Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Indigenous Leader Assassinated in Colombia

Urgent Developments Continue to Unfold in Cauca, Colombia
Indigenous Governor, former member of Council of Chiefs of CRIC – Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, Assassinated over the Weekend

09/28/08 (Spanish Version Follows Below)

RAUL MENDOZA, indigenous governor of the cabildo Peñón, from the municipality of Sotará, and former member of the council of chiefs of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, and ex-president of the Association of Cabildos of Tierradentro, Nasa Uus, was assassinated in cold blood, at 4:00pm, on September 28, when he was in his room, in his home, located in the Barrio Solidaridad in the city of Popayán, Cauca’s departmental capital.

The indigenous governor was leading an important process connected to the campaign for the Liberation of Mother Earth, in the Los Naranjos estate, located in the municipality of Sotará, which had been claimed by the displaced Nasa community that was affected by the earthquake and avalanche that took place in Tierradentro in 1994. The Naranjos estate had not been properly handed over to the community, despite the fact that they had carried out every necessary step required by the INCODER, The Colombian Institute for Rural Development, to do so. This is the result of the negligence of the national government, which prevented the negotiation over the land titles through the Municipal Council for Rural Development.

In the last few weeks, the Indigenous Governor Mendoza had made repeated pronouncements, before organisms of the state, as well as to the office dealing with indigenous issues, about ongoing threats against his life and the community as a whole, but to no avail. This situation of threats led the indigenous authorities, organized under the banner of CRIC, to release a missive on August 22, 2008, where they energetically rejected the ongoing threats, specifically three attacks against the community within the cabildo of “El Peñon”, carried out by the public force (Cauca Police), in an area peacefully occupied by sectors of the community for the last three years.

The death of an Indigenous Leader, like the one that occurred today, is part of a chain of assassinations that have been carried out in the last eight days against leaders of social organizations in the department of Cauca, like the case of Ever González of CIMA, and César Marín of the ANUC.

Through these means, the ominous threats carried out in an anonymous fashion by paramilitaries who called themselves “campesinos embejucados” or “angry peasants,” sent to the offices of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN on August 11th, are materializing. These same threats are also manifest in the irresponsible accusations made by the President of the Republic regarding social protests, for example, his offer of rewards to break the unity of the indigenous communities of Cauca, and his claim in a Community Council he held on September 27, where he linked the just struggles of the sugar cane workers, now on strike for over two weeks, with the guerillas of FARC.

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, calls on human rights organizations, the international community, on neighboring countries who are fighting for a more just and democratic society, to remain on high alert and to express solidarity with the social processes that continue to get attacked by violence promoted from the spheres of the central government of Colombia.

In the face of these acts, the indigenous people of Cauca remain firm in our commitment to work in Minga, in a state of social and community resistance, expressing in unison that the word will not be silenced and our march will not be stopped!

CONSEJERÍA MAYOR – Council of Chiefs
Popayán, septiembre 28 de 2008

Alerta Social en el Departamento del Cauca – Colombia Asesinado Gobernador Indígena, Ex Consejero Mayor del CRIC 09/29/2008

Autor: CRIC

RAUL MENDOZA, gobernador indígena del cabildo Peñón Municipio de Sotará, Ex consejero Mayor CRIC y Expresidente de la Asociación de cabildos de los reasentamientos de Tierradentro, Nasa Uus, fue vilmente asesinado, a las cuatro de la tarde del día 28 de septiembre, cuando se encontraba en su casa de habitación ubicada en el Barrio Solidaridad de la ciudad de Popayán.

El gobernador indígena venía liderando un importante proceso de Liberación de La Madre Tierra, en la Finca Los Naranjos, situada en el municipio de Sotará, reclamada por la comunidad Nasa desplazada por la avalancha de Tierradentro de 1994. Dicha finca no fue adquirida, a pesar de contar con todos los procedimientos requeridos por el Incoder, por la negligencia del gobierno nacional que obstaculizó la negociación a través del Consejo Municipal de Desarrollo Rural.

En el último periodo el gobernador indígena había denunciado ante los organismos de Control del Estado y ante la dirección de etnias, mediante oficio sin respuesta, dirigido al doctor Heriberto Herrera, director encargado de esa entidad, sobre las reiteradas amenazas contra la comunidad y su propia vida. Situación por la cual las autoridades indígenas del departamento del Cauca organizadas en el Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, emitieron, el 22 de agosto de 2008, un pronunciamiento de RECHAZO ENÉRGICO frente a los atropellos que en tres ocasiones había sido víctima la comunidad indígena organizada en el cabildo de “El Peñon”, municipio de Sotará, por parte de la fuerza pública (Policía Cauca), en el predio denominado “Sección Los Robles”, ocupado de forma pacífica desde hace tres años.

La muerte de una Autoridad Indígena, como la sucedida el día de hoy, hace parte de la cadena de asesinatos realizados con sevicia en los últimos ocho días, sobre líderes de organizaciones sociales del departamento del Cauca, como los casos de Ever González del CIMA y César Marín de la ANUC; por medio de los cuales se vienen materializando las amenazas proferidas de forma encubierta, como las de los paramilitares que se autodenominan “campesinos embejucados” y los señalamientos irresponsables del presidente de la República a la protesta social, ejemplo de ello el ofrecimiento de recompensas para romper la unidad indígena del Cauca y la aseveración en el Consejo Comunitario del 27 de septiembre, donde relaciona las justas luchas de los corteros de la caña con la guerrilla de las farc.

El Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC, llama a los organismos de derechos humanos, la comunidad internacional, a los países hermanos que trabajan por una sociedad justa y democrática para que estén alerta y se solidaricen con los procesos sociales que vienen siendo atropellados por la violencia promovida desde las esferas del gobierno central de Colombia.

Ante estos hechos los pueblos indígenas del Cauca mantenemos nuestra decisión de continuar en la Minga de Resistencia Social y Comunitaria, expresando al unísono que no se calle la palabra ni se detenga el andar

CONSEJO REGIONAL INDÍGENA DEL CAUCA –CRIC- Popayán, septiembre 28 de 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Brief Look Back at the VI Encounter of the Network of University Radio Stations of Colombia, RRUC

Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia
September 25-27, 2008

Like most conferences focused on media that I’ve participated in over the years in the U.S., Colombia and around the world, the Sixth Encounter of the Network of University Radio Stations of Colombia, RRUC, provided an interesting mix of social/cultural discussion and debate, with the more practical concerns of economic sustainability and technical/normative issues affecting the many stations participating in the network.

There was a lot of talk about future collaborative projects for the network, and considerable attention was paid to RRUC’s relationship to state entities like the Ministry of Communication. A diverse mix of representatives from every region of the country was present at the conference, sharing experiences and concerns about the state of University Radio in Colombia, and its outlook for the future.

What I was surprised – and a bit disappointed, I might add - not to hear too much about in the three days of meetings that took place in the Universidad del Norte in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, was information about the internal political dynamics within the country’s many campuses, relating to student activism and mobilization, and how these issues may or may not unfold in the radio signals that are emanating from those distinct locales. Indeed, there was an almost total absence of student participants in the conference, even though it was held on the beautiful campus of one of the most important universities in the country, home to Uninorte Estereo, the university station celebrating its 25th anniversary this week.

This observation is not meant to be a criticism of the conference or its organizers. I actually enjoyed myself there, and learned a great deal about the history and current state of college radio in Colombia. All the people I spoke to are very creative, committed individuals, doing some incredible work in their respective universities. Indeed, RRUC’s ongoing efforts to strengthen their national network of like-minded people who are producing a wide range of programming content to many distinct audiences should be applauded, and are most certainly necessary, if one considers the current media environment in which they are operating, one that is dominated by a handful of massive corporate conglomerates whose missions are driven by rampant, almost religious commercial consumerism, and deliberate exclusion.

The limited political discussions that took place in the three day gathering is perhaps more a reflection of the fact that in a majority of the 31 university radio stations that make up the network, especially the oldest ones, the cultural mission of providing audiences with concrete musical alternatives within a larger package of “educating the listeners,” as several of the stations proudly proclaim, outweighs the social or participatory mission of these stations. The conventional wisdom is that citizen participation in media production is reserved more for the many community stations operating in over 500 municipalities around the country. High-brow cultural programming is considered to be the primary purpose of many of the university stations, whether they are commercial licensees or so-called public interest stations. With very little attention paid to the issues of student involvement at the stations, the role the stations might play in strengthening citizenship engagement, not only on campus, but within the local communities that the stations serve, was very difficult to assess.

In essence, of all the many presentations and panels at the event, only two focused on the issues of community and citizen involvement at the university radio stations. The first was the talk by Jaime Abello, the national coordinator of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, FNPI, the press association founded by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez. Abello painted a broad landscape of the state of news media today, not only in Colombia, but on a global scale. He made a strong case for the need for University radio stations in Colombia to strengthen its commitment to comprehensive journalism, one that goes beyond the already solid cultural reporting that is common in many of the older college stations in the country. He reminded the audience of the social responsibility the stations and universities have to their localities, and that one of those responsibilities include providing the audiences with investigative and well-researched information that can offset, even if on a small scale, many of the inherent flaws of mainstream, commercial news organizations.

The second presentation that addressed the social responsibility of university radio stations was provided by, well, yours truly. I had been invited to present a keynote speech about this broad topic by the current national director of the RRUC, Guillermo Gaviria, a Julliard School graduate and seasoned musician who happens to be the head of the Javeriana Stereo in Bogotá, one of the strongest university stations in all of Colombia. I focused on the role of the students in the spaces of broadcasting, keeping in mind that as educators and as broadcasters, most of us working in University radio have dual responsibilities: one to our audiences, and two, and perhaps more important, to our students.

