Things That Matter

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.

Credit: @UNDERGROUND_RT / TWITTER

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.

Credit: @ANTICONQUISTA / TWITTER

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.

Credit: @ESCOBARMORA3 / TWITTER

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.”

READ: Dilan Cruz Becomes A Symbol Of Colombia’s Protest Movement After He Was Shot Dead By Police

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Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Culture

Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Medellín, Colombia was once home to one of the world’s most powerful cartels – Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. During the ’90s, drug gangs and guerrilla fighters controlled the city’s streets and few people ventured out the relative safety of their immediate neighborhoods.

That Medellín is a distant memory for many Paisas thanks to the fall of the cartels, but also to a distinct set of ideals and values that have shaped the city’s development over the last decade.

Medellín was named the world’s third city of the future and it’s leading in so many categories.

Medellín is nestled in a valley high in the Andes, and many of the city’s poorest residents live in comunas they built on the steep slopes. And although the city still struggles with high rates of poverty, city planners are working to bridge the divide between these poor communities with little access to public amenities and the core of Medellín.

The technology that helped save Medellín is not what you’d see in San Francisco, Boston or Singapore—fleets of driverless cars, big tech companies and artificial intelligence. It is about gathering data to make informed decisions on how to deploy technology where it has the most impact. 

Where most smart-city ­initiatives are of, by and, to a large extent, for the already tech-savvy and well-resourced segment of the population, Medellín’s transformation has for the most part been focused on people who have the least.

The city’s cable car system is one out of sci-fi novels.

Think of a gondola suspended under a cable, floating high off the ground as it hauls a cabin full of passengers up a long, steep mountain slope. To most people, the image would suggest ski resorts and pricey vacations. To the people who live in the poor mountainside communities once known as favelas at the edges of Medellín, the gondola system is a lifeline, and a powerful symbol of an extraordinary urban transformation led by technology and data.

“The genius of the Metrocable is that it actually serves the poor and integrates them into the city, gives them access to jobs and other opportunities,” says Julio Dávila, a Colombian urban planner at University College London. “Nobody had ever done that before.” As people of all classes started using the cars to visit “bad” neighborhoods, they became invested in their city’s fate, heralding a decade of some of the world’s most innovative urban planning

Designers have created safe spaces for all with parks and libraries.

The Metrocable succeeded in connecting Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods to the rest of the city – but where would they hang out? This lead to the construction of five libraries sprinkled throughout Medellín, all surrounded by beautiful greenery. These “library-parks” were among the first safe public spaces many neighborhoods had ever seen. 

The key ingredient of Medellín’s transformation, experts agree, is perspective: The city looked beyond technology as an end in itself. Instead, it found ways to integrate technological and social change into an overall improvement in daily life that was felt in all corners of the city—and especially where improvement was most needed. “Medellín’s vision of itself as a smart city broke from the usual paradigms of hyper-modernization and automation,” says Robert Ng Henao, an economist who heads a smart-city department at the University of Medellín.

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The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Things That Matter

The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Colombia has made incredible progress since the 1990’s when the country was a hotbed for international drug trafficking and guerrilla warfare. Today, modern bustling cities are home to shopping centers, museums, and hordes of international visitors.

However, despite the advancements, the country is still in a delicate peace deal with the main guerrilla oppossition – Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) – and there are many other paramilitary groups that still operate across the country, including in the main port city of Buenavista.

The city of Buenavista is seeing an uptick in body parts washing up along its shores.

In mid-January, an arm washed up on the city’s shore. It was quickly assumed, by local media reports, that the arm belonged to one of three local fisherman who had most likely been rounded up, killed, and dismembered. The arm had a tattoo on it, connecting it to one of the missing men, Armando Valencia.

And it wasn’t the first time this has happened. According to residents, body parts washing up on beaches is a tragically familiar occurrence. “There were some reports of body parts washing up at La Bocana [a nearby tourist spot]. A head, a leg, an arm,” said María Miyela Riascos, a social leader from Buenaventura, in a statement to VICE News. “Also, they found a man and a woman dismembered in the rural area of Bajo Calima.”

Violence has been rampant in Buenaventura for decades. The city has some of the highest rates of forced displacement and homicide in the country. But seldom has it been confronted by the levels of brutality experienced in the past year.

Criminal groups have long terrorized the city but things seem to be out of control.

So many different criminal groups have terrorized the slums of Colombia’s main Pacific port that residents rarely bother to learn the name of the latest clan in control. They simply call the warring gangs los malos or the bad guys.

Three people have been killed or disappeared daily, and conflict between organized crime has displaced as many as 6,000 people. Videos on Twitter show people fleeing their homes and young men and women patrolling with assault weapons. #SOSbuenaventura has been trending.

Community leaders see darker interests behind the violence, saying the areas where most crimes occur are the same where plans have been laid for a waterfront project, an airport and seaport terminals. “I see the violence as a means of pressure to get us off this area so they can build their projects,” Armando Valencia told The Guardian.

Criminals use “chop houses” to dismember their victims.

Colombian navy special forces on patrol among stilted waterfront shacks in Buenaventura
Credit: Fernando Vergara / Getty Images

The criminals recruit children, extort businesses, force people from their homes and dismember live victims, scattering their remains in the bay or surrounding jungle. Dozens of wooden huts balanced precariously on stilts over the bay have been abandoned by terrorized citizens and taken over by the gangs for use as casas de pique, or chop houses, where they torture and murder their victims.

The chop houses are the most gruesome consequence of a deeply flawed attempt to dismantle rightwing militias, which originally emerged to combat leftwing guerrillas in collusion with state security forces and drug traffickers.

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