Odyssey of and peaceful resistance by Cauca indigenous communities faced by continued armed conflicts.

(Translated by Rolf Schoneborn,a CSN volunteer translator)

Source : ACIN Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Caucahttp://www.nasaacin.org/nuestra-palabra-kueta-susuza/4296-cauca-odisea-y-resistencia-pacifica-de-las-comunidades-indigenas-frente-al-conflicto

July 10,2012

Moving testimony illustrates the odyssey and resistance of indigenous communities amidst war in northern Cauca (southwestern Colombia).

While 150 flowers and 150 so-called ‘muritos’ (little walls) are to honor the 150 dead (many of them children) as a result of the armed conflict in Toribio/Cauca and while the community mourned in remembrance of the dead, about 300 residents of the municipality of Toribio went on their way to meet and challenge rebel groups and ask them to leave their land. Along the way, they destroyed FARC camps and army trenches. Both the army and FARC
remained defiant and contemptuous, with FARC rebels saying, “if the army and police leave, we will leave also” and the army insisting, “if you make the
guerrillas leave, we will leave also, otherwise we will stay here.”

Chronicle of notorious violations of international humanitarian law.
On Friday July 8, the guerrillas took over the Toribio municipality and the armed conflict escalated as a result, which has been ever present in this part of northern Cauca. The rebel force attacked the police station, located in the central plaza of town. This left people living there no choice but to flee, especially in view of the fact that the fire fight lasted all day. Two persons were wounded through Sunday 8 am; however, the detonation a couple of hours later of a so-called ‘tartuco’ (makeshift explosive device) left four more people wounded on the grounds of the local health service station (IPS ), causing more terrified locals to flee.

The Guardia Indigena ( a community vigilance and self-defense movement), authorized by the indigenous authorities, and members of the surrounding communities came to the village of Bethlehem on Sunday afternoon and discovered a guerrilla camp, which they destroyed …just a short time earlier the rebels had attempted to evade the indigenous people fleeing the area, but were cornered by the guards and asked to leave and not to endanger the lives of civilians…the guerrillas reluctantly agreed and left Bethlehem in the afternoon, but the FARC rebels showed contempt and said they would not leave unless the army would leave, too. The people here doubt that all guerrillas have indeed moved on. A similar response was given by army and police, insisting that they would leave only if the rebel force left.

In the face of this human exodus the indigenous authorities set up meeting points for hundreds of people who were getting ready to pay their respects to those who had been injured or had died when a mini-van with a load of gas cylinders exploded.

The indigenous groups on the run spent the night as best as they could with bullets flying all around and with little or nothing to eat. On Monday the Assembly of Indigenous Authorities saw itself confronted with a very large group of fearful people, who had left their homes and it was decided to direct the Indigenous Guards to undertake a very risky but courageous task; that is to say, to face the warring opponents, destroy their hideouts and thus display their autonomy in the face of the ongoing armed conflict. This odyssey should remind us of human dramas in Palestine, where people just like the Nasa in Cauca had to flee keeping their faith in God, keeping their dignity, language and culture, with external actors fighting over their land…..In the afternoon the guards looked for rebels in the ‘veredas’ (unincorporated hamlets) and demanded that they leave their land.

This story, a moving testimony to a terrible war fought over control of this area and shows that it is the poor communities that have to pay a very high price for war and hatred between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ in their ancestral lands…

It was just a year ago yesterday that the bomb-laden mini-van blew up as army and rebel forces were fighting for dominance here and so in commemoration, the communities, torn between hope and pain, rendered a warm tribute to the victims.

“We stopped at some point and decided on Sunday at around 9:00 at night to keep marching on Monday and started out in groups of 250 to 300 people. In some of the veredas we encountered guerrillas but not in all of them and at some point we stopped to talk to two groups of them. While this was going on in the rural areas, the local people performed symbolic acts along the different paths and trails as well as in the town center of Toribio to honor the bomb blast victims and all victims of harassment and armed conflicts in the area … about 150 people got up early today to dedicate 150 white flower-decked ‘muritos’ with a tag identifying the dead and performing vigils for each one. There were many signs celebrating peace, marches and resistance; there was also a big billboard made by and with the children, who left their handprints as symbols of peace and encouragemen for the adults on the march. The solidary greetings of the Indigenous authorities also accompanied the people on the march”, so said the indigenous witness who of course could not be mentioned here by name for security reasons.

He added, “according to the report published today more than 187 houses were destroyed by the explosion a year ago and more than 100 persons were injured which caused panic and fear in the community and no end yet to grief.”

As recorded in the Memorial Act panic in the community is such according to witnesses that people wake up in the night, start crying and screaming and run away at night. Others recall that even before that fateful day they somehow knew that tragedy would befall them, but being afraid of the parties in conflict they did not speak up. “To know and to speak up in Toribio is tantamount to death”, according to a witness, who recalls the case of a woman, who came to ask for help for her daughter, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress which makes her cry out and run away…”she is obviously still affected by this terrible event….”.

At this moment on Monday, just before noon, entire communities of the San Francisco, Tacueyo and Toribio resguardos ( Indian reservations) came down to join the march through the streets of this town in protest of the armed conflict…”when pain overwhelms the people, they began to tear down all the intimidating military trenches next to their destroyed houses….aside from that, people had to deal with the hostile attitudes of other towns people who blamed the indigenous residents for all that could happen to them in the future because those trenches had been torn down”, according to our source.

Under the protection of nature and the Guardia Indigena the marchers regained their strength yesterday afternoon. They went to the hamlets in Upper Torribio to destroy guerrilla camps and did not hesitate to confront the rebels even at the cost of their lives. When this report goes to press early Tuesday, the fate of those who went out to make the guerrillas leave the Toribio area is uncertain. The Guardia Indigena and the various community groups are in Permanent Session and wait for their return in order to determine the next move. Meanwhile, the young man’s voice was getting more serious saying, “the guerrillas are of course interested in justifying their violence. They insist that it was not their fault that the tatuco went off and that they were not responsible for the torching of all those microbuses.’ They consider themselves to be asolutely innocent. Okay, they left Bethlehem, but they keep moving into the Nasa veredas of El Congo, La cruz and Tacueyo. Who guarantees that they will leave our land…? Just this morning (Monday) we heard shots in the area, which is supposed to let us know that they are still around.”

It needs to be pointed that there have been acts and messages of civilian solidarity in recognition of the fact that indigenous communities in the North of the Cauca department continue to face hard times as we have let the world know in previous reports (visit our website!). This ongoing conflict has affected almost all of the indigenous municipalities of Miranda, Suárez, Corinto and Jambaló, among others.

There was a rally in Bogotá on Monday in support of the victimized communities and in protest against violence with the Minga for Social and Community Resistance in the lead. (Minga – a traditional gathering for the collective good.) Prominent filmmakers and/or media people such as Martha Rodríguez, Pablo Mora, the Arhuaco Amado Villafane, the Daupará Collective, the communications board of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), other independent directors and a documentary filmmaker from Alaska all underscored the human crisis in this Cauca region. Martha Rodríguez spoke out against the destruction caused by the conflict and the loss of life and no mercy shown to children and pregnant women.

Pleas read the statement issed by the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca: We declare our permanent resistance until all armed groups and armies will have left our land.

(This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)

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