Just as community radio can contribute to the building of citizen participation in local settings by engaging volunteer programmers in the creation of their own messages, university radio can and should do the same, albeit under different circumstances. Challenging the notion that students were generally incapable of thinking critically and producing responsible news and information programming content for a broad audience, an opinion expressed to me by several station directors in the room prior to my talk, I discussed the importance of hearing the voices of young people in these spaces. It opened an interesting discussion amongst the participants, many of whom openly acknowledged the limited participation of students in the broader direction, production and planning of the respective stations.

I should point out there was a broad cross section of stations represented in the conference, and, just as in US College radio, there are many different levels of student and community participation in each station. The directors of the radio stations in the University of Córdoba in Monteria, of Magdalena University in Santa Marta, and several other stations, said they were committed to strengthening and maintaining student involvement in their radio projects. Others pointed to their station’s close connection to community organizations and civic groups as evidence that the stations do reserve a social mission.

Nevertheless, I was especially intrigued by my conversation with the director of the radio station licensed to the University of Nariño, in the southwestern city of Pasto, Miguel López Guerrero, who specifically said theirs is a “very activist-oriented campus,” and this activism finds its way daily onto the airwaves of the radio station, something that doesn’t happen too often in other places. López and his colleague, Germán Avila, of the northeastern city of Barrancabermeja, in Norte de Santander, have established an alternative news and commentary website, Red de Prensa Alternativa del Sur Occidente Colombiano, that they see as a watchdog to the many examples of misinformation that finds its way into the mainstream news channels ( ).

Identifying themselves as “independent, politically-minded progressives,” both López and Avila expressed alarm as to why the RRUC conference did not take up controversial issues such as the persecution of students on campuses across the country, particularly directed against those students critical of the current government. They agreed with my general assessment that college radio has to be a space for democratic dialogue and open debate about a broad cross section of issues affecting the community. But that “due to political pressures from University Rectors, powerful local interests, and the government ministries regulating broadcasting, nobody really wants to rock the boat” with truly critical programming. In essence, they were challenging the autonomy and independence of the university radio stations, something that other participants in the conference had expressed deep concerns about.

I’ll have more on the conference and my observations about community and popular media in the coming days.

For now, take a look at the RRUC site that I linked to the left, and the "rpasur" site, which is pretty incredible as an alternative news source.

Members of the RRUC, at the VI Encounter of University Radio in Colombia.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Some Thoughts About Uribe's UN Visit

What Alvaro Uribe Won’t Talk About at the United Nations This Week, (But Probably Discussed with President Bush Over the Weekend)

By Mario A. Murillo (Bogotá, Colombia)

Was Uribe Snubbed in Washington?

At a certain level, I must admit, I almost felt sorry for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe last week. His high-profile visit to Washington was unexpectedly shortened because it became readily apparent that members of the U.S. Congress were not really interested in hearing his last ditch effort to get them to approve the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, FTA.

The President had hoped to spend a few days lobbying both Democrats and Republicans about the need to give the bilateral trade deal a green light before they broke up for a long winter’s nap in a few weeks. But Congressional leaders, who have been so caught up in the ongoing battles of a tight election campaign, expressed that they had very little time – and probably less of a stomach – to sit down with this close friend of outgoing President Bush to discuss trade issues that, for the most part, are not very popular in the current U.S. economic context of banks going belly-up, housing and stock prices plummeting, and the Federal Government bailing out one of the country’s largest private insurers. Clearly they were not interested. This was not the time. Come back next year.

But with the propaganda skills that he has honed to perfection, Uribe was quick to save face about the abrupt “change in plans.” He too had been tied up with a regional forum in Santiago to discuss the crisis in Bolivia, so it wasn’t only the gringos who were too busy to meet with him. And besides, just before leaving Bogotá for the U.S., one of the two men who will most likely replace Bush come January actually called Uribe by telephone and talked with him for a grand total of 12 minutes! Despite the cool relations between Senator Barack Obama and the Colombian President, tensions that stem from the Democratic Candidate’s stated opposition to the FTA, Uribe reveled in the attention he received from the soon-to-be-President of the United States of America. The brief telephone call made front-page headlines in Colombia, allowing Uribe to bask in the glare of self-importance, while once again exposing to the world the profound levels of subservience that continue to dictate relations between the two countries, regardless of who occupies the White House.

That was last week.

Since then, Uribe has met behind closed doors with the lame-duck and highly discredited George W. Bush, a mutual love fest that marked the end of a long and close relationship between two leaders cut out of the same political cloth. At a joint news conference at the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, Bush called on his successor to stand beside Uribe in the interest of the United States, and pushed the Congress to approve the FTA in order to avoid giving more ammunition to “populists in our neighborhood,” referring of course to the democratically-elected Presidents in Bolivia and Venezuela. Again, front page news in Colombia, nary a mention in the U.S.

In the wake of that triumphant photo-op, Uribe is now planning a series of very important meetings in New York, the financial capital of the world which last week suffered through a psychological trauma not felt since 9/11, or worse yet, the Great Depression. Again, Uribe’s timing could not be more off. Nevertheless, he’s hoping to make the most of it, at least in the Colombian press, which continues to provide Uribe with a thick coating of Teflon, regardless of what he does or where he goes, nor the disturbing conditions on the ground in Colombia.

The list of dignitaries he is meeting with this week is quite impressive: French President Nicholas Sarkozy, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the head of the European Union’s Foreign Ministry Javier Solana, and former hostage and “opposition candidate” Ingrid Betancourt. Uribe will address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

Which makes one wonder what exactly Uribe will be telling all these very important people while in New York? One would guess these leaders will get an earful from Uribe about the controversial “Operation Jaque” that led to the release of Betancourt, as well as the other so-called successes of his “democratic security” strategy. Certainly he will make the arguments about the urgent need to sustain this approach in the coming years in the interest of regional stability. Did anybody say “re-election?”

Some Disturbing Questions Should Be Raised, But Will They?
There is no doubt, however, that there are a number of issues that will not come up in these many high profile encounters. Or at least there are some things that President Uribe would prefer not be brought up during his visit, lest they interfere with the carefully crafted message he brings with him.

For example, there’s the growing evidence pointing to his administration’s cozy relationship with top paramilitary leaders, including the now widespread acknowledgement that members of his government met several times with representatives of these international criminals in the Presidential Palace. Apparently, these “underground” encounters – literally in the Palace basement- were designed to plan a collective response to the so-called “para-política” scandal, which over the last two years has led to the arrest of and investigation into dozens of members of the Colombian Congress, and the government, who just so happen to be allies of the President.

There’s also the uncomfortable issue of the widespread corruption within the prosecutor’s office in Uribe’s native town Medellín, where the chief prosecutor, Guillermo León Valencia Cossio, was forced to resign after recordings of his conversations with Juan Felipe Sierra, the business representative of paramilitary boss Daniel Rendón, alias “Don Mario,” were made public in August. Since then, a number of top police and security officials in Colombia’s second largest city have been implicated in the corruption link, forcing them to resign as investigations into their ties with paramilitaries widen. While Uribe has publicly characterized these revelations as “lamentable,” it has been difficult not to notice that Valencia Cossio’s brother, Fabio, Uribe’s Minister of Interior and Justice, has lost all credibility within the Congress and other opposition circles, especially in the area of the reform of Colombia’s justice system.

Indeed, the unfolding revelations of links between government officials and paramilitary leaders is lending more credence than ever before to the accusations that opposition figures have been making for some time: that for the last six years, the Uribe government has been overseeing the consolidation of a paramilitary-state with close ties to some of the country’s most powerful private economic interests, all under the watch of a compliant Washington. As I have written in previous posts, this process has come at the expense of some of the most dynamic movements of community organization and mobilization that we’ve seen in recent years in Colombia, particularly in indigenous communities. Therefore, while Uribe proudly touts the accomplishments of his policies before the United Nations, and with all the world leaders he will be meeting with in the coming days, I feel it is important to keep in mind some of these alarming issues and trends that will most likely be kept off his agenda.

Former Cauca Governor and Uribe’s Ambassador to D.R. A Paramilitary?
One of the clearest examples of the expansive paramilitary-government axis can be seen in the southwestern department of Cauca, where another recently revealed component of the para-state scandal involves the former governor of Cauca, Juan José Chaux. In late August, President Uribe was forced to acknowledge to the press that lawyers of para-military leaders Diego Álvarez, alias “Don Berna,” and Antonio López, alias “Job,” attended a meeting at the Presidential Palace with high level government officials back in April. What was not mentioned in this press conference was that Chaux was also present at this meeting.

According to a report in Semana magazine, the meeting in the Palace was a great opportunity for Chaux to try to clear his name. This was because “Job” was seen as a direct link to “don Berna,” who in turn could persuade another major paramilitary leader, Ever Veloza, alias “H.H.,” from providing any more information to investigators about Chaux’ ties to the AUC. It turns out that Veloza had revealed to investigators in November 2007 that Chaux had met with the leadership of the notorious Calima Block of the AUC a few years back to seek support for his gubernatorial campaign, support the imprisoned paramilitary leader says was instrumental in Chaux’ eventual victory in Cauca. The startling revelations of his direct ties to the paramilitaries forced Chaux to resign last week from his post as Uribe’s Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. This is the same Chaux who, as governor of Cauca, proclaimed “Not one more millimeter of land for the Indians,” all the while enriching himself with the illegal wealth generated by paramilitary terror.

The endemic contradictions in these developments become even more pronounced if one considers the harsh conditions of warfare that the indigenous communities in Cauca are facing today, despite the grandiose claims of the government about the successes of the U.S.-backed democratic security strategy. Last week, as Uribe made his rounds painting a rosy picture about Colombia for his audiences in Washington, an all-out war was being waged in the indigenous towns of Toribio and Jambaló in northern Cauca, resulting in the death of at least one local in Jambaló. Another target of the fighting over the last few days was La Emperatriz estate in the municipality of Caloto, where indigenous activists have been mobilizing for years, demanding a return of lands to the communities victimized by the 1991 massacre of 20 Nasa activists, perpetrated by government forces with local paramilitaries.

