Indigenous Revolt in Colombia

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
Cauca, a department located in the south of Colombia is home to a large indigenous population who
live cheek by jowl on small plots of land with with the most rancid elements of Colombia's bloody
oligargarchy, who unsurprisingly own vast tracts of land that overlook the indigenous lands !ot for
the first time they are in open revolt challenging the "tate on fundamental #uestions
$hroughout the history of the country, Cauca has been a fre#uent epicentre of popular resistance to the
regime, partly because it was one of the historical centres of colonisation in Colombia and also due to
the large numbers of indigenous people who live there %ust over &'(,))) indigenous people live in
Cauca representing &*+, of its population of *,*(&,))) -n &))( they rose up and fought pitched
battles with the police and then marched on .ogot/ -n the end, they were defeated on that occasion,
but not due to a lack of valour but due to the influence of !G0s 1aving refused to take part in secret
negotiations they obliged the then president 2ribe to attend a public meeting with thousands of
indigenous people in their heartland 1owever, when they got to .ogot/ they went into secret
meetings, were outwitted and lost
!ow they have risen up again $heir fight is a simple one3 they want the military off their lands
4uring the 2ribe regime the militarisation of indigenous lands and peasant highlands e5panded at a
pace not previously seen $he military place their bases in strategic locations fre#uently on or beside
sacred sites $he 2! 4eclaration on the 6ights of -ndigenous 7eople, to which Colombia is a
signatory is #uite clear on the issue, there should be no military activity on indigenous land unless there
is an overwhelming imperative for the 8greater good9 of wider society and in such case this must be
consulted with and agreed by the respective ethnic group !one of this has happened of course
$hus, tired of the army, the beatings, the killings, the rapes, the firefights with the guerrillas the
indigenous rose up and took over the bases e5pelling the soldiers, literally hoisting them on their
shoulders or dragging them through the dirt :an apt punishment for an army used to doing just that to
locals; $he police tried to take back some of the bases taken over and in neighbouring !ari<o, also
home to a large indigenous population the =w/ group tried unsuccessfully to take over a huge military
base in >l 4eviso
$he indigenous are armed only with the short poles, a symbol of authority in their communities, yet en
masse, they surrounded the soldiers disarming them and evicting them from the land they have usurped
for so long $hey have placed the "tate in a fi5 "o far the army and the police have murdered two
indigenous people, however, they were not killed in the takeover of the bases but a checkpoints some
distance from them in what seems to be more an act of revenge =cts of revenge by the military are not
unknown =fter the uprising in &))( the army murdered the husband of =ida ?uilcue, the main
spokesperson for the revolt, and few months later her *' year old daughter was the target of a hand
grenade attack
$he reaction from the "tate and the media has not been unsurprising $he media have mobilised
depicting the indigenous as little more than savages and showing photos of soldiers crying @es, the
soldiers cried, but it was due to their impotence, all their weaponry and murderous capability was no
match for the will of a group of people who were no longer willing to bow the knee El Espectador,
the 8liberal9 newspaper in Colombia ran a headline with a photo of the soldier crying with the title
Displaced $he irony that it is the Colombian army that has displaced literally millions from their land
was not lost on them, it was just ignored $here has been an attempt to portray the army as victims in
the situation -nternational media have come out with headlines 8indignation in Colombia at treatment
of army9, when in fact the indignation is more an invention of the media -t should be borne in mind
that what the indigenous are asking for is to e5ercise full control over their lands in line with the
Colombian Constitution
Aere the army to withdraw or their e5pulsion to be definitive it would give an advantage to the
guerrillas, particularly the B=6C, which is the group with greatest presence in the area 1owever, the
indigenous have stated that they want the B=6C off their lands as well and to that effect have captured
four of them and are currently putting them on trial $hey have refused to hand over the captured
guerrillas to the "tate -t is telling that the B=6C does not enjoy the support of the locals in this area
= guerrilla army that has been in the area for decades should enjoy popular support, that it does not
says a lot
$he #uestion of the guerrillas has been used by the media a lot and they have accused the indigenous of
being in the pay of the guerrillas 1owever, whilst the B=6C have an historical presence in this part of
Cauca, in many areas the guerrillas were not the first armed force to arrive $he presence of the
guerrillas has in a number of cases been a reaction to the presence of the army and not the other way
around -n the indigenous and black collective areas on the pacific coast of Cauca, the first group to
arrive was the army, then the paramilitaries and the drug barons and last but not least the guerrillas
$he issues posed by the indigenous go beyond Cauca, they affect not only all the indigenous and black
collective territories but #uestion the very legitimacy of the "tate's armed forces, which is in itself long
overdue, but was pushed off the agenda by human rights !G0s in the pockets of >uropean
governments $hey say that they have to go easy on the army but that really they think that the army is
a bunch of hired killers in the pay of the "tate 1owever, what they have really done is push the matter
into the background 6eports into killings, massacres, the so called false positives, where the army
dressed up even mentally handicapped children in guerrilla uniforms before killing them, all of these
issues, start with comments on the legitimacy of the armed forces, their work etc -f one positive thing
comes out of this, it will be, perhaps that once again we can state that there is no one in the high
command of the Colombian army who cannot be described as a murdering thug
$he government and the indigenous have convened a round table to discuss the matter =nother defeat
looms large -t is hard to see what if anything can be gained by dialogue 6ecent history proves that
every time the indigenous and the peasantry enter into dialogue behind closed doors they are defeated
$he government promises and never comes through and the communities back off and turn down the
level of struggle whilst they wait for "anta Claus to come early

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