Open Letter to the Armed Groups Operating in Cauca

Mar 29, 2012 | News

By FOR Colombia
Thursday, March 29, 2012, 7:26pm

Open Letter to the Armed Groups Operating in Cauca
 Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca

Popoyán, March 6, 2012

As a popular saying goes, there is nobody deafer than one who does not want to hear, and nobody blinder than one who does not want to see. It has been a tradition of armed groups — and there is not a single exception to this rule — to claim that it is their enemy who must respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. All make an effort to show that, in combat, civilian victims and damage to social infrastructure are the other’s fault. This lunacy is such that they see enemies not only along the riverbank, but in the river itself, and to justify this interpretation, they search in unorthodox ways to clean up what they consider to be murky. As such, they end up doing irreparable damage to the environment and sacrificing the core spirit of their struggle.

In Colombia, according to certain leftist theoreticians, diverse social sectors instigate different forms of struggle. These range from everyday devotion to God to a daily search for children on the streets of huge cities due to campesino and Afro-Colombian communities’ perpetual displacement, as they run away from death, unable to escape the exploitation of their lands. Other struggles are carried out by students against privatization and for a free education; or by teachers, trade unionists, and housing activists aiming to prevent cutbacks to those rights gained in the first half of the twentieth century. Young people from the city break the silence with their rap lyrics and rhythms, or graffiti walls to show their disillusionment with a lack of freedom and information. Only a few insist that the only effective method of struggle to generate the structural changes the country needs is armed resistance. This is a perspective adopted by political movements that negate the creative action of popular, civil society movements which, through a different kind of struggle, seek to build democracy on a local level.

Against this backdrop, indigenous peoples continue to resist, building autonomy, reclaiming with our centuries-old voice respect for our lands and for our mother earth. We believe the Colombian people have understood this and, perhaps because of it, have supported proposals like the Liberation of Mother Earth and the Social and Community Resistance Minga (an Indigenous protest march). Perhaps because of this comprehension, they have shared our calls for justice for soldiers who have disturbed our mobilizations or violated the harmony of our lands. Perhaps because of this, they demonstrate their admiration when our indigenous guards oppose violations of International Humanitarian Law. Perhaps because of this, they show solidarity when we tell them to count on us for peace and never for war.

Since the Vitonco Resolution, issued in 1985, the indigenous peoples of Cauca have demanded the demilitarization of traditional indigenous land, a message which was addressed both to the Army and to the guerrillas. At that time, when the FARC and the Quintín Lame armed movement had a presence in the region, indigenous communities said that our disagreements would be resolved internally in accordance with our uses and customs and without the interference of third parties. Our demand for demilitarization remains relevant today due to the armed groups’ obstinate insistence on occupying indigenous lands, particularly in Northern Cauca. Paradoxically, not only do they continue to engage in combat in our territory, they also demand that communities abandon their homes and the land they work on to leave it open and facilitate combat. Since the communities have not heeded these calls, warfare continues, without the least attention to the civilian population´s right to life and integrity. Public opinion observed this on television in Caldono, and this is a daily reality in Toribío, Corinto, and Jambaló.

It is obvious that both the guerrillas and the Colombian government insist on involving indigenous peoples in the war. Two clear examples of this are the FARC’s statement sent to the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca, and the military’s civic action days that replace the Colombian State’s civil responsibility. Some community members decide to join the guerrillas and others the Army, whether due to political convictions, disobedience, because they are seduced by uniforms and guns, or because there is a genuine lack of alternatives due to the constant state of war in their territories. Nevertheless, the Cauca organizations’ policy is to not perform military service and to reject forced recruitment. [In Colombia, indigenous people residing in their own territory and preserving their cultural, social, and economic integrity are exempt from otherwise compulsory military service.] At the same time, we are working on an initiative to seek dialogue and political solutions to the Colombian armed conflict.