The latest confrontations between the national police, the army, and guerillas of the FARC in these areas lasted several days, between September 18th and 21st, and were characterized by sniper fire, low-flying helicopters, and the launching of rudimentary explosives by FARC rebels into Toribio.

These and other confrontations are often described by the government as a necessary byproduct of the military’s efforts to counter the pervasive presence of guerillas in indigenous territories. As FARC rebels continue to operate in indigenous territories, the government argues, the state security apparatus will continue to respond in kind. Televised reports over the weekend made it appear as if the indigenous communities themselves were attacking state security forces in the area.

Eyewitnesses in turn, have described a completely different scenario, one that deliberately tries to link the autonomous indigenous movement with the guerillas of FARC in order to justify a military response. The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, put out a series of emergency communiqués last week, describing a pattern of strange activity in the region by what seemed to be agents of the state. This included the presence of unmarked cars with tinted windows that continuously passed by the offices of ACIN and their community-licensed radio station in Santander de Quilichao throughout those three days. Some of those same cars were also seen driving back and forth from Caloto to the town of El Palo, where some of the fiercest confrontations took place. According to ACIN, it should be seen as no coincidence that the confrontations escalated just as these suspicious vehicles made their presence felt.

For the mostly indigenous inhabitants of these areas in Northern Cauca, the constant fighting has “converted the territory of the great people – el Gran Pueblo - into a theater of operations in permanent dispute through the use of terror and death.” Local indigenous leaders are denouncing the presence of all armed actors in their territories, and see the almost daily incursions as a deliberate attempt to destabilize their movement and their demands for autonomy, and respect for their territorial rights.

As I’ve written in previous posts, the fight in Cauca remains focused on the issue of land and territory. Among the many challenges facing indigenous communities in the current context is developing a national strategy to confront the egregious counter-reform process that has been unfolding vis a vis territorial control under the government of Alvaro Uribe, whose own minister of agriculture proudly proclaimed “no more land reform” in 2003. At the time, he was referring to the dissolution of the Colombian Institute of Land Reform, INCORA, which was replaced by a toothless multi-faceted agency with 20% of INCORA’s original budget, now known as The Colombian Institute for Rural Development, or INCODER. The INCODER, for all intents and purposes, has been tasked to oversee the dismantling of collective land titles in the interest of opening up vast chunks of the Colombian national territory for private domestic development and foreign investment. Therefore, the uneven concentration of land will remain for the near future, given the limited budget and the generally weak mandate of INCODER under the Uribe government. This is not a coincidence.

Land Reform and Paramilitaries
There is a powerful sector of Colombia’s political and economic class that continue to make the erroneous argument that land reform is no longer necessary in an era of smaller government, open markets, and corporate globalization. Among them is the former Ambassador Chaux, whose public declarations against the indigenous movement when he was governor of Cauca were eerily reminiscent of the dirty war communiqués put out by AUC death squads throughout the Colombian countryside.

These are the same people who take offense to the indigenous community’s demands about the reintegration of land into their territories and the expansion of the resguardos, issues that were addressed in favor of the indigenous communities in the new Constitution of 1991. This powerful alliance of paramilitaries and the economic/political elite of Cauca has been fiercely opposed to returning any lands to indigenous communities, even those that previous governments had already agreed to surrender based on settlements like the one over the Nilo massacre in 1991. For these private interests and their puppets in government, represented faithfully by the Uribe Administration, the current, perversely imbalanced distribution of land in the country is not a problem: 61.2% of the land is concentrated in the hands of 0.4% of the overall population, which is less than 15,000 private landowners. Compare that with 57.3% of the country’s population controlling less than 1.7% of all the land, mostly smaller holdings of less than 3 hectares. It is evident that the bigger problem for the current government is not this uneven concentration of land, but the collective land titles of Afro-Colombian communities, and the resguardos of the indigenous population.

In Cauca, the struggle for land reform has been among the most visible in the country, and has resulted in some of the most dramatic acts of mobilization in recent years, as well as confrontations between indigenous communities and state forces. But any efforts to truly address the community’s demands have been set back by the intransigence of the Minister of Agriculture and other government officials, all of whom have been pressured by traditional landowners in the department to resist at all costs any attempt to hand over land to the indigenous population.

The Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, is one of the most outspoken advocates of the proportional argument with regards to the population of the indigenous community and the amount of land that they collectively control. In advocating for the Law for Rural Development in 2006, he openly talked about the need to reduce the size of the indigenous resguardos in order to more adequately serve the proportion of the population living within those territories, saying that the current system was not economically sustainable in the long term, and was getting in the way of large-scale agribusiness that is ultimately in the best economic interest of the entire country.

In making this argument, he fails to acknowledge that 95% of the land that make up the resguardos is not suitable for agriculture, because they are located in dense forests, high altitude mountain peaks, and in areas in close proximity to important sources of water. This leads the indigenous communities to suspect that the government’s intentions are more directed at opening up some of these sensitive areas to the development of so-called megaproyectos, or mega-projects, funded in large part by foreign investment. These mega-projects – dams, roadways, large-scale extractive mining developments - run counter to the indigenous philosophy of ecological balance and defense of the environment. The FTA that Uribe is openly promoting in Washington would facilitate this process of territorial consolidation.

To make matters worse, the government’s position regarding land reform conveniently ignores the long history of the deliberate, violent expulsion of indigenous, peasant and Afro-Colombian people from their territories in the interest of large landholders. The resguardo system was set up precisely as a result of the pressures from the indigenous communities who survived the genocide of the Spanish colonialists, and was not originally meant to be a long-term resolution to the unequal distribution of land throughout Colombia. This was at the heart of the earliest struggles of the indigenous movement.

The government’s current intransigence, therefore, deliberately fails to recognize the primordial importance of the concept of “territory” for the cultural, social and political affirmation of indigenous autonomy. In essence, they are completely reversing the 1991 Constitution, and declaring as irrelevant the reasons why indigenous communities participated in the Constituent Assembly in the first place.

The current government is utilizing mechanisms of the past in order to diminish the possibility of true land reform, and to allow those sectors which have either violently taken control of, or fraudulently co-opted properties, to maintain permanent control of those territories. It is a 21st century manifestation of the dismantling of the resguardos, a process that stems back to the post-independence period in Colombian history.

It cannot be overemphasized the impact the paramilitary project of the last 20 years has had, both on land reform for agricultural development, and on mining and the extraction of natural resources. This process has fundamentally altered the control of land throughout the country, with profoundly destructive consequences for the communities that have been targeted. Many human rights advocates, political economists, and historians have argued that the paramilitary strategy was deliberately executed as a way to displace indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other peasant populations from their territories in order to surrender those territories to private interests completely alien to the communities.

The brutal violence and the forced displacement that followed was justified by the AUC leadership and their political mouthpieces as a necessary evil that was required in order to dislodge the guerillas from their base. It is a deliberately misleading argument that for various reasons has been generally embraced by the Colombian middle and upper classes, who, for years, have been spoon-fed large doses of guerilla atrocities on the nightly news, while hearing much less about the political strategy behind the paramilitary terror that was being waged simultaneously, with the complicity of the state.

Today, there is widespread acceptance that the paramilitaries were deeply entrenched in the illicit, global drug trade, and as a result, its leaders have been widely condemned in the media. However, because of the manner in which the demobilization process with the AUC was executed by the Uribe administration, very little information about the so-called legitimate political and economic interests behind the AUC has been widely disseminated through mainstream channels. The truth has been tragically compromised as a result.

Only now, through the heroic efforts of human rights and social justice activists, victims of paramilitary terror, and their allies within independent sectors of the Colombian news media, is it becoming clearer how profound these connections are between so-called “illegitimate actors,” and the apparently “legal” political, and economic forces that dominate Colombian politics, all the way up to the highest reaches of power.

The paramilitary state is being exposed, slowly but surely. The emperor indeed, has no clothes. Whether or not the people visiting with Uribe this week in New York will understand this - from the fancy U.N. cocktails, to the private V.I.P. meetings, from the open forums in the Colombian community, to the local news media – is a completely different issue.

Mario A. Murillo is author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization. He is currently living in Colombia.

Friday, September 19, 2008

More on the Attack on La Emperatriz - Cauca

URGENTE!!! Ataque en “ La Emperatriz ”-Caloto-Cauca
09/19/2008 Autor: Tejido de Comunicación y Relaciones para la Verdad y la Vida

A la 1:33 a.m. y hasta la 1:55 a.m., se escucharon disparos de fusil y armas cortas en ráfagas intensas, al igual que explosiones que parecían provenir de morteros y posiblemente un cilindro o granadas. En este momento, siendo las 2:25 a.m., no se escuchan más explosiones ni disparos. Parece ser que una ambulancia salió de La Emperatriz con destino al Hospital de Caloto.

La información proviene de autoridades, comuneras y comuneros que se encuentran en cercanías del lugar de los hechos. En la hacienda “ La Selva ”, se encuentran unas 30 mujeres con sus hijas e hijos en un encuentro que se viene desarrollando allí por parte del Programa Mujer de la ACIN. La Selva se encuentra frente a la hacienda La Emperatriz, separada de esta por la vía Panamericana que de Caloto conduce a El Palo en el municipio de Caloto. Estas mujeres y sus hijos se encuentran asustadas por la intensidad de las explosiones y disparos y no se han asomado.


