The documentary “Roba Tierra,” or “Land Thief,” tells the story of the current struggle of the Nasa indigenous tribe in Colombia’s Cauca department. It is worth watching to understand what is behind the recent headlines of government-indigenous clashes and FARC-indigenous clashes.
The Nasa dream of recovering their ancestral land and so they invade privately-owned haciendas. The squatters plant the invaded land because they say otherwise they have nothing to eat. They say it is also their way to liberate the Mother Land from chemicals, and to defend their community and their values.
Though leaders say they are simply an indigenous community, the squatters/ activists train like an army: running and slithering through the ground like snakes. They claim explosives, mainly artisan-made potato bombs, which the authorities have found are a set-up; or, if the explosives did come from the community, it was the irresponsible behavior of a few bad apples.
Lucho Acosta, an indigenous leader who has been an activist since 1970 when he was 12 years old, tells the camera: “We will not take up arms, but that (we have arms) is what they want in order to justify our deaths.”
Instead of arms, the indian chiefs wave their ancestral walking sticks, which represent the guard and the authority.
There are two issues the documentary brought up which raise eyebrows:
One — The struggle has picked up force since the El Nilo Accords of 1991 have not been honored. The El Nilo Accords are reparations, in the form of land, which the Gaviria administration promised to the indigenous community after admitting the police were involved in a massacre of 21 pacifist indigenous squatters.
Repeatedly, the authorities respond to indigenous protests by burning down the homes and livelihood of their community. These actions are resonant of Marquetalia when the government burnt down the homes of a self-defense movement of peasants who went on to take up arms and comprise the first members of the FARC.
Two — The indigenous activists are including adolescents in the struggle, and in the long-term, they risk becoming child soldiers. In the documentary, a blurred face, whose voice and body reveal she is an adolescent, says, “We will die. But we will die knowing the reason had to do with land.”
You can watch the documentary here.
I agree that it is very, very important to respect the rights of the indigenous and to create a space for the indigenous community, but it is also equally important to respect private property. The documentary’s weakness is it focuses solely on the indigenous point of view. The government side is addressed through media sound bites of presidents and ministers releasing formal-type statements. It is hard to come away with a deeper understanding. A voice-over narrator may have helped to give clarity to the viewer.