Colombia: indigenous peace proposal advanced

An open letter from the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) Nov. 22 outlined an “Indigenous and Popular Peace Proposal” that they are demanding be taken up at the talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels now underway in Havana. The proposal stresses issues not on the agenda at Havana, including the territorial autonomy and traditional authority of Colombia’s indigenous peoples. Indigenous leaders will convene a meeting next month to advance the proposal and press demands for openinig the peace process to popular participation. The meeting will be held at the village of La María de Piendamó, Cauca department, which has been declared a “territory of peace and dialogue.”

The letter applauded the recent decision of the FARC to declare a two-month ceasefire while the talks go forward, and called upon the government to respond in kind. But it stated that violence by armed actors on indigenous lands has not abated. “The situations we have denounced in Cauca and various other zones of the country are the same as ever: assassinations, forced displacements, fields mined or left with unexploded bombs, restrictions of political liberties, and the continuous launching of improvised explosives on the part of the FARC.” Similarly, the Colombian army is continuing to unleash machine-gun fire in indigenous villages under the protext that “the guerillas were here hours ago.” The letter cites the case in the community of La Gallera in resguardo (reservation) Kwe’s Kiwe Nov. 17, in which homes were shot up and a young man of the Nasa indigenous ethnicity was killed by army fire. (Colprensa, Nov. 22)

The FARC made thier ceasefire announcement Nov. 19. Government delegates responded that the FARC must agree to surrender their weapons. and that the army will not withdraw from conflicted areas around the country until a peace deal is signed. Just four days later, an army general charged that two guerillas in Caloto municipality, Cauca, detonated a minefield after luring soldiers to approach using white banners. Gen. Alejandro Navas cited the attack as “evidence of how they have failed to keep their word.”

But the FARC delegation in Havana denied the charge, asserting in a press release that their forces have been in “full compliance” with the truce. “No combat unit of the FARC-EP or the Bolivarian militias operated in that area” on the day of the attack, the statement asserted, using the formal acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army. Instead, the rebel delgation charged the supposed attack was “a dangerous pantomime” by the army. “This strategy of coming up with media shows and televised false flags is an old habit of the army in the regiony,” said the FARC statement. “Because of this, neither the campesinos nor the indigenous of Cauca give them a shred of credibility.” (This last assertion contradicts the ONIC-CRIC statement charging that in fact guerilla attacks continue in Cauca.)

One FARC unit in the field elsewhere in the country admitted to armed actions after the ceasefire took effect, claiming they had not yet received word of it. Members of the FARC’s 36th Front in Antioquia department said that the “electricity pylons were blown up in Reposo, municipality of Campamento, on Nov. 20 because the order to cease fire had not reached the guerrilla unit involved in that action.”

The government and FARC delegations are to convene their own public forum in Bogotá next month to “receive input and proposals coming from citizen participation” on the peace talks. Colombia’s congress, with the support of the UN, held a first public forum on the talks Nov. 4 in the southwestern city of Pasto, Nariño department. Local organizations then demanded more input in the peace process. (Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, BBC News, Nov. 25; Diario del Huila, Dec. 22; BBC News, Nov. 19)

In another attack on indigenous lands, the leader of the Arhuaco people in Colombia’s northern Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Rogelio Mejia Izquierda, survived an apparent assassination attempt Nov. 8. Mejia was shot at, but the bullet went through his hat and just scraped him; the SUV he was riding in was riddled with 40 bullet holes. The attack by unknown armed men took place near Puerto Bello, César department, a village that Arhuaco authorities charge was illegally established by settlers on indigenous lands. “Without having a clear idea at this time of the motives behind the murder attempt, we see it as a grave incident and yet another violation of our people’s rights,” the Arhuaco Resguardo of the Sierra Nevada said in a statement.

The statement also recalled the murders 22 years ago of Arhuaco leaders Luis Napoleon Torres, Hugues Chaparro and Angel Maria Torres by Colombian soldiers, which have gone unpunished to this day, despite censure by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Arhuacos and other indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta—the Koguis, Kankuamos and Wiwas—have for years stood up to pressure from guerillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers, as well as from settlers. (EFE, Nov. 12)