Durante todo el día 18 de Septiembre se observó un vehículo sospechoso, marca Mazda, con vidrios polarizados de modo que sus ocupantes no pudieron ser identificados, que pasó en repetidas ocasiones frente a las sedes de la ACIN y el Tejido de Comunicación en Santander de Quilichao. Generalmente un vehículo de la Policía Nacional seguía al Mazda cada vez que pasaba. Se ha notado la presencia de vehículos con vidrios polarizados, sin placas, parqueados frente a la URI de la Fiscalía en el centro de Santander de Quilichao. Simultáneamente, comuneros de Huellas-Caloto, observaron vehículos y motocicletas sospechosos pasando por la vía Caloto-El Palo durante todo el día. Se trata de vehículos costosos, nuevos, que circulan lentamente por esta vía.

Estos hechos se dan en el contexto de un ataque por parte de sicarios de la Policía, plenamente identificados por la comunidad y las autoridades indígenas en el día de ayer, en el que resultó herido un joven civil. Estos dispararon ráfagas contra civiles a plena luz del día, desde una motocicleta sin placas que ya había sido utilizada por un agente encubierto de la Policía la semana pasada. Ambos hechos fueron reportados oportunamente por nosotros. Los miembros de la fuerza pública (ESMAD y Policía) involucrados en estos hechos, manifestaron su ira y una actitud agresiva contra la comunidad en la tarde de ayer. Tememos que se trate de una retaliación o de un montaje como reacción de la fuerza pública frente a lo descubierto y denunciado.

Hasta este momento, nadie ha podido acercarse al lugar de los hechos para corroborar lo sucedido ya que se teme por la seguridad de civiles. Aclaramos que las autoridades no tienen información de que haya indígenas o comuneros dentro de la Hacienda La Emperatriz. En consecuencia, los hechos no involucrarían a comuneros indígenas. A esta hora, la gente del resguardo que habita en las inmediaciones, se encuentra aterrorizada, fuera de sus casas. Esperando la presencia de delegados de instituciones humanitarias y medios de comunicación.

Denunciamos este hecho de guerra en inmediaciones de la población civil rodeada por una fuerza pública que ha sido descubierta en acciones ilegales de terrorismo. No podemos descartar una confrontación entre grupos armados.

Llamamos con urgencia a quienes reciban esta nota a exigir por parte de los medios, los organismos de derechos humanos, la Defensoría del Pueblo y la Procuraduría , hacer presencia de inmediato en el lugar de los hechos, exigir un esclarecimiento de la verdad y movilizar todos los recursos y medios en respaldo de la comunidad y nuestro proceso.

Nos atacan de manera sistemática en todo el territorio en los últimos meses, en acciones que se intensifican y que combinan el terror, acciones de guerra de todos los grupos armados, agresiones legales, económicas, propaganda difamatoria contra el proceso e inclusive infiltraciones por parte de sectas religiosas que promueven la disolución del proceso, en el marco del Plan Colombia Fase II.

Revivimos lo que sentimos la noche del 16 de Diciembre de 1991, cuando se escucharon ráfagas y explosiones y quedaron masacrados 20 comuneras y comuneros en la Hacienda El Nilo, en masacre cometida por paramilitares, hacendados, la fuerza pública y narcotraficantes. Entonces, como ahora, habíamos sido víctimas de amenazas de terratenientes, falsamente encubiertos como campesinos (Campesinos Embejucados de Colombia). El 11 de Agosto recibimos una amenaza racista de exterminio contra el pueblo Páez. El lenguaje utilizado coincide con el que usaba el Gobernador Juan José Cháux en público y en privado para referirse a nosotros, fomentando odio y agresión. El mismo Cháux que ahora se encuentra implicado por su complicidad con paramilitares, quienes le ayudaron a llegar a la Gobernación y en cuya compañía llegó recientemente a la Casa de Nariño en hechos que conoce la opinión pública. Todo esto bajo el Gobierno de un Presidente de la República que ha ofrecido recompensa por nuestras cabezas y nos ha llamado criminales por denunciar agresiones y violaciones a nuestros derechos.

Vengan de donde vengan las bombas y las balas, la intención es destruir nuestro proceso. Convocamos una amplia denuncia Nacional e Internacional y les mantendremos informadas e informados.

Tejido de Comunicación y Relaciones para la Verdad y la Vida
ACIN Cxab Wala Kiwe
Santander de Quilichao
Septiembre 19 de septiembre de 2008, 2:58 a.m.

Urgent Situation in Cauca: Informe desde la Emperatriz

Informe desde la Emperatriz


Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca]

Llamamos a quienes son solidarios con nuestro compromiso con la vida y la justicia a acompañarnos en esta situación y a ayudarnos a esclarecer la verdad y a que se haga justicia, sin permitir que nos involucren en un conflicto armado que es el mecanismo fundamental para atacar nuestro proceso.

En estos momentos, ha retornado la calma en el Municipio de Caloto y en el Resguardo de Huellas-Caloto, en particular en la hacienda La Emperatriz.

Hechos recientes

A lo informado en comunicados anteriores agregamos hasta el momento lo siguiente:

1. La vía de Santander de Quilichao a Caloto se encuentra cerrada en la vereda de San Nicolás, exactamente en la cima de la colina desde donde se desciende al casco urbano de Caloto. Esto se debe a que allí explotó una bomba a las 4:19 a.m., según informes preliminares de soldados presentes en el área. Allí murió un soldado y otro herido fue trasladado a un hospital.

2. No hay presencia evidente de fuerza pública en la vía Panamericana que comunica a Caloto con El Palo. Dentro de la hacienda La Emperatriz, hay presencia de soldados y arribó el CTI.

3. Según versiones de comuneras y comuneros presentes en la vía Panamericana frente a La Emperatriz, personal del ejército venía recogiendo vainillas y otra evidencia alrededor de las 6 a.m.

4. Una versión de comuneros locales se refiere a que una camioneta se detuvo en el área donde hubo combates unos 15 minutos antes de que comenzaran y se retiró del lugar de los hechos antes de que se iniciaran los disparos y explosiones.

5. Al parecer hubo un soldado muerto y otro herido en las piernas en la Emperatriz

6. Hasta el momento no ha sido posible documentar ni descartar la presencia de otras personas, ajenas a la Fuerza Pública en la Emperatriz. Esto es motivo de indagación e investigación por parte de las autoridades indígenas.

7. Caracol Televisión informó que alrededor de las 2 de la mañana, la Policía Militar adjunta al Batallón Pichincha fue atacada con explosivos y disparos en la hacienda La Emperatriz, donde murió un soldado y resultó gravemente herido otro. Hacia las 4 de la mañana cuando refuerzos del ejército se dirigían hacia el sitio de los hechos, fueron víctimas de un atentado con explosivos en el sitio de San Nicolás donde murió un soldado y otro quedó herido. Los dos heridos fueron transportados a la Clínica Valle del Lili en Cali. Las versiones que viene dando RCN son tendenciosas en la medida en que insinúan una agresión por parte de indígenas contra la Fuerza Pública sin que hasta el momento exista evidencia de que este sea el caso.

Las Autoridades de la ACIN, reafirmamos nuestro compromiso con la posición del proceso en el sentido de no involucrarnos ni tomar parte en el conflicto armado y en consecuencia exigimos respeto por nuestras comunidades y proceso. Esta agresión, venga de dónde venga, es un ataque contra nuestra dignidad, territorio y resistencia pacífica. Lamentamos la muerte y heridas de las víctimas. Extendemos nuestras condolencias a sus familias.

Llamamos a quienes son solidarios con nuestro compromiso con la vida y la justicia a acompañarnos en esta situación y a ayudarnos a esclarecer la verdad y a que se haga justicia, sin permitir que nos involucren en un conflicto armado que es el mecanismo fundamental para atacar nuestro proceso.

Resguardo de Huellas, Caloto, Cauca
Septiembre 19 de 2008.
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca
ACIN-Cxab Wala Kiwe

Listado General de Noticias

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crisis in Andes: Some Thoughts About Bolivia and Colombia

The Final Offensive for the U.S. Colombia Free Trade Agreement is a Stark Contrast to Other Developments in the Hemisphere

(Bogotá, Colombia, September 12th, 2008)

While the eyes of the world focus on the internal crisis in Bolivia and the unfolding tensions in the Andean region, the pro-Bush government of Colombia is engaged in one of its most intensive lobbying efforts in recent memory, a full court press that will culminate with the visit next week of President Alvaro Uribe to Washington.

It’s amazing how in one country of the hemisphere, an indigenous president, Evo Morales, is openly confronting the U.S., accusing it of meddling in its internal affairs by fomenting unrest in the state of Santa Cruz, while in another, the president is stopping at nothing to get even closer to the Bush-McCain regime.

President Morales declared the U.S. ambassador to La Paz, Philip Goldberg, persona non grata, expelling the emissary for his alleged connection to opposition groups in Bolivia who are behind the ongoing anti-government unrest. At least eight people have been killed in the violence, sparked by conservative, anti-Morales politicians and their supporters in five of the country’s nine departments, who are openly defying the democratic will of the Bolivian people. This crisis is unfolding just a few weeks after a national referendum in Bolivia gave the president more than 62% approval for his mandate, despite ongoing efforts by the elite minority to derail the country’s new Constitution, one that looks to redistribute the country’s resources to Bolivia’s most traditionally-marginalized sectors. Not surprisingly, Washington responded to Morales’ action with the expulsion of the Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S., and threatened to cut off aid to the Andean nation in response.

Now more than ever it is clear that the autonomy and dignity of the people of Bolivia are more important for the current leadership in La Paz, than the support – with considerable strings attached - that comes with the decades-long dependence the country’s former governing elites had with their powerful benefactors in Washington.

Not so with Evo’s counterpart in Colombia, who has not stopped genuflecting at every turn to the demands and wishes of a highly unpopular President Bush. The latest effort can be seen in Uribe’s unprecedented lobbying onslaught in Washington, focused on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which, according to government officials in Bogotá, still has a chance of getting passed by the U.S. Congress before they pack their bags for the year.

