed for survival.
The danger of some of these laws, in conjunction with policies pursued under Plan Colombia such as glyphosate fumigation, is that they grossly overlook the domestic economic realities of the indigenous communities. Fumigation is not only damaging for the health, but also cripples local production and cultivation by destroying workable land and killing animals. The marches are additionally being held to protest against the possible passing of the Multi-lateral Free Contract Deal. It is believed that this contract, which is to be signed by countries such as Colombia, the United States, Canada and some European countries, would further exacerbate these economic troubles.
Paradoxically, the indigenous populations have been forced, directly and indirectly, to be dependent on the state, and at the same time the government refuses to act as a provider for such people. According to Mauricio Hernandez, a doctor that recently finished working in the hospital of Leticia, “most of the medical services indigenous people have access to are being provided by non-governmental organizations, and this is due to the lack of State commitment towards the social security of natives”.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has acknowledged the mistreatment of the native people in the El Nilo case, where twenty-one indigenous people were massacred by paramilitaries with the complicity of the state. The government was ordered to grant fifteen thousand acres to the indigenous Nasa population. However, this land was never fully awarded. Moreover, the state has forgone legal obligations pertaining to the redistribution of land from which many of the indigenous populations have been displaced. According to ONIC, the government has only granted 5% of the land promised to the indigenous population in accordance with Decree 982/1999 . Not only has the legal obligation failed to be fulfilled, but the frequency by which the indigenous population has been displaced has amplified incrementally, rendering dramatic numbers in need of this land.
On the 13th September 2007, the United Nations General assembly approved the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People. If Colombia truly was supportive of the indigenous populations, then why would the representatives in Geneva abstain from voting? It is a shame that the declaration was signed by all the Latin American states save Colombia.
Uribe’s Stigmatisation Fails
According to Uribe: “they [the indigenous people] are infiltrated by terrorists, they massacre the police, they exercise all levels of violence and meanwhile they denounce us in front of the international community because we simply avoid the blockades and violent confrontations.”
The indigenous people have come under a torrent of accusations concerning guerrilla infiltration. These allegations have strategically choked any efforts to contest their systematic discriminatory treatment. Accusations of FARC affiliation serves to stigmatise the groups and delegitimise their appeals. As reported by many media sources, such as El Tiempo and Caracol, a government soldier, Jairo Danilo Chaparral Santiago, was ordered to penetrate into the indigenous march to plant evidence of guerrilla infiltration. The soldier was caught in the process of planting radios and manuals directing use of explosives.
The Colombian Democratic Security policy legitimises the use of violence for the control of illegal armed groups and for the end of peace. However, the concept of “the enemy of the state” is malleable and can be manipulated. Therefore, if evidence against the indigenous people is fabricated to prove guerrilla involvement, then the government can use this proof to permit the use of violence against them.
A pertinent question to ask would be why the government wants to gag the indigenous people?
The reason that the indigenous people are marching is because they are no longer self-sufficient, they are not sufficiently supported by the state and they have no mechanism for complaint. Therefore, pushed into a corner, their last option is to call the attention and lobby the support of the public, in a final attempt to assert pressure on the government. They began their march on the 12th October, a symbolic act to demonstrate the hypocrisy of celebrating race in the face of the indigenous extinction.
Reaction from the government to the indigenous marches
To view various video clips: CNN police violence, Noticias Caracol police violence, Uribe´s speech
Or visit our Media roundup page
Apart from delegitimising the indigenous people through accusations of FARC infiltration, the government forces have used an excessive and disproportionate use of violence against the protesters. According to ONIC and other mass media sources, there have been more than one hundred indigenous injuries, compared to nineteen from the government forces , and four deaths of native persons caused by fire arms and machetes. A seven month old baby died of over-exposure to tear gas, a weapon that has prohibited use under international law in the presence of children . According to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), at times ambulances were prevented from passing through to assist .
In response to the murders and injuries President Uribe first claimed that government forces never fired into the crowd of protestors. He later retracted this statement when videos showing contrary evidence were released into the public domain .