Why are they killing the Indigenous people in northern Cauca?

President Duque announces new Rapid Deployment Force with 2,500 men

By Marcela Osorio Granados

El Espectador, Oct 30 2019

(Translated by Rolf Schoeneborn, CSN volunteer translator)


The massacre of five members of the Nasa community in Tacueyó, municipality of Toribío, further aggravated the security crisis repeatedly reported from the region. In 2019, 14 Indigenous people of that ethnicity have already been killed.


caption: The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia gathered this Wednesday night in the Plaza de Bolívar to commemorate the five victims of the attack that took place in the village of La Luz, Tacueyó district, in the department of Cauca. (photo credit: Mauricio Alvarado)

Cristina Bautista was assassinated because she actively resisted the attempts of armed groups to use Nasa Indigenous community territory as a transit zone for illegal activities. The Indigenous governor, also known as Neehwesx, was killed along with four other members of the Indigenous Guard when she tried to stop the passage of men from the FARC dissident group Dagoberto Ramos, which operates in the municipality of Toribío, north of Cauca. Six other community members were injured and reports from the same community indicated that the armed men even fired at the ambulance at the scene of the attack. Multiple political and social sectors reacted instantly and expressed their outrage and anger about what the Indigenous organizations themselves see as attempted genocide of their people. The crisis, however, is not new, and the security situation has been getting worse for some time.

To understand the grave threats that communities in northern Cauca face, it is essential to know the importance of this region for illicit activities and illegal armed groups. It is an area that integrates the entire production chain of drug trafficking: there are illicit crops, laboratories for processing, and routes for illegal trafficking, not only of coca paste, but also of marijuana, a product that has gained considerably in value due to the increase in demand and  great interest in commercialization and control.

“Not only legal and illegal mining, but also socio-economic conflicts attached to land and territorial disputes, linked to macro projects and natural resource exploitation, are some of the factors that allow not only the rearmament and strengthening of illegal  actors, who now seem to be in a phase of expansion and consolidation, but  also disputes over control. The civilian population is increasingly at risk. This is especially true of those who attempt to defend land and territory and are thus more visible and vulnerable in the face of these threats,” according to a document issued by the Ombudsman’s Office just 27 days ago. It warned about the increasing risk facing the Regional Indigenous Guard Coordinator of the CRIC (Regional Indian Council of Cauca), José Albeiro Camayo, who was threatened in the municipality of Buenos Aires (Cauca) by armed men who tied him to a pole with barbed wire.

Two months earlier, the same agency issued an early warning calling attention to the risk situation for coordinators and members of Indigenous guards, traditional authorities, and members of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca and the CRIC. It included worrisome figures: just in the first eight months of 2019, 51 threats and eight attacks against Indigenous Nasas were recorded.

According to the Ombudsman’s diagnosis, aside from the conditions of community vulnerability, three factors make up the risk scenario. These are the redistribution of armed domains in territories that for decades were under the influence of the FARC, the persistence of other illegal armed actors who benefit from legal and illegal economies, and the progress in the implementation of the Peace Agreement.

An additional factor plays a role in several areas of the department of Cauca: the confrontation between old and new dissident structures of the FARC. According to Diana Sánchez, director of the Minga Association, what is happening there is a proliferation and fragmentation of illegal armed actors and a realignment of forces which has varied in recent months. “There are FARC groups that never entered the peace process, that have always had links to the drug traffickers and have been present in several Cauca regions; but now add to that the dissident group leaving the peace process (the people of Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich and others) who came back to the territory and are returning to the conflict. In addition, we must take into account the criminal structures around illegal mining, very dangerous mafias that aid and abet legal companies by getting local organizational and leadership processes out of the way,she says.

In this case in Tacueyó, the struggle is with the dissidents. “Here is an armed group, namely the FARC dissident group Dagoberto Ramos, that wants to impose its rules and control. That is what we do not accept. They always identify themselves and say that it’s about control. They have already killed several Indigenous Guards, explains Rubén Escué, Indigenous leader of Tacueyó and Rector of the Center for Education, Training and Research for the Integral Development of the Community.

This is what happened on Tuesday in the La Luz sector of the Tacueyò reservation, says Escué: “Information came to the various councils and to the Guard that armed groups were mobilizing on the road that leads from Tacueyó to Corinth. The Guard came out and was located at the territorial control point.  The Dagoberto Ramos people wanted to pass and the Guard did not let them, so they started shooting.”

The leader explains that the problem with the illegal groupings relates to the fact that the Indigenous population have become “stones in their shoes,” because they are the only ones who have some kind of control in the area. Several times Guards have blocked their passage, citing the ironclad rule that armed groups are not allowed in their territories: “The issue of drug trafficking is very complicated and not easy to read. We have to be suspicious of the Armed Forces in the territory because they do not act. They can practically smell marijuana, and the assassinations happen under their very noses, and nothing happens. Meetings with the Government are a waste of time.”

Diana Sánchez makes a similar analysis. She insists that it is impossible to understand how, in a highly militarized department, such a proliferation of armed groups is possible, and how the illegals are able to act without major problems. “The Nasa people themselves have said it publicly. The Army is able to exercise territorial control, if it wishes, to see which drugs are being trafficked out of those areas, but nothing happens. The Indigenous Guards are the ones who do the controls; they burn the trucks, and that’s why they are being killed. So what are the Armed Forces doing?

That is why the visit of President Iván Duque was not well received by some sectors of the community. And much less his announcement that, in the next 40 days, the Rapid Deployment Force number 4 will start operating with more than 2,500 members of the Armed Forces. There will be three goals: controlling the territory, closing drug trafficking routes, and dismantling those illegal organizations. The issue, when seen through the lens of indigenous people, is the proven fact that an increase in force size does not translate into more security for the communities. In fact, they do not see the presence of Armed Forces contingents as a guarantee of protection. There is distrust, and it is mutual.

Hence, according to Sánchez, it is necessary to analyze what happened in Tacueyó in a more general context, since there are very different conceptions of security, and it is clear that the model the State has always implemented is not sufficient to protect the inhabitants in regions like Cauca. “This continues to be a State that is highly exclusive, stigmatizing Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations and campesinos. Although in his speech and public statements Duque says he recognizes multiculturalism, in practice he does not. There is mutual distrust specifically as far as the most repressive state organ is concerned, namely the Armed Forces, which has fought against the Nasas as if they were guerrillas. They have stigmatized and abused them and not protected them at all. You cannot coordinate security actions with someone you deeply distrust,” she concludes.

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