With this in mind, a delegation of over 70 representatives of different sectors of Colombian society, including businessmen, elected officials, students, trade unionists and Afro-Colombian and indigenous representatives, was in Washington this week, meeting with members of Congress – both Republican and Democrat – to promote the merits of the US-Colombia FTA. The delegation was led by Colombia’s Minister of Trade, Industry, and Tourism, Luis Guillermo Plata, who said the purpose of the massive lobbying effort was to generate the maximum pressure possible on the U.S. Congress to finally approve the FTA.

“We cannot wait until the last minute for this,” one official traveling as part of the delegation told the daily newspaper El Tiempo. “There’s a window of opportunity and we need to take advantage of this now.”

That window is quickly closing, at least for this year, where the touchy issue of approving a controversial trade agreement with Colombia is not high on the priority list of Congressional Democrats. There are very few weeks left in the current legislative session, and all eyes and ears are turned towards the elections of November 4th, which of course includes those for the House and the Senate.

Yet this hasn’t stopped the Uribe government from at least trying. Against the conventional wisdom of most political observers, who see the timing of this latest propaganda offensive as inopportune, Uribe plans to meet with his lame-duck counterpart while in Washington next week. Aside from his so-called “Democratic Security,” anti-guerilla strategy, orchestrated and funded primarily by the U.S., President Uribe sees the U.S.-Colombia FTA as one of the principal objectives of his presidency.

One would assume that the disturbing developments in Bolivia, and the regional crisis that has followed, make the U.S.-Colombia FTA an irrelevant afterthought, one which no one will pay much attention to. There’s no sign of a lessening of tensions, especially after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela's top two intelligence chiefs and a recently retired interior minister on Friday, accusing them of having assisted Colombian guerrillas fighting the U.S.-backed government to traffic in cocaine. These latest sanctions were announced a day after Chavez threatened to stop oil sales to the United States, and expelled the U.S. ambassador in solidarity with his ally in Bolivia.

But in actuality, these events come at a good time for Uribe. As his lobbyists flood the halls of Congress under the radar screen, touting the benefits of the FTA to U.S. lawmakers, Uribe can once again point to his regime as the one loyal, and stable friend in an increasingly hostile hemisphere, one that must be rewarded with a trade deal that benefits everybody. No doubt, such a message will have resonance with some lawmakers, given the current context.

And unless one pays close attention to the brilliant media packaging of this delegation, it’s easy to accept the pro-FTA arguments they’re presenting at face value.

However, notwithstanding the “diverse” make-up of the Colombian lobbying delegation, which included two former FARC guerillas who “reinserted” themselves into Colombian civil society under Uribe’s demobilizations plan, there continues to be widespread opposition from a broad cross section of the Colombian public to the free trade accord with the United States. This opposition comes from small business groups to agricultural workers, the indigenous movement to the country’s largest unions.

Colombia’s major trade unions, who are not represented in the feel good lobbying team currently in Washington, point to the fact that the number of unionists murdered in Colombia in the first quarter of 2008 is roughly two times that of the first quarter of 2007, with 17 killed. During the first six years of Uribe’s presidency, 434 unionists have been murdered. Every year, more trade union activists are murdered in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. This is one of the issues that has struck a chord of solidarity in the U.S. labor movement, which has been consistently against the FTA for years, successfully putting their political capital on the line in the process.

There is also the indigenous and peasant movement of Colombia, which has been at the forefront of the battle against the FTA for the last several years. Yet their true representatives are not meeting this week with U.S. lawmakers.

Indeed, one prominent aide to the indigenous movement, researcher, writer, lecturer and activist Hector Mondragón, was supposed to go to the U.S. to begin a national tour to discuss the negative impact the FTA would have on the Colombian agricultural sector. As one of the most eloquent and well-versed people in the country on issues of development and land reform, he is a critical voice that U.S. lawmakers need to hear from, in order to counter the messages of the well-financed lobbying blitz.

However, he was unable to travel after El Tiempo published a misleading report in late August that linked him to FARC. In the report, they described how email messages found on the laptop of FARC's number two man Raul Reyes, showed evidence that money from Canadian groups may have been funneled to NGOs in Colombia with ties to FARC. One of the people mentioned arbitrarily in the report was Hector Mondragon. Human rights activists immediately expressed concern that this was the latest attempt to silence critical opposition to some of the government's policies in the countryside, particularly the FTA. Mondragón immediately denied the accusations, but also decided to change his plans, knowing that such a report would make it almost impossible for him to enter the U.S. His voice, at least for now, was silenced, although he did put out statement that refuted the charges, once again standing up for those many voices that will not be heard during the next week of Uribe’s lobbying campaign:

“Today, I still carry wounds from the torture that I suffered in 1977 and
also from 20 years of being threatened with death, pursued by the
paramilitaries. Sometimes I lose hope, especially when I know that some
of my friends have been killed. I ask myself why continue in this
struggle with indigenous people and peasants, why not give up. But then
I am struck again with the passion for the people I love and the
certainty that they deserve to live with dignity, and solidarity. They
failed to kill my body but today they are threatening to kill my words,
and I feel it like a re-opening of my old wounds. But the word is a seed
and it grows, whatever happens, in the peasant on the land, in an
indigenous person in her territory, in Afro-Colombians returning to
their communities, in those who live in the popular neighborhoods of
the cities, who will eat better after the land reform that we will win,
in every working family that will get a just wage for work, there the
word will live. They won't be able to kill it.”

In many respects, the struggle in Bolivia is based on some of these same principles. However, it is being challenged directly by an intransigent and entrenched political elite tied to an economic establishment that is uncomfortable with the kinds of changes Evo Morales is trying to implement in the country. This same elite has the attention of people up in Washington, indirectly providing them with the kind of political backing to carry out the undemocratic practices that they are currently employing.

The differences cannot be more stark: in Bolivia, the leadership is taking the side of the majority of its people, whereas in Colombia, the leadership deliberately distorts and ignores those wishes, in the hopes of winning favor in el gran norte!




En nombre de la Asociación Latinoamericana de Educación Radiofónica, ALER, la Junta Directiva declara:

A pocos días del Referéndum Revocatorio que dio amplio respaldo popular al gobierno constitucional del Presidente Evo Morales, grupos de poder económico asociados a mezquinos intereses políticos de locales y del imperio norteamericano arrastran a Bolivia a la violencia descontrolada para truncar el proceso de cambios emprendido en ese país.

La situación se ha agravado en las últimas horas, especialmente en las zonas gobernadas por Prefectos que lideran reclamos separatistas, donde bandas armadas escondidas bajo el nombre de "comités cívicos", han desatado violentos ataques contra diversas instituciones, las que han sido objeto de saqueo, destrucción e incendios provocando ya varias muertes.

Utilizando el racismo como una herramienta para defender sus intereses lesionados y tratar de recuperar el poder que están perdiendo gracias al proceso de cambios, los ataques están dirigidos especialmente contra los pueblos indígenas, sus organizaciones y las instituciones que trabajan con ellos.

En este escenario, radios asociadas a ERBOL y ALER han sido atacadas o amenazadas. Tenemos bajo amenaza a nuestros compañeros de radio Alternativa de Santa Cruz; radio San Miguel de Riberalta, Beni; radio Aclo de Tarija; radio Ichilo, provincia Yapacani, Santa Cruz.

Frente a estos graves hechos, la Asociación Latinoamericana de Educación Radiofónica, ALER, manifiesta:

1.- el dolor por la pérdida de vidas humanas y la más activa solidaridad con el pueblo de Bolivia y su voluntad , con el gobierno constitucional del Presidente Evo Morales Ayma, la nueva Constitución de ese país y en, general, el proceso de cambios allí emprendido.

2. el apoyo y acompañamiento fraterno y solidario a la Red ERBOL, Escuelas Radiofónicas de Bolivia y sus Radios Asociadas, especialmente a las comunicadoras y los comunicadores amenazados y a las radios silenciadas.

3.- advertimos sobre la gravedad que significa el silenciamiento de medios de comunicación que siempre han estado al servicio de la convivencia en paz, la justicia y los derechos de la población especialmente de los pueblos indígenas y sus organizaciones.

4.- repudiamos el racismo, las agresiones y la violencia en todas sus formas, contra el pueblo boliviano y su Gobierno.

5.- reclamamos al gobierno de Estados Unidos, para que cese su descarada intervención en Bolivia .

6.- solicitamos a los Gobiernos de la región y a los Organismos internacionales a pronunciarse de inmediato en defensa del orden constitucional y el derecho de Bolivia a decidir su propio destino y a dar pleno respaldo al gobierno legítimamente electo por la voluntad popular .

7.- ofrecemos, desde la Asociación y cada una de las radios afiliadas en todo el continente, nuestra colaboración en todo lo que sea posible para erradicar la violencia, buscar formas de entendimiento a fin de encauzar los reclamos que hubieren y lograr el respeto de los derechos del pueblo boliviano.

Quito, 11 de septiembre de 2008, a 35 años del golpe contra el Gobierno Constitucional de Salvador Allende en Chile.

Junta Directiva de ALER
Gerardo Lombardi, Presidente
Néstor Busso, Vicepresidente
Liliana Berta, Directora
Mario Maida, Director
Guillermo Siles, Director

Indigenous Film Festival in Bolivia Suspended Due to Violence and Unrest


The crisis in Bolivia is having an impact on many sectors, and is specifically targeting the country's Indigenous Majority and the government of Evo Morales. It is also having an impact on media producers, filmmakers and activists who were supposed to be gathering this week for the IX International Festival of Indigenous Peoples Film and Video. A close friend of mine who is attending the festival sent me this press release about these disturbing developments.

Press release: For Immediate Attention (SPANISH VERSION FOLLOWS)

Organizers Denounce Suspension of the 9th CLACPI Festival in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Violence and racism quell the indigenous film festival in Santa Cruz.