Our ongoing call to armed groups, identified in the Toribío declaration of July 20, 2011, requests that armies respect the communities’ autonomy, peoples’ lives and the laws of war. Yet to date this call has not been respected and so the communities resolved to carry out a resistance Minga calling for autonomy, territorial harmony and for an end to the war. The call has three fundamental aims: 1. To demilitarize indigenous lands and curb the militarization promoted by both the Army and the FARC; 2. To call upon the government and guerrillas to enter into dialogue on indigenous lands in Cauca and to respect International Humanitarian Law; and 3. To reinitiate public debates with the government and the insurgency on political and land issues that are at stake.

The Toribío statement was ratified by the Indigenous Council Regional Board of Directors in Jambaló on January 26-27 of this year, supporting and ratifying Resolution No. 001 issued by the Jambaló indigenous council and the community on January 25. Called the ‘Permanent Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples’ mobilization for the defense of life and the exercise of territorial control within a government framework,’ the resolution indicates our desire to continue to safeguard life, land and the autonomy of the indigenous peoples. We reiterate the humanitarian and territorial emergency and implement actions of peaceful resistance for the survival of native peoples and the reclamation of territorial control. Upon declaring the permanent assembly of indigenous people’s mobilization in the ancestral land of Sat Tama Kiwe Jambaló, the indigenous guard and areas of territorial control were activated. This indicates the development of an international denunciation against the government, the armed forces and other armed groups for constant human rights violations and infractions of International Humanitarian Law in indigenous Jambaló territory.

Within this context, we have publicly expressed that the path towards peace must respect our struggles towards a space of political nonviolence without the genocide of our peoples. This does not imply abandoning our mobilization, land recoveries or our general demand for the guarantee of economic, social, and cultural rights, because these all are part of an integrated struggle for peace.

Now that we are asking the agents of war for consistency, we find ourselves confronted with deceptive, irresponsible and biased claims. One example of this is a statement issued by the FARC that “in an erroneous interpretation of ‘autonomy,’ certain ‘leaders’ are encouraging animosities among the communities and fomenting confrontation in assemblies, not only against the guerrilla presence but also against their own indigenous kin who distance themselves from policies that favor the State.” These comments are barely distinguishable from their institutional equivalent, like those of the President and the Defense Minister, which negligently insist that indigenous territory constitutes a guerrilla stronghold.

There are other instances of flippancy or malicious intent, for instance in the same statement, the disrespectful claim that indigenous guards are a mere extension of the Establishment’s police. It is obvious that this is an attempt to distort reality. So it now turns out that the land we own was “reconquered” by the FARC “for the indigenous people.” This allegation falsifies reality and justifies the actions of state security forces in denying us the right to collective property. Whoever has witnessed recent history knows that during land recovery processes, thousands of indigenous people openly displayed their bravery. We did so using methods that were distinctively civil and ethical, pushing forward new ways of stating demands, and allowing us to make laws that correspond to our rights, legitimize social mobilization and remind the State of its historical debt to our peoples.

As such, the message sent by the FARC to the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca does not build bridges of understanding. It continues to create confusion. The arrogance that these sentences convey avoids criticism of their actions and focuses on accusing third parties of being responsible for the Colombian people’s crisis, where neoliberal power ends up being simply decorative and an excuse for referring to the conflict.

In conclusion, the FARC’s message to the Northern Cauca indigenous movement shows that the armed group is refusing to enter into the debate proposed by the indigenous communities. They refuse to take responsibility and assume the humanitarian commitment to not involve civil society in the war, especially regarding the obligation to return minors in their ranks to their homes. As such, the document’s analysis that the main problem for the FARC’s revolution are indigenous “leaders” who oppose them, has turned these people into military targets. This is like the approach of ex-President Uribe, who said it was a problem of “bad indigenous people,” since the “good ones” were with organizations parallel to the CRIC.

Current claims and accusations, both those expressed in the FARC’s communiqué as well as those expressed by government civil servants, aim to impose the voice of guns and to silence the voice of peoples and communities. We are victims of an armed conflict that does not represent our interests and yet restricts our liberties, our culture and the most sacred of all: the lives of our people and our organizational processes.

Translated by Charlotte Melly, FOR Colombia Team. Original en Español aquí.