Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Indigenous and Popular March Towards Cali Continues

As the mass popular mobilization in Cauca and the rest of Colombia continues, the government of Alvaro Uribe finally addressed the five point agenda of the Popular and Indigenous Minga, a small step forward after over a week of intense military confrontations with the protesters. Yesterday, just before indigenous and peasant communities were about to begin their long march towards the city of Cali, the Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, finally recognized the points in the name of the national government, albeit in a superficial and roundabout way.

This initial recognition of the five points has been superceded today, Wednesday, as the Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, continued to point out that the indigenous protesters were the violent ones who were “firing on Colombian special police forces” during last week's confrontations on the Pan American highway.

While on the one hand, the government claims it is willing to resolve this problem, arguing that it will "buy some lands" in order to keep the people quiet, they continue with their harsh accusations and unconciliatory tone, consistent with the last six years of the Uribe Administration.

So as the popular march moves forward – with people from all over the south converging on Santander de Quilichao today - bringing together indigenous and peasants with sugar cane workers and Afro-Colombian communities who will march for the next several days towards Cali, it is important to keep in mind the very important message the Popular Minga is putting forward to the entire nation.

In a sense, it’s a very detailed response to the many distortions that continue to make their way through the corporate media filters about what it actually is that the communities are calling for.


FROM ACIN, Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca

1. It’s clear that our struggle…includes the issue of lands, which is transcendental for indigenous people. But we reiterate so that it remains totally clear, that we are not only demanding that the government comply with agreements and resolve the necessities and rights relating solely to the issue of lands; the issue of land is not a problem exclusive to the indigenous people, nor is it something that relates only to the department of Cauca. We will continue to present our profound ideas and proposals relating to this issue, based on abundant experience, evidence, and documentation that exists, such that we will expose the superficial pronouncements that the government keeps making about this issue, including from the President himself. In essence what we are demanding is that the government comply with agreements already made, which public opinion should be made aware of. Given that accords and conventions already exist, we are not looking to negotiate anything new at the current moment, but that the government complies with what has already been agreed upon.


2. Regarding the issue of the Free Trade Agreements: First of all, we reiterate with total clarity that yes, this issue is a fundamental component of our agenda of mobilization, and that it must be addressed. We remind the national government that the FTA with the United States has already gone through its legislative cycles in Colombia and has been approved by the National Congress. Although we have serious concerns about the entire process of negotiation of the accord, of the lack of consultation and the manner in which it was approved, at the moment, the U.S.-Colombia FTA is in the hands of the United States Congress. Recognizing this reality, we propose that mechanisms of interlocution with the U.S. Congress be established. It makes no sense to debate the issue with the Colombian government. Our reasons for rejecting this and other similar treaties have been expressed broadly and repeatedly. We also must remember that we organized and held transparent, internationally verified, and democratic consultations on the FTA in the past, where 98% of the voters in Cauca gave an overwhelming “NO” to the FTA.

3. Regarding the issue of what we call the “Laws of Dispossesion,” we point to Law 1152 or the so-called Rural Statute, as a perfect example. We embrace as a precedent the ruling made by the Honorable Constitutional Court (Sentence C-030 of 2008) that declared as unconstitutional the Forestry Law (the court ruled that the measure was approved by Congress without the prior consultation of indigenous communities, as protected by the Colombian Constitution). With this in mind, we demand that the Rural Statute, the Mining Code of 2007, the Plans for Water Privatization, and all the other laws that should be brought before the people under the provisions of Prior Consultation, be reconsidered, according to Treaty 169 of the International Labor Organization, represented in Law 21 of 1991, and protected in the Colombian Constitution. Based on this demand, we call on the immediate nullification of all these laws (starting with the Rural Statute) and the presentation before the Congress of new bills that will replace them, which will be based on the consideration of results and contents emerging from an appropriate, democratic process of prior consultation with the communities.


