COLOMBIA: INDIGENOUS TOWNS BESIEGED; DAM REPARATIONS WON

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

CAUCA: FARC SEIZE INDIGENOUS TOWNS

Around 5 AM on April 14, hundreds of rebels from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) simultaneously attacked the neighboring municipalities of Jambalo and Toribio in southern Cauca department and fired homemade rockets and other weapons at police. About 98% of the residents of the two municipalities are Nasa indigenous people; their communities have always been clear in rejecting the presence of armed groups in their territory. Toribio is an important town for the Nasa: the Nasa Project, an autonomous indigenous development program, is based there, and Toribio mayor Arquimedes Vitonas is a respected Nasa leader. Vitonas headed a delegation that was held captive for two weeks by the FARC last year.

The government responded to the FARC attack by sending a bomber and helicopters to the area until ground troops could arrive. The assault on Toribio, carried out by the Jacobo Arenas column of the FARC, left a nine-year old child dead, 20 people wounded and 22 homes destroyed. Two police agents--three according to some sources--were also apparently killed, and as many as eight of those wounded may have been police agents.

Hundreds of residents fled for the nearby village of San Francisco, while those unable to leave set up a "permanent assembly" in the local hospital and the offices of the Nasa-run Center of Education, Training and Research for Integral Community Development (CECIDIC). By April 15, members of the Indigenous Guard, an autonomous body which operates under the command of indigenous councils, were handling cleanup and aid duties in the two towns, with support coordinated jointly by the Traditional Authorities of Cauca Department, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN). (ONIC Communiques, April 14, 15; La Republica, Lima, April 15 from EFE; News 24, South Africa, April 15) Combat broke out again in Toribio on April 16. (El Tiempo, Bogota, website, April 17; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, April 17)

On April 15, two unidentified individuals murdered Zenu indigenous leader Hernando Vergara, who served on the leadership council in 2004 of the community of Achiote, in Sampues municipality, in the northern department of Sucre. (ONIC Communique, April 16)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 17

See also WW4 REPORT #103

CORDOBA: INDIGENOUS WIN DAM REPARATIONS

On April 9, a group of 320 Embera Katio protesters--including 60 children--left Bogota and returned to their communities in the Upper Sinu river valley of the northeastern Colombian department of Cordoba, a day after signing an agreement with the government and the company which operates the Urra hydroelectric dam in their territory. The Embera Katio communities declared themselves in permanent assembly on Oct. 31 and seized the Urra company's offices in Monteria, the departmental capital, to demand that the company repair the damage done to their land and livelihood since the dam flooded the area in 1994. After failing to reach an agreement, they took their fight to Bogota, where they arrived on Dec. 22. Early on Dec. 23 government security forces ejected them from the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development, and they spent the next 108 days camped out at the offices of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). Negotiations between the sides finally resumed on March 14.

Under the terms of the new agreement, the Urra company will provide 6.8 billion pesos (about $3 million) for a series of measures to be designed and implemented by the communities with the goal of restoring their self-sufficiency and way of life. The first payment of 4.5 billion pesos was to be paid on April 15, with the installment of 2.3 billion pesos due on April 30. In addition, the company will provide logistical resources for the cleanup and repair effort, and will finance a study to be carried out between May and December of this year to allow the communities to develop a sustainable longterm livelihood strategy. The government committed itself to providing adequate health and education resources for the Embera Katio communities, and also paid for seven buses to take the protesters home and provided food for their trip. An ONIC commission accompanied the Embera on their return. (La Hora, Quito. April 12 from AFP; El Tiempo, Bogota, April 11; El Diario-La Prensa, April 11; Accord, April 18 from ONIC website)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 17 Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #108

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May