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News > Colombia

Colombia: Why Are Indigenous Peoples Protesting in Cauca?

  • Indigenous peoples block the Pan-American Highway at the Cauca Valley, Colombia, March 15, 2019.

    Indigenous peoples block the Pan-American Highway at the Cauca Valley, Colombia, March 15, 2019. | Photo: teleSUR

Published 15 March 2019

Colombian Indigenous peoples are being attacked, killed, persecuted and dispossessed.

For five days the Colombian Indigenous people have been protesting "for the defense of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace," a collective action called "Minga" which is taking place in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Huila and Caqueta.

Colombian President Seeks To Weaken Peace Accord Court

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) denounced Friday that the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) and the National Army violently entered one of their camps in the municipality of Cajibio, where social leaders were speaking about the protest's causes and goals.

At least 15,000 Indigenous people have kept demonstrating to demand that President Ivan Duque complies with previous state-level agreements. Indigenous spokesmen pointed out that they have also been subjected to corporate land grabbing, persecutions, murders, and violence.

"Colombian Police forces lash out at the indigenous protest in Cauca."

Right to land and autonomous government

The Cauca’s communities demand that the President Duque administration respect the agreements reached with his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, who assured them that their lands belong to them protected by both ancestral tradition and colonial law.

"These lands were given to us in the 1500s and 1600s, when our ancestors occupied them... the communities are living now in a state of confinement,” Erika Giraldo, a spokeswoman of the Indigenous Regional Council of Caldas (Cridec), denounced and pointed out that “there are new Indigenous reserves living in extreme poverty. There is a historical debt, which has not yet been paid."

The indigenous peoples also ask the Colombian State to recognize them as an “Autonomous Government,” which could provide them with a better ground for negotiations. They are currently treated as “minorities.”

Diversion of financial resources for development

Indigenous authorities ask President Duque to negotiate agreements aimed at supporting the communities’ territorial-based activities, which could boost their own local economies.

According to the 2018-2022 National Development Plan, the Colombian Indigenous peoples should have received US$10 billion to improve their living conditions. This legal obligation, however, has not been enforced yet.

“US$10 billion were approved,” Feliciano Valencia, a CRIC leader, said and denounced that only 30 percent of such amount was delivered to the Indigenous peoples because “the other 70% was withdrawn by the Government months later."

Consultation on the environment and land-related issues

The Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that the National State must consult with Indigenous peoples before public decisions which could affect their territories or endanger their environment. President Duque administration, however, does not comply with this constitutional order.

"We think that President Duque is usurping the power of the High Constitutional Court and embracing non-legally backed powers. His government is not respecting our rights," Giovanni Yala, a CRIC spokesman said and explained that Duque is “handing over our lands to multinationals corporations, who are interested in resources such as gold, oxygen, forests, and biodiversity. Mother Earth is just a commodity for them."

Peace Agreements implementation

The Colombian Indigenous peoples demand the Duque administration adheres to the Havana Peace Agreements, which were negotiated under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos and seek to regulate the presence of insurgent forces in the Cauca Valley.

According to the Indigenous spokespersons, despite those agreements, 527 social leaders have been murdered nationwide, 30 percent of who were killed in the Cauca region. Furthermore, at least 44 of those killings were perpetrated by the Colombian Army, as legal investigations have revealed.

Aida Quilicue, who is a human rights counselor at the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), told teleSUR that what happens in Cauca goes well beyond the unpunished killing of Indigenous leaders. "It is not only about homicides. There are also constant threats, displacements, and confinements,” she said and warned that “Colombia’s warlords are reappearing."

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