Divide and You Shall Conquer

Laura Rico Piñeres of The Empty Seat (La Silla Vacia – www.lasillavacia.com)
Original in Spanish

Monday, July 6, 2009

(Translated by Emily Hansen, a CSN volunteer translator)

Divide and you shall conquer. This has been the political motto of Uribe’s government with regards to groups that resist and oppose issues as important as the negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement, the result of various megaprojects and the Democratic Security. To wrest the power from the traditional indigenous, Afro Colombian and union authorities, the government has created or stimulated black, indigenous and labor organizations that support “Uribismo”.

Few groups have realized such organized and persistent resistance against the government as have the indigenous people of Cauca, lead by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and the Indigenous City Council Association of Northern Cauca (ACIN). The government created OPIC (Indigenous Villages Organization of Cauca) in the zone of the most traditional and emblematic indigenous resistance and struggle in Colombia. OPIC, a civil non-profit indigenous organization, gathers indigenous protestors or evangelicals without the endorsement of any city council and disrespects the traditional indigenous authority and its processes of representation.

In the last few months, an indigenous organization has also emerged in the Sierra Nevada that begins to defy the authority of city council member Kankuamo. This new group believs, for example, that the realization of megaprojects in the port of Dibulla in Guajira or the Los Besotes dam are beneficial for the community, and their positions have obviously strengthened their exchange with the regional and local governments of the area.

Last year the government created the Intersectorial Commission for the Advancement of the Afro Colombian Population as a medium of exchange between the government and the black communities. This entity, lead by Vice-President Francisco Santos is a duplicate of the High Consultive Commission and the Departmental and Regional Consultive Commissions, created by the Negritude Law two decades ago so that the government and the representatives of the Afro Colombian communities could dialogue and make decisions jointly regarding issues that affect their collective territories. For example, the construction of the port of Buenaventura and the highway that would connect the port with Tumaco must be discussed and approved in this way.

Similarly, the Colombia First Movement, headed by the ex-presidential advisor Jose Obdulio Gaviria, created the National Workers Confederation (CNT) a few months ago. CNT is a new central worker’s confederation whose president is Ricuarte Garcia, director of a union of the Public Health Ministry. This new union seeks to counteract the central “antiruribistes” on key issues, such as the negotiation of the TLC.


Traditional Powers and

New Power Pro



The traditional indigenous
organizations on the national level and in Cauca include: ONIC (The National
Indigenous Organization of Colombia), CRIC, and ACIN.



The High Consultive Commission
and the Departmental and Regional Consultive Commissions, are the
opportunities for exchange between the government and the Afro population
created by Law 70 in 1993. Similarly, Afro Colombian movements exist:
NGOs, Communitarian Council, Communal Action Boards, and Arenas that
represent the interests of the Afro Colombians. Some of the most
important movementsthat are against the TCL are: PCN, Cimarron, AFRODES, ASOMUJEH,
and CEPAC.

Intersectorial Commission for
the advancement of the

Afro Colombian population,
created by Decrees 4181 in 2007 and 4401 in 2008.


In Colombia there are three
traditional workers unions independent of the Uribe government. The
General of Central Workers (CGT), the Colombian Workers Confederation (CTC)
and the United Workers Confederation (CUT).

CNT, created by the Colombia
First Movement that represents Uribista thought and headed by Jose Obdulio

What is the strategy?

“Cooption” and “parallelism” are not new. Nevertheless, the concrete results of the various outcomes of these strategies are just beginning to be seen. On one hand sympathy is strengthened for groups that, as is the case with the Afro and indigenous populations, live in zones of high economic interest that can only be exploited if the communities of these territories endorse it through the consultive mechanism created by the Constitution of 1991.

A large part of the Afro Colombian population is located on the Pacific, an increasingly strategic area for the development of large agroindustrial, touristic and industrial projects. Since the government constitutionally has to rely on the approval of these communities in order to intervene in this area, the community councils, the city councils and the Afro organizations like PCN and Cimarron have become a nuisance for the president.

The government intends to avoid this obstacle through the Intersectorial Commission, created upon the suggestion of United States Black Caucus Senator Gregory Meeks. Meeks had in mind the commission created by Bill Clinton to avoid the structural barriers of racism in the United States. In practice, the Intersectorial Commission tends to gather only when the government calls a meeting and it convenes to discuss issues of its interest, excluding the issues and initiatives proposed by the base organizations, local authorities, Afro NGOs and community councils.

Different members of the Afro organizations assure The Empty Seat that the Intersectorial Commission was created to facilitate the execution of an eventual Free Trade Agreement, since those who participate there assume that the poverty of the black communities will disappear through a more extensive implementation of large projects that promote the industrial development in these zones. Nevertheless, the traditional leaders of the Afro communities reject these strategies that in many cases go against their cultures and uses of the land.

On the other hand, Uribe’s strategy seeks to legitimize his political project on the international level by making it counteract the Afro Colombian lobbying of foreign members of similar groups that externally criticize Uribe’s strategy.

For example, during almost all of his most recent trips to Washington, Uribe has traveled accompanied by an Afro delegation integrated in the Ministry of Culture and by other prominent Afro Colombians of the Color Foundation. This group is comprised largely of the intellectual and political Afro Colombian elite and counts on the support of the United States Embassy, but is far from representing the visions and interests of the Afro Colombian base communities (that in any case are largely divided).

The government has also tried to do something else with the indigenous population, but with less success. “With OPIC, the government has tried to illegitimatize the indigenous traditional authorities and their resistance and mobilization movement, diverting information from their methods of communication with national and international allies, generating confusion among social movements,” Javier Sanchez, Territories and Natural Resources Advisor of ONIC, said to The Empty Seat. “They play with the needs and hunger of the indigenous communities. They take photos and parade them around trying to show that all is well and that the indigenous population is with Uribe.”

Different opinions regarding the establishment of OPIC.

ONIC, CRIC and ACIN have publicly demonstrated that OPIC illegitimatizes the power of the organizations and traditional authorities. OPIC seeks to make invisible and silence the Social and Communal Labor union that has uncovered threats and deaths among the indigenous villages and has caused so much unease for the government.

Indigenous leaders told The Empty Seat, but we could not confirm independently, that members of OPIC are enjoying preferential treatment in obtaining military passports and in accessing dwellings of social interest. Only OPIC members are privy to these government initiatives.

The Empty Seat called the Ethnic Director of the Ministry of the Interior, the Delegation of Indigenous and Miner Defenders and the Vice-President of the republic to obtain the government’s point of view regarding this topic, but we were unable to obtain a response.

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