The Colombian Government Has Neglected The Indigenous Community And They Are Mobilizing To Demand Action
Indigenous Colombians have given far-right President Iván Duque notice that they will “take” the presidential palace if he doesn’t take time to meet with indigenous leaders. Indigenous Colombians are calling for the government to recommit to decades-old government agreements with indigenous nations. Indigenous representative Herney Flor said that more than 30,000 indigenous peoples are prepared to travel to Bogotá in a caravan to ‘take’ the palace by Saturday, according to Colombia Reports. The pressure against Duque has been mounting as the indigenous people continuously witness the government breach their agreements to protect the native nations. This latest wave of mass anti-government protests against Duque has been catalyzed by the violent murder of Cristina Bautista, the indigenous governor of Cauca in October.
“This is the last warning,” Flor alerted President Duque, according to Colombia Reports.
Herney Flor is on the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, which represents a collection of Indigenous nations in the Cauca region, which has experienced spikes in violence from rebel groups during the last few months. The Nasa people have endured the assassination of their governor, Cristina Bautista, along with four other Nasa members who were guarding their community. The guard is made up of volunteers who consider themselves more as peace officers than a police force. They are not armed. During a routine security check, the peace officers stopped a car as it was entering the community. They would learn that the leader of a rebel group and two other rebels were armed and prepared to wreak havoc. The guards raised an alarm that alerted the entire community, which is when, presumably, governor Cristina Bautista arrived to see what was the matter. The rebel group opened fire and killed Bautista and four of the Nasa peace officers, along with injuring six others. Two months prior, two more Nasa peace officers were assassinated when rebel groups opened fire on their bus.
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) faction rebel groups are believed to be behind the attacks. The FARC paramilitary rose to power during the Cold War period to physically force a Marxist agenda. The United Nations estimates that FARC was responsible for 12 percent of all civilian deaths during that period. In 2016, FARC leaders signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government and agreed to lay down arms. However, not every FARC rebel agreed and some broke off to form factions that would go on to violently clash with indigenous people as they try to expand their territory.
The United Nations has urged Duque to do more to protect indigenous nations.
During his 16 months in office, Duque’s approval rating has dropped to 24 percent, the worst in Colombia’s history. The bulk of Colombians are protesting Duque’s “paquetazo” or “the package” that would create a tax reform not dissimilar from Trump’s–lessen taxes on the rich, and limit government benefits to the middle and lower class, effectively widening the wealth gap in Colombia. After Bautista’s death, indigenous people joined the protests in early November. As folks joined protests in the streets with their own frustrations, ranging from the government’s legalization of shark hunting to its weakened stance on climate change, everyone became unified in the singular experience of Duque’s violent response to their peaceful protests.
Many indigenous people marched in or just outside their own communities, but nothing like what they are threatening now: a full mobilization of indigenous peoples to take over the capital. “We ask you to fulfill the commitments, the agreements that have been signed many years ago, because if not we will leave in a caravan next week,” Flor said, according to Colombia Reports, adding, “This is the last warning and the last demand we make.”
Over the last two years, more than 750 indigenous leaders and activists have been killed, according to INDEPAZ.
The indigenous peace officers have been regularly attending the protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands of Colombians into the streets, to counter the violence of militarized police with their unarmed intentions for peace. As they arrived, recognizable by their large wooden staffs painted with the colors that represent their nation, thousands applauded them. Others happily threw makeshift white confetti from their high-story windows to rain down on them.”They’re killing indigenous leaders – we want peace,” Indigenous Guard member Jose Asemeo Capiz told Al Jazeera during the country’s third mass protest last week.
Jamileth Mulcueguege was marching with an enormous indigenous flag when she told Al Jazeera, “We came to march for our rights to education, health and the environment that the government is destroying. If we unite and stay strong, the government will listen. It’s all about the strength of the people.”