Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | July 24, 2012

Indigenous-government clashes contain the stuff of literature

Last week’s news was a story about heroes standing up for beliefs: on the one side, there were those demanding respect for their religion, their race, and their way of life; on the other side, there were those serving their country. In last week’s clashes between indigenous and government soldiers, it was hard to know who was the hero. The story had characters from which legends and myths can be created.

With make-shift weapons, dirt, and stones, about 1,000 indigenous members of the NASA tribe in Cauca department drove — or as some news sources reported, “expelled” — government soldiers from their post. The soldiers relocated a few feet down the mountain slope, and the indigenous, in a show of civility, helped them carry their provisions to the new site. Aware of how this could end, the soldiers did not let the indigenous near weapons or ammunition.

There were very tense moments: a soldier was physically picked up and carried 10 meters downslope. He was left teary-eyed and humiliated — though proud that he did not respond violently. Indigenous raised machetes and sticks up in the air, threatening, ready to strike. Soldiers fired shots into the air, and dispersed tear gas.

See photos here.

The indigenous said about 250 of their own men will stay on the mountaintop, known as the Berlín Peak, to prevent soldiers from returning. The indigenous said they can enforce the law themselves.

But the government said this area, around Toribio, Cauca, is a natural corridor for drug smuggling; its lush green is ideal for camouflaging, and it lacks the presence of government authority. The coveted spot atop the mountain provides the perfect 360-degree look-out point from which to control and supervise most of the region.

But the indigenous said the Berlín Peak is sacred and they will build a sacred hut there.

But, the government said, the indigenous are FARC accomplices and the FARC have infiltrated the NASA community. Ana Silvia Secue, a spokeswoman for the Cauca-based Multicultural Organization of Colombian Indigenous Peoples (OPIC), claimed that the demonstrators in the Toribio area are directly in league with the FARC. According to Secue, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and the Indigenous Authority of Northern Cauca (ACIN) — the main organizations behind the protests — have a well-established relationship with the FARC and are hoping to push out security forces in order to take pressure off of the insurgents.

No, said the indigenous, we are not FARC anything. The NASA said the point was that they are done being caught in the middle of violent battles between the government and the FARC. The Association of Cabildos of Northern Cauca said the FARC have assassinated 61 of their people in the last few years, and have increased the recruitment of their youth as well as displaced from their land nearly 2,800 indigenous and Mestizo people in Cauca department alone. Further, there have been nearly 400 attacks on Toribio.

The NASA indians went on to hold traditional tribal judgments for four FARC members accused of attacking civilians. The accused face floggings, incarceration, and in the case of native NASA, exile. The  NASA will hand the accused’s weapons to an international organization.

Many in Colombia are outraged by the indigenous’ behavior. But it shows a vibrant robust society; civilians unafraid to stand up for themselves, to shout out and be heard. This is a positive step forward.

I agree with President Santos: the Armed Forces should patrol the area. The Armed Forces must have a presence in every corner of the country.

But the indigenous’ religion, traditions and beliefs also have to be respected. Colombia’s Constitution guarantees autonomy for the nation’s indigenous peoples. The indigenous have the right to exercise control over their designated territories. There must be a way the presence of the Armed Forces is not seen as threat by the indigenous.


Four thousand indigenous and campesinos march in Putumayo

What are the scenarios for a solution in Cauca?


  1. I consider this article valuable for the discussion about the struggle against oblivion that every day the indigenous communities have to give in such an obedient of foreign policies country like ours. Only that the sources like Ana Silvia Secué from the OPIC are devious of a genuine, honest discussion of the problems. You see, the OPIC was created recently by politicians, mainly colaborators of expresident Álvaro Uribe that are trying to undermine the action of the genuinly indigenous organizations of 40 or more years of existence, by dividing the communities functioning as a political party. Please investigate this further so the international community can be aware that the indigenous are struggling since several decades ago not just now that internet exists, or that it`s safer for a foreigner to stay.

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