La Paz, Sept. 10, 2008

The violence experienced on September 9 in the city of Santa Cruz has forced
organizers to suspend, for security issues, the events planned in this city
to launch the IX International Festival of Indigenous Peoples Film and Video.
Following occupations by "civic" groups of the opposition of different
Public institutions and communication media centers related to the government,
fearing potential attacks to participants of the festival. These have
reasons forced the indigenous organizations to suspend the Festival in Santa Cruz.

Since 1985, the Coordinator of Latin American Cinema and Communication
Indigenous Peoples, CLACPI, alongside indigenous organizations and allies of
different countries, promotes the development of International Film and
Video Festivals of Indigenous Peoples. In this edition, violence and intolerance
Have silenced the message of Indigenous and originating in many parts of the

After the triumph of violence and unreason, the festival has little choice
but to now move on to the city of La Paz, where the film "The Cry of the Jungle",
the first indigenous feature film produced in Bolivia, was planned to start next
Sunday September 14. This film narrates the struggle of indigenous peoples
Defending their territory in the Bolivian Amazon in the face of subjugation suffered
at the hands of large landowners. These landowners and other opposition groups are
precisely those who now seek to halt the process of empowerment of
indigenous peoples living in our country.

However, hardline opposition violence will not prevent the Ninth
International Festival of Film and Video of Indigenous Peoples from: asserting full
social, political and cultural recognition of indigenous peoples; highlighting the
value of images and communication that uphold a pluralistic world in which
Indigenous peoples can build the future we seek; motivate the production of film and
Video works that give voice to indigenous peoples and that portray indigenous
Peoples with dignity; strengthening the ties that bind and Native and non-indigenous
people from different continents fighting for a more just world and for the
full recognition of self-determination rights.

Organizing Committee
IX International Festival of Indigenous Peoples´ Film and Video.

Nota de prensa: Suspensión del festival en Santa Cruz La violencia y el racismo acallan la fiesta del cine indígena en Santa Cruz
La Paz, 10 de septiembre, 2008

Los actos de violencia vividos el pasado 9 de septiembre en la ciudad de
Santa Cruz han obligado a suspender, por cuestiones de seguridad, los
actos previstos en esta ciudad en el marco del IX Festival Internacional
de Cine y Video de los Pueblos Indígenas. Después de la toma por parte
de los grupos de choque de la oposición "cívica" de diferentes instituciones
públicas y medios de comunicación afines al gobierno, se temen ataques
a los participantes de dicho festival. Este es el motivo que ha obligado a
las organizaciones indígenas originarias convocantes a suspender el
festival en Santa Cruz.

Desde 1985 la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Cine y Comunicación de
los Pueblos Indígenas, CLACPI, junto a Organizaciones Indígenas y
aliados de diferentes países, impulsa el desarrollo de los Festivales
Internacionales de Cine y Video de los Pueblos Indígenas. En esta
edición, la violencia y la intolerancia han acallado el mensaje de los
pueblos indígenas y originarios de muchas partes del mundo.

Después del triunfo de la violencia y la sinrazón, el festival no
tiene más remedio que trasladarse ahora a la ciudad de La Paz, donde
estaba previsto su inicio el próximo domingo 14 de septiembre, con la
presentación de la película "El grito de la selva", primer
largometraje de ficción indígena producido en Bolivia. En esta
película se narra la lucha de los pueblos indígenas de la amazonía
boliviana por defender su territorio del avasallamiento sufrido por
parte de grandes latifundistas. Precisamente, estos latifundistas y
otros grupos opositores, son los que ahora pretenden frenar el proceso
de emancipación que viven los pueblos indígenas en nuestro país.

Sin embargo, la violencia de los intransigentes no impedirá que el IX
Festival Internacional de Cine y Video de los Pueblos Indígena
consiga: afirmar el pleno reconocimiento social, político y cultural
de los pueblos indígenas; resaltar el valor de la imagen y la
comunicación para celebrar un mundo plural en el que los pueblos
indígenas puedan construir el futuro que buscan; motivar la producción
de obras cinematográficas y videográficas que dan voz y que los
retratan dignamente; ni fortalecer los lazos que unen a las y los
comunicadores indígenas y no indígenas de diferentes continentes
luchando por un mundo más justo y por el pleno reconocimiento del
derecho a la autodeterminación.

Comité Organizador

IX Festival Internacional de Cine y Video de los Pueblos Indígenas

Amalia Córdova
Latin American Program Manager
Film + Video Center
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
1 Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004
Tel: +1 212-514-3735
Fax: +1 212-514-3725
Email: /

Abierta convocatoria al XIV Festival de Cine y Video Indígena!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hector Mondragón's Personal Response to False Accusations in El Tiempo

On my choice for civil resistance
Hector Mondragon
September 7, 2008

Translator's introduction: this statement is a response to an August 29/08 article in El Tiempo, Colombia's most important daily newspaper.

Colombia's national newspaper, which claims that an email to Hector Mondragon was found on the laptop of FARC guerrilla leader Raul Reyes, who was assassinated by the Colombian government in March 2008. We read
this claim as an attempt to draw nonexistent links between the social
and political movements of which Hector is a part, and the guerrillas,
of which Hector is not, to delegitimize the former and justify
government violence against them.

The following is Hector's Response to the charges:

"To those who know me well, those who work with me, there is no doubt
that I live and practice a total commitment to nonviolence. Risking
everything, giving my whole life to this commitment, I have dedicated
myself to civil resistance, to the struggle for individual and
collective human rights, in a country where the powerful use violence to
impose their interests and where armed groups believe that violence can
be stopped with violence.

Those who know me know very clearly that I am not part of the FARC
(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), because I disagree with their
strategy, their political line, and their methods.

For 18 years, I have publicly and privately differed from the FARC's
strategy. That strategy is centered on the role of the guerrilla
converted into a revolutionary army, through which the people can seize
power and transform society. Mass mobilization and popular movements are
relegated to a secondary role. This conception has been demonstrated to
be completely inapplicable to Colombia. The FARC were once stronger than
other organizations that emphasized the military over the political:
later, for reasons that were probably related to the way that the Union
Patriotica were massacred*, the FARC came to underestimate mass struggle
and dedicated themselves to military strength as a first priority. This
is a political error. It has become a tragedy for popular struggles. It
has permitted the strengthening of the extreme right, which today is
running the country. Not only has it failed to stop the displacement of
hundreds of thousands of peasants and afro-Colombians, but it has
actually exacerbated that process, and even provoked the forced
displacement of indigenous peoples in various parts of the country.

In the majority of Latin America, it is mass mobilization that has begun
to provoke change and challenge neoliberalism, the dominance of the
transnationals, and the concentration of lands (latifundia). Even in a
country where the agrarian sector has a greater proportional weight,
like Bolivia, mass mobilizations have a primary role in social change.
In Venezuela, too, social sectors in conflict resolve their
contradictions on the terrain of mass struggle.

In Ecuador, in Argentina, and in other countries, the masses have led the way. In each
of these places the level of mass consciousness determines the success
or failure of these torrential mobilizations. In Colombia, on the other
hand, the military conflict has served as a curtain behind which the
extreme right has managed to massacre the union and peasant leadership
and thus impose the destruction of labor rights and the legalization of
displacement from territories.

Despite the tragedy suffered by the Union Patriotica, despite the
physical extermination of 3,000 of its activists, the party had earned
the love of the people. Their struggle for a democratic peace accord
that would open the way to popular participation had won the hearts of
the people. Even though it would have been absurd to continue to expose
senators, representatives, councillors and leaders to assassination on a
daily basis, we need not confuse the need to go into hiding from
murderers and take measures to avoid assassination with a policy of
moving the struggle on to the terrain preferred by power, on the path of
an indefinite war. Many revolutionary and democratic parties in many
parts of the world have had to pass through a period of clandestine or
semi-clandestine work but have maintained a policy of nonviolence
centered on the organization of the people and their mobilization for
their vital interests. In this moment the vital interests of Colombians
are to stop the advance of neoliberalism, defend labor rights, social
rights, and public enterprises, and to win a democratic peace.

The 1991 peace accords could have opened the way for Colombia, which by
now could have been part of the Latin American movement. That Colombia
is an exception to that movement is partly because of those who signed
the accords but abandoned the struggle for social change, but it is
mainly because the accords did not progress to encompass the two largest
guerrilla groups, the FARC and the ELN (National Liberation Army).
Negotiations took place in Caracas towards accords, but they were
frustrated. It is obvious that the right, especially the landholders,
narco-politicians, and some of the transnationals knew they would not
benefit from peace and dedicated themselves to the stimulation of
paramilitarism, assassination, and massacre. But it must be said that
these two guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN, lacked a strategy congruent
with peace accords and lacked an analysis that allowed them to
understand the decisive importance of mass mobilization as the true
focal point for the change we need.

Other serious errors flowed from this mistaken conception of the
guerrillas. The underestimation of the masses, their consciousness and
their struggles, allowed the FARC to justify and to use methods of
warfare, such as pipe bombs in populated areas, that harmed the people,
as I wrote about in my 2005 article 'Toribio attacked'
The kidnapping of civilians, which years ago the FARC considered a
mistaken method of struggle, has become a central tactic of theirs,
reaching the point where one FARC front ended up displacing some groups
of Nukak indigenous people in order to maintain an area for holding
hostages. For some years we have known that some of the murders of our
beloved popular leaders or activists were actually committed by the
FARC. In various cases activists have to fear not only the government or
the paramilitaries, but the FARC. This has especially affected the
indigenous movement. How could the majority not reject these actions by
the FARC? What I have written here I have also said every day in the
indigenous and peasant regions where I have worked. I have tried to say
it so that they could hear it, in the hopes that it might produce some
change in their actions, but even though they have at times responded to
the demands of indigenous peoples, the problems keep occurring because
they are based on erroneous conceptions.