4. With regards to the “Democratic Security” policy of the government, we repudiate the ongoing assassinations of indigenous people, on average more than 100 per year during the six years of the presidency of Dr. Alvaro Uribe Vélez, 17 of which were carried out between the 17th of September, 2008, and today, October 21. Eight of these assassinations were carried out by the public security forces, one by the guerillas, four by paramilitaries and the other four victims by unknown actors. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, has been putting together a comprehensive report of the serious and systematic violations of human rights carried out against indigenous people, yet there has been no serious or effective commitment on the part of the government to put a stop to this dirty war, to carry out thorough investigations into these crimes, so that they don’t remain in absolute impunity, and that guarantees can be established to protect the life and the security of individuals and collectives, in coordination with the indigenous authorities and the people. The record of the National Government vis a vis indigenous people is shameful.

The diagnosis and recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples continue to be valid. There is evidence of a deterioration of conditions that point to an ethnocide and genocide, in some cases leading to the extinction of various peoples. To this we add the criminal and war-like treatment of our current mobilization, something that warrants an investigation resulting in documentation that will lead to the truth, justice and integral reparations for indigenous people. At the moment, as a consequence of the false accusations that the government and the public security forces have made against us, calling us terrorists manipulated by FARC, we have been indirectly drawn into the internal armed conflict, and in turn, everybody involved in the Popular Mobilization of the last few days is under imminent risk of attacks against our integrity, and individual security.

We hold the government responsible for having created this situation of risk and imminent threat against our people. The state, which has the duty to protect us, actually threatens us. As a consequence, we find it necessary that there be an immediate presence such as an international commission allowed into the territories, in order to assume concrete functions that could result in a response to this grave situation.

During the current mobilization, and throughout his mandate, President Uribe and his government have taken on an extremely alarming attitude towards indigenous people, insisting on negating our specific rights, which he should recognize and guarantee us given his constitutional mandate as head of state. He insists on presenting these rights as undeserved or abused privileges, with the objective of generating resentment against us, and promoting conflict with other social sectors. We are calling attention to these attitudes and these dangerous policies, which continue to generate discrimination and promote prejudice.

The President and his minister of Agriculture manipulate statistics and interpret some of our actions in distorted ways in order to get the rest of the Colombian population to believe that we receive unwarranted privileges, or worse yet, that we are responsible for the problems and difficulties they as different sectors face. These manipulations are false and are not based on reality. Poverty and social injustice affect us all, and they are the responsibility of deliberate state policies that victimize us all.

We reaffirm our commitment to the well being of all peoples, with equality and social justice, and we do so as ancestral and ancient peoples. Therefore, we demand that the government stop deliberately confusing the guarantee of collective rights, social justice and equality, obligations permanently delayed or negated by the state, with the right to differences and the respect for diversity.

As Indigenous peoples, we demand that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People be ratified by the Colombian State as a law of the Republic. At the same time, we support the specific rights of other peoples and social sectors, always within the frame of social justice and equality. What for us is abhorrent and should disappear immediately is the high concentration of land and wealth, and the laws that guarantee benefits and privileges to political bosses, wealthy landowners, the upper classes and transnational corporations at the expense of poverty and exploitation of the majority.

Once our full agenda is recognized, the much-delayed process of resolving our many differences in a serious and integral way will finally begin. This will mean profound transformations, not only for indigenous people, but for all social sectors and the entire country. This requires understanding this reality in a very serious and mature fashion. To continue to postpone these transformations is irresponsible, and will send the country in a direction that up to now only benefits a few interests, and in the short term is unsustainable, even for those same interests. To transform Colombian institutionality in order to benefit all of society is necessary, possible and inevitable.

The irresponsible management of these important issues by both the government and the commercial mass media, requires a highly conscientious mobilization of a broad cross section of sectors, and the consolidation and development of a practical national agenda to advance towards the country that is possible and necessary. This popular Minga proposes to establish a solid path of the people, to march together in unity, through diverse voices and mutual respect, sharing the pain of one another as we walk towards life and liberty.

Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca-ACIN ACIN – Cxab Wala Kiwe Santander de Quilichao, Octubre 20 de 2008.

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