(Translated by Elaine Fuller, a CSN volunteer translator)
[ 03/07/09 ]
We know that the war produces these situations. But that does not justify them. To the contrary, it obliges us to resolve them and to resolve the conflict itself. We are committed to this. We want this letter to serve to open a public dialogue with you, a dialogue that we hope will be direct and transparent, will help resolve problems, will move us forward on the road to peace and will not worsen the situation. We hope that you will give orders that will prevent the threats and the targeting of people, of which we have spoken, from becoming a painful reality for our people.
Santander de Quilichao, February 19, 2009
To: Commander Alfonso Cano and other members of the Secretariat of the FARC-EP
We are taking advantage of this open channel, in conjunction with Colombians for Peace, in order to begin a written communication with you, and to submit for consideration the following analysis and issues in the framework of our stated and ancestral commitment to peace and to a political solution to the conflict through dialogue and negotiation.
The indigenous people of Colombia, in particular those of Cauca, have moved forward toward specifying our strategic political project. We can synthesize it into three principles:
1) The necessity to transform the political system into one in which there is justice, democracy and government by all, as well as a good life lived in harmony with the environment.
2) The necessity that this new political system truly respect the right of indigenous peoples to self-government, as well as their right to make decisions regarding their territories and natural resources. We are committed to our conviction that Mother Earth is not the property of anyone (least of all transnational corporations), and should be protected and liberated so that she may nourish and care for all living beings.
3) The necessity that the relationship between peoples be one of understanding, respect and solidarity. In other words, we seek a truly democratic political system (which so far does not exist anywhere); an alternative economic system that does not destroy the environment; a harmonious society.
All of the preceding principles depend on the existence of peace. In our work to strengthen peace, we have arrived at a conclusion that is simple but truthful: “There will be no peace for Colombians if there is no peace for indigenous people, and there will be no peace for indigenous people if there is no peace for Colombians.” We do not simply want to be excluded by the war and its atrocities at a time when it is laying waste to this country. We don’t want to put ourselves in a shell while people are killing each other. No. We want the war to end.
We humbly believe that we have made progress toward meeting all these objectives. In the Department of Cauca, the organization and mobilization of the indigenous has allowed us put into practice real exercises in self-government. We have gained ever-growing control over our territory and natural resources and we continue to defend a way of life that does not destroy the lives of people or the natural environment. We are not being naive in regards to these successes. We know that they are relative given the advance of the exploitative and predatory economic model; that building democratic governments at the grassroots level is slow; that defending an alternative way of life in the midst of consumerism is at times impossible. Even so, our whole organization is prepared to defend these advances by all means possible because they are guides on a road to a just end, and we understand that they are a contribution to the whole popular movement.
However, working against these objectives that we consider just are the illegal actions of both the predatory economic model and the illegitimate Mafioso political system that is misgoverning the country today. We have stated publicly that government and corporate conduct and activities openly go against that which we are building. While we build a popular county government that reports to the town council and the assembly of community members, you take over the county, destroy houses and create a pretext for the security forces to invade communities. We, unarmed and with uncovered faces, dismantled the trenches of the police in the center of Caldono, Toribio and Jambalo so they would not affect the civilian population while you put in place antipersonnel mines with no consideration for the people who are not a part of this war. While we fearlessly passed judgment against the members of the military who have murdered indigenous community members, you kidnapped indigenous and non-indigenous officials of the Jambalo mayor’s office to prosecute them for stealing money, as if we had not already demonstrated our ability to apply our own community justice. It is as though you are against the power of the people and the direct government of communities by community members. One community member told us that it seems as though you are for taking the authority that the poor and the Indigenous have worked so hard to gain while allowing the rich to retain all the power that they have.
What now worries us most is the campaign that has been going on for some time now, in which you are pushing to create parallel structures to those that we have built. Militia groups and their initiatives within communities have become an enormous risk to the lives of indigenous people and a threat to their organization. You know that weapons debilitate those who carry them; people become more arrogant and vain when faced with those that are unarmed. You also know that many young people join these groups for reasons that are not political, sometimes as a solution to family problems, or to avoid fulfilling obligations to or sanctions from the community and, almost always, these young men and women have little political education. You also know that when there are armed groups nearby, there are always those who turn to them in order to resolve personal problems. Many of these quarrels are presented as political and those in charge of the armed groups end up getting involved in the game with the goal of gaining allies or the guarantee of future favors.
More serious still is that these groups of militias are the sources of “reliable” information with which armed organizations feed their political interventions. This results in you making political decisions on the basis of rumors, gossip and personal quarrels that then lead to the absurd targeting of innocent individuals. Some of your people (we don’t know whether or not by order of the secretariat) have threatened the most prominent members of ACIN and CRIC, and also non-indigenous advisors who have worked with us for 30 or 40 years and who you have accused of being allied with the government. And the officials of the indigenous mayor’s office who were accused of stealing money now find themselves on a list of people to be assassinated in retaliation for the fact that our indigenous guard freed them and our justice system sanctioned the indigenous militiamen responsible for their kidnapping. In a previous era you spoke of popular justice; now the mere will of a person is enough to condemn him/her to death. By following this road of forcefully compelling people to join armed groups, or involving them in a voluntary manner but without paying mind to political considerations, we will arrive at a point where the targeting of people becomes a generalized phenomenon, which has resulted in massacres such as that of our Awa brothers or that of the Kankuamos, and many of the abuses and crimes to which you have already admitted will be repeated.
Each situation is different but behind it all is your interest and the interest of the Government to force us into the armed conflict. We have already said we are not living outside of the conflict; we are in it as victims and we want to be in it as participants who are helping to resolve it. But we don’t want to be an armed group; we don’t want our community members to become combatants in anyone’s army because we have realized that popular government and the direct and conscious organization of all people are more powerful than any armed force. Our own experience tells us that an armed force that separates itself from the people from which it stemmed and imposes itself on them becomes a force of occupation, and all forces of occupation become odious to the people and are bound to be defeated. We know that the war produces these situations. But that does not justify them. To the contrary, it obliges us to resolve them and to resolve the conflict itself. We are committed to this. We want this letter to serve to open a public dialogue with you, a dialogue that we hope will be direct and transparent, will help resolve problems, will move us forward on the road to peace and will not worsen the situation. We hope that you will give orders that will prevent the threats and the targeting of people, of which we have spoken, from becoming a painful reality for our people.
Given the urgency of this situation, we await a prompt reply.
Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN)
Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC)
Also: Colombians for Peace