I wanted to state these strictly political concerns first, to summarize
the analysis that I have held to and deepened over 18 years. To these I
must also add my personal commitment to nonviolence, which, although it
is also essentially political, need not be shared by those who do not
share my faith, nor by those who consider the legal right to the use of
violence in self-defence to be legitimate.

The guerrillas came into being as self-defence for peasants against the
assassinations and massacres perpetrated by agents of the state and
landowners. The paramilitaries were formed with the pretext of fighting
the violence of the guerrillas. The country has has suffered a chain
reaction of violence. The beneficiaries have been the mafias, the
'gamonales' (politically-connected major landowners), and especially
transnational capital, interest groups who continue to change the rules
to tilt the playing field in their favour.

Since 1994 I have opted for a personal commitment to nonviolence as the
way to contribute to radical social change. I renounced the use of arms
in self defence under any circumstance. I got rid of two revolvers that
I had legally carried since I had been threatened with assassination for
my belonging to the Union Patriotica. I stopped working with bodyguards
because I did not want to save my life at the expense of another. I
ended up abandoning all routines, and thus the possibility of a stable
job, in order to avoid being assassinated. I believe in the struggle for
radical social change but I believe it must be accompanied with a
radical change of method, the abandonment of armed struggle and the
abandonment of the notion that the end justifies the means. The radical
means of nonviolence can help us reach the objective of truly radical
social change.

I have publicly maintained my commitment to struggle for radical social
change. Radical change, as Carlos Gaviria teaches, means going to the
root, not believing that a cosmetic change is a deep one. It is not
about replacing one corrupt, right-wing government with another. It is
not about exchanging one set of gangsters for another, so that our
friends can rule instead of our enemies. It is not about demonstrating
“governability” without meeting the basic needs of the 80% of Colombians
who live in poverty. Colombia needs deep changes, especially on the land
and in its relationship to the transnationals. And the only way to win
these changes is to deploy the widest civil resistance, to construct
alternatives from the base, and to have massive and committed civil
mobilization. Absolutely everyting I have done in these years, every
single day, has been to work towards this with all my strength and all
my experience.

Today, I still carry wounds from the torture that I suffered in 1977 and
also from 20 years of being threatened with death, pursued by the
paramilitaries. Sometimes I lose hope, especially when I know that some
of my friends have been killed. I ask myself why continue in this
struggle with indigenous people and peasants, why not give up. But then
I am struck again with the passion for the people I love and the
certainty that they deserve lives with dignity, and solidarity. They
failed to kill my body but today they are threatening to kill my words,
and I feel it like a re-opening of my old wounds. But the word is a seed
and it grows, whatever happens, in the peasant on the land, in an
indigenous person in her territory, in Afro-Colombians returning to
their communities, in those who live in the popular neighbourhoods of
the cities who will eat better after the land reform that we will win,
in every working family that will get a just wage for work, there the
word will live. They won't be able to kill it.

Hector Mondragon is a Colombian activist and economist.

/*Translator's note: the Union Patriotica were a political party and
movement of the left, with similar left economic and political positions
and ideas as the FARC guerrillas, that tried to enter the Colombian
political arena in the 1980s. Thousands of them were assassinated./

/-Translated by Justin Podur/

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Threats Mount Against the Indigenous Social Movement in Northern Cauca as Campaign of Resistance Continues

An interview with Rafael Coicué, Nasa leader, and member of the cabildo of Carinto-López Adentro, Cauca, Colombia.

By Mario A. Murillo

(August 30, 2008 – Santander de Qulichao, Cauca.)

Rafael Coicué may be soft spoken, but when it is his turn to talk in meetings and indigenous assemblies, the people listen carefully for his deliberate insight and precise analysis. Today, he is one of the most respected young leaders of the contemporary indigenous movement in northern Cauca.

This is why there was universal condemnation of the actions taken by state security forces on July 3rd, 2008 during an indigenous mobilization in his native Corinto, where he was shot, losing all the functions of his left eye in the process. The incident occurred on the road just outside of Corinto, where he was confronted by heavily armed, special-forces commandoes, dispatched to disperse a land recuperation effort by local indigenous activists. Coicué is convinced it was not a random act that almost killed him, but a direct attempt on his life because of the work he’s involved in.

“As a representative of the cabildo, (indigenous council), and as part of the indigenous authority, I was charged with setting up the logistics for an emergency public assembly that we were scheduling for July 4th in Corinto, where we were going to denounce the recent actions taken against the communities by local landowners, the army and the national police,” he said.

A few weeks earlier in Corinto, two young, indigenous activists were killed by the Army during another land recuperation effort. Community leaders say the victims were then dressed up as guerillas to cover up the action, a tactic apparently being used increasingly by government forces to demonstrate progress in their war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC. The use of so-called “false positives” was documented in recent studies by Amnesty International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and reported in the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

“This part of northern Cauca is being disputed heavily right now. The territory of Corinto is extremely fertile, and there are a lot of interests trying to gain control of the area by pushing us out,” he said. “They had been accusing us of being drug-traffickers, as being linked with the guerillas, as a way to de-legitimize our struggle, and the situation was becoming increasingly tense.”

These developments were among the issues to be discussed in the assembly Coicué was putting together with his cabildo in early July. Unfortunately he never made it to the assembly, forced instead to recover in an emergency room from the wounds to his eye.

The Liberation of Mother Earth

Coicué has been at the forefront of the campaign for the “Liberation of Mother Earth,” which was launched by the indigenous communities of Cauca in 2005. This land recuperation and resistance effort was organized by the leadership in response to the government’s failure to fulfill its obligations to the victims of the December 16, 1991 massacre of 20 indigenous people from the Huellas community, including five women and four children, who were murdered as they met to discuss a struggle over land rights in the El Nilo estate.

That tragic night, some 60 hooded gunmen stormed into the building where the community was meeting and opened fire. Initial news reports indicated that the gunmen were drug traffickers who had been seizing land in the region to grow opium poppies to produce heroin, but it soon became apparent that the culprits were not simply narco-traffickers.

The 1991 killings had followed a pattern of harassment and threats against the Nasa community by gunmen loyal to local landowners who were disputing the community’s claim to ownership of the land. The Special Investigations Unit of the Office of the Attorney General, which handled the first stages of the investigation, uncovered evidence of the involvement of members of the National Police, both before and during the execution of the massacre.

As a result, the government had agreed to return 15,600 hectares to the community that had been targeted by the assassins. The Inter-American Court for Human Rights of the Organization of American States upheld this sentence, and also called on the government to financially compensate the family members of the victims of the massacre. In 1998, then President Ernesto Samper publicly apologized for the role the state had played in this atrocity, and promised to compensate the victims.

Yet Samper’s public apologies contrasted considerably with the announcement in 2002 by the government of President Alvaro Uribe that there were simply no more resources available from the state to provide any more lands to the indigenous communities affected by the massacre.

After years of government foot-dragging, the “Liberation of Mother Earth” campaign demonstrated to the country that the community was going to take matters into their own hands and return to a strategy that had all but been abandoned in the years after the reform of the Colombian Constitution. The campaign involves dramatic land invasions and occupations of private holdings, mostly controlled by the large-scale sugar cane growers. Once inside these lands, the indigenous farmers begin chopping down the cane, in turn growing and cultivating crops based on the sustainable agricultural practices of the indigenous communities. It has led to bitter confrontations over the last several years. Rafael Coicué, who lost a brother in the Nilo massacre, says despite having lost an eye just two short months back, he will not rest until justice is served, and the communities recuperate their lands.

“The response of the government to our latest, non-violent land recuperation efforts has been to send in the public security forces to confront us head on, brutally,” said Coicué during a break at a recent meeting of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN. “They send in the army, the national police, the ESMAD (Special Forces Police), the local police, all with the instructions to hit us hard, as if we were some violent actors, or as if we were armed guerillas.”

False Accusations Against Indigenous Leadership

The strong-arm tactics described by Coicué are consistent with President Uribe’s position regarding the alternative social programs of indigenous communities throughout the country, which on more than one occasion the Prsident has described as illegal in its pronunciations of autonomy from the state.

It is reflected also in comments from officials like General Jaime Esguerra, the current commander of the Army’s Third Brigade, who in May 2008, accused the indigenous leadership of working directly with FARC in its land recuperation efforts. This belligerent rhetoric is a reflection of a long tradition of public officials trying to discredit the legitimate claims of the indigenous communities in the eyes of Colombian public opinion, in order to justify the government’s repressive actions on their territories.

More importantly, in the current context, the attitude reflected in these ongoing accusations is the basis of a systematic and pervasive backlash against the indigenous movement’s capacity to mobilize in defense of its guaranteed rights, a backlash that is being spearheaded by a complex alliance of reactionary domestic political and economic forces that are at once sustained and promoted by international actors that have a lot to lose if the trend at counter-reform in Colombia does not continue to move in their favor.

The threats against the unity and strength of the indigenous movement in northern Cauca range from direct military confrontation and intimidation by armed actors, to the seemingly peaceful incursion into the communities of evangelical Christian groups, who use the vast economic resources they have at their disposal to attract some of the most marginalized Nasa into their congregations by promising salvation and support, when and if the people surrender the authority of the cabildo for that of the church. Combined with the short and long-term strategic objectives of the Colombian government, under the auspices of the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia, the cohesion of the organization and the communities as a whole is under serious threat.

The Uribe government has made it clear that it intends to apply even more pressure in the coming years to finally dislodge the guerillas from their former strongholds in the northern Cauca region. The potential for prolonged stalemate is very real. The government’s strategy is to implement some of the same military tactics that were apparently successful against the guerillas in the southern departments of Putumayo and Caquetá to the northern Cauca theater, making the next phase of the war that much more complicated, particularly for indigenous communities.

