From very early on Tuesday 17th July, 2012, the roads in the North of Cauca department, Colombia, were filled with with chiva buses carrying hundreds of indigenous community members to the municipality of Toribio. Armed only with their indigenous staffs (bastones), which symbolise the autonomy of indigenous communities in Colombia, their intention was clear: they wanted the immediate withdrawal of the government forces and FARC guerrillas that have turned their territories into a living hell.
Whilst the Colombia mass media published Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón’s response to the request of the indigenous authorities to withdraw troops from Cauca (“We have to tell the indigenous communities that we respect them, and that dialogue is the will of the Government, but by there is no way that the security forces will leave Cauca”), more than two thousand indigenous community members advanced toward one of the mountains of northeast Cauca, towards the point where 400 indigenas have been camping and looking after Cerro Berlin, a sacred indigenous site, since 11th July. On this mountain is located one of the military bases which protect two antennas belonging to mobile phone companies.
Upon arriving to the base, the indigenous governor of Toribio read out a letter from the community to the various armed groups, which says “…We will not stand idly by watching how you kill us and destroy our land, our communities, our life plans and our organisational process, and therefore, rooted in the power of words, reason, respect and dignity, we decided to walk in groups to the trenches and bases of ALL of the armed groups, to tell you face to face, as autonomous indigenous authorities, we demand that you GO, THAT WE DO NOT WANT YOU HERE, WE ARE TIRED OF DEATH, YOU ARE WRONG, LEAVE US TO LIVE IN PEACE …. “. After hearing the letter, the soldiers argued that they were there to protect the public because it would be a big risk to leave them without state forces. But the people no longer believe this argument because they have suffered so many abuses which confirm to them that the state forces are not there to protect them. The communities have been targeted by both sides in the conflict. “They always say the same thing,” shouted a female elder, as the crowd proceeded to gather up the belongings of the soldiers. “We ask the spirits to protect us in this just struggle” said one of the leaders of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca – ACIN.
Seeing the determination of the unarmed civilians, the commander in charge of the base respectfully gave the order for the soldiers to withdraw and abide by the wishes of the people. But six of the soldiers resisted and threw themselves to the ground, at which point the guardia indigena (indigenous community guards) began to pick them up and carry them out of the place. At the same time, other community members began to carry the soldiers’ food and other belongings, helping to speed up their withdrawal. The guardia indigena accompanied the soldiers away from the base to a pre-dermined point.
Despite the respect and care which they were shown, the soldiers told a different story to the national media: on the national news station Radio Caracol, Jerez Jorge Humberto, commander of the Apollo Joint Task Force, claimed, “They burned our food and assaulted our soldiers: guerrillas are attacking our troops at the same location, this is a joint effort of the FARC and the indigenous community because we have blocked the passages they use for drug trafficking. We have lawyers working to be able to eventually prosecute these Indians.”
The commander’s statements are irresponsible and put our community in extreme risk. It was the soldiers who burned a mattress so that they could then claim to the press that they had been victims of an attack by the Indians. Contrary to what they were telling the media, the guardia indigena transported the soldiers’ belongings to the bottom of the mountain. The soldiers fired into the air and released tear gas to try and make out that the guerrilla was about to attack.
Only the commander Jerez, could compare unarmed community members shoving and shouting at the soldiers, to the bullets, death, occupation of our homes, false positives and false accusations they have perpetrated against our community. However it seems that not only does the commander use the strategy of lies and manipulation, because all of the mainstream media immediately echoed these malicious claims without questioning them. This is how the government seeks to justify the onslaught against indigenous communities and place in doubt the legitimacy of our struggle for territorial defense. “Who would allow a trench to be at the front door of their house? Cerro Berlin is our home.”
This article has been translated from: http://www.nasaacin.org/noticias/3-newsflash/4340-los-medios-oficiales-le-hacen-eco-a-las-mentiras-de-los-militares