It is already visible in the permanent occupation of places like Toribio and Tacueyó, where heavily armed members of the National Police patrol the streets and neighborhoods, and in the confrontations in places like Corinto. Coicué and others in the community are convinced that this reality is not going to change any time soon, and most likely will get more intense as the government focuses more of its attention in the region.

“Throughout Northern Cauca, and one sees it in Corinto, there is an extremely large presence of military forces. There are mobile brigades, special forces, military intelligence, high-altitude battalions operating in the mountainside, all supposed to confront the guerillas, but impacting us directly,” said Coicué. “In this aspect, the confrontations have increased, the bombardments, the attacks from helicopters. These confrontations have caused deaths, have destroyed houses and schools, have killed animals. As a result, the community finds itself in constant high risk, because the weapons used by both the guerillas and the army don’t discriminate, they are not precise. So we have declared ourselves in a state of high emergency.”

It appears that much of the attacks against the indigenous movement are indeed systematic.

Colombian human rights groups like the Center for Investigation and Popular Education, CINEP, as well as the Center for Indigenous Cooperation, CECOIN, point out that while the number of overall violations against indigenous communities has increased in the first four years of Uribe’s government, the number of acts attributable to the state security forces has also increased.

From 1998-2002, they registered 298 cases in which state actors were directly responsible, whereas from 2002-2006, that number reached 672 cases. State-sponsored political assassinations rose from 26 in the previous presidential period to 62 under the first Uribe term. Increases were noted in all other areas of rights violations as well.

It is no coincidence that Cauca has been one of the departments most affected by this wave of repression, along with places like Putumayo, and Chocó. Between 2002-2006, CECOIN registered 212 cases of arbitrary detentions against indigenous communities, 61 cases of targeted assassinations, 30 cases of personal threats, and over 114 wounded, mostly Nasa, Kokonuco and Yanacona.

Along with these acts, one must consider the over 200 “orders of detention” that have been issued, yet have not been carried out by state security forces. These orders of detention came about as a result of the clashes between the Army and FARC in Toribio over the last several years, clashes that resulted in military officials accusing indigenous leaders of collaborating with the guerillas. Not surprisingly, these orders of capture were directed at the leaders of the community most associated with the struggle for the defense of indigenous rights.

Expansion of Conflict in Cauca

In February 2007, the Department of National Planning (DNP), through its office of Justice and Security, released the document Strategy to Strengthen Democracy and Social Development (2007-2013). Based on the premise that under Uribe’s “democratic security strategy” the government has recuperated the confidence of the national and international community, the DNP’s missive described the next phases of implementation of that strategy. In essence, it was the second phase of Plan Colombia, which would be executed through the President’s own Center for Coordination of Integral Action, or CCAI, supported by the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Southern Command in conjunction with various ministries of the Colombian government.

In introducing the project to the Colombian press, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos made it clear that, following on the apparent successes of Uribe’s first term, the next several years would be dedicated to the “final recuperation of those zones where there is a persistent presence of terrorist groups and narco-traffickers.”

It is a multi-faceted approach that includes a permanent inter-agency coordination of civilian and military functions, under close cooperation with the United States government. Modeled after the Pentagon’s strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea is to accompany aggressive military operations in areas of strategic importance with the softer hand of the state, allowing for security forces to “win the confidence” of the local community by assisting with various social projects.

However, in a place like northern Cauca, where the communities have an inherently different perspective from the state regarding economic development, security and democratic participation, the results have led to profound contradictions. The civilian-oriented social projects that are penetrating indigenous territories, with unlimited resources, are deliberately calling to question the authority of the cabildos, forcing the communities to choose between remaining loyal to the long-term organizational process of ACIN and the indigenous movement, or accepting attractive assistance packages that have considerable political and ideological strings attached. It is a classic strategy of divide and conquer, meant to destroy one of the strongest social movements in the country.

Furthermore, the ongoing clashes between FARC and government forces in northern Cauca continue to have serious repercussions for the communities themselves. The perpetual confrontation in the region has hampered the cabildos’ ability to execute their community development plans – Planes de vida - due to the almost constant state of emergency the people are forced to endure, and the pervasive militarization of their territories.

For the indigenous organization as a whole, the resulting tensions inevitably sidetrack their comprehensive efforts to confront the many other serious challenges they face within the current political context. The conflict provides false justifications for the powers that be to continue to hold down a hard line when it comes to dealing with the indigenous leadership, who despite being independent of FARC, are still seen as a problem for Uribe precisely because of their oppositional stances on so many issues.

For example, as ACIN and other indigenous organizations mobilize against the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and denounce the wave of counter-reform measures that the government has tried to push through the Congress in order to make the FTA possible, the movement is repeatedly targeted as working in alliance with the guerillas.

In carrying out direct actions like the “Liberation of Mother Earth” campaign to recuperate lands promised to them by previous governments, the indigenous leadership is consistently accused by the military of being tools of the insurgency. The land occupations carried out by the community over the last few years are seen as illegal, running counter to the so-called democratic lawfulness that is supposed to come with a stronger state presence in the region. As a result, the indigenous movement has experienced a new wave of repression that is reminiscent of the dirty war years of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Indeed, the democratic security policy of Uribe has not only, not arrived for the indigenous people of Colombia, but it is being used directly against their collective interests. Both the guerillas and the government have mutually benefited from the resulting chaos.

All of these issues are converging dramatically in northern Cauca, although they are manifest in many other parts of the country, from Chocó, to la Guajira, Santa Marta to the Middle Magdalena region, not coincidentally areas with large indigenous populations. The contemporary historical juncture is characterized by a political and social crisis without precedent in Colombia, and of utmost urgency for the country’s indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Colombian people.

Directly tied to this are the national policies of President Uribe, who, strengthened by the unconditional support of the Bush Administration, has administered a process of territorial domination and political consolidation of the extreme right, facilitated by the apparent demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, AUC, paramilitaries that are on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Independent analysts and human rights activists argue this so-called demilitarization process is deliberately designed to push back the rights of indigenous peoples, which, by their nature, stand in the way of the development strategies of the foreign multinationals, powerful domestic corporate capitalists, and large agricultural interests who look to benefit most from the lands that have been usurped by these same paramilitaries.

In July 2008, a commission of indigenous leaders from the entire department met with government officials to discuss ways to resolve the years-long impasse over the issues of land redistribution in Cauca. In participating in the discussions with the Vice Minister of the Interior and Justice, Maria Isabel Nieto, the delegation hoped to reactivate the Commission for the Integral Development of Indigenous Policies in the Department of Cauca, which was created by the government in 1999. The commission also called on the government to stop its repeated verbal attacks against indigenous activists, linking them to the guerillas and accusing them of terrorism. What came out of the meeting, however, was the government’s admission that there were simply no resources in the national budget to redistribute lands to the indigenous communities of Cauca, despite previous agreements to do so. Once again, the people were being told to wait, while other forces were moving forward rapidly with their efforts of counter-reform and consolidation.

As researcher, writer and activist Hector Mondragón repeatedly points out, the main interest of the government is “not to resolve the problems of the unequal distribution of land in the countryside,” something that adversely affects peasants, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities equally, but “to maintain and consolidate the concentration of land in a few hands, and the usurpation of communal holdings under the pretext of favoring a productive, rural development.”

Mondragón has been active in the peasant and indigenous movement for years, and has written extensively about the unequal distribution of land in the countryside, and its impact on development. He has collaborated closely with ACIN in mapping out strategies to confront the wave of repression that has been unleashed against them in the last several years. Which is why it was not surprising that he was mentioned in a recent article that tried to link him with the fallen FARC leader Raul Reyes, killed by a U.S.-backed cross-border air strike into Ecuador by Colombian forces in March 2008.

The news article published in the August 29th edition of El Tiempo, was titled “Links Between Canadian Trade Unions and the Non-Governmental Organization Fensuagro Seen in Money Funneled to FARC.” It read: 'In an email of April 2, 2006, Reyes wrote to a man identified as Hector Mondragón: "I want to introduce you to Comrade Liliany, she works with me and at the same time advises Fensuagro (National Agrarian Workers' Union) in international relations. Naturally she is a Comrade that can
be completely trusted." '

The implication in the article was that “Reyes” wrote this note to Mondragón, an open attempt to tarnish his reputation by linking him to the guerillas’ second in command. ACIN called the article “a perverse fabrication with deliberately bad intentions… designed to stain the good name…of this brilliant teacher and colleague.” It was yet another example of the many efforts to discredit the indigenous movement and its allies.

It is not an exaggeration to say we are returning to the intensity of the 1970s, when the dirty war tactics of the state confronted head on indigenous claims of autonomy and self-determination. The dismantling of the indigenous territories, or resguardos, a principal objective of Colombia’s economic and political elite for centuries, is closer to becoming a reality today than ever before, albeit by other, supposedly more civil means such as new legislation dealing with forests, mining and water rights, and counter-reforms to the Constitution pushed forward by a Congress whose majority is made up of some of the most corrupt, reactionary and violent sectors of the Colombian right wing.

Almost 20 years after the Constitution was altered to include the rights of the country’s indigenous people, these rights are becoming ever more fragile. Against tremendous obstacles, people like Rafael Coicué continue to resist.

“Since this struggle for indigenous rights began back in 1971, many leaders have been assassinated, over 800 leaders have been taken away from us, simply for demanding the rights of their people,” he said. “What I’m saying now is that my work in the community as part of the cabildo, is not done. So about two weeks after losing my eye, I thought to myself, I am not the first, nor will I be the last to be targeted this way. So I forced myself out of bed and went back to work.”

Mario A. Murillo is associate professor of communication at Hofstra University in New York. He is currently living in Colombia on a Fulbright Research Grant, where he is finishing up a book about the indigenous movement in northern Cauca and its uses of communication media.