By Pablo Montoya, EL ESPECTADOR, October 12, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Speakers on behalf of the minga and of the national government announced no advances during their meeting in Cali. The indigenous people request the presence of President Duque so they can debate with him about the murders of social leaders, the violence by the Armed Forces, and substitution of illegal crops.

The Monday meeting between representatives of the indigenous minga and the national government lasted more than four hours. They were discussing the petitions that the indigenous communities have been bringing for several weeks, including a demand on which there has been no movement: that President Iván Duque meet with them in person. The meeting ended without any agreement in sight, although the parties were willing to continue the dialog.

The grievances that are forcing this mobilization are longstanding, but they are enhanced by the urgent need to stop the wave of violence that has erupted in the ancestral territories this year, especially in provinces like Cauca. The statistics demonstrate the phenomenon very clearly: There have been nine massacres in Cauca so far this year, leaving a total of 36 people killed, according to Indepaz. Besides that, 47 indigenous leaders have been murdered.

For Aída Quilcué, human rights councilor at the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the lack of action to stop the spiral of violence and the constant attacks against the communities are a demonstration that “the Colombian government doesn’t have even the slightest will to guarantee the individual and collective lives of the indigenous peoples.”

Other concerns are added to the problems of violence, such as the government’s intention to go back to aerial aspersion, keeping in mind that a large part of the illegal plantings in the province are concentrated in municipalities like El Tambo and the El Naya area. In 2019 there were 17,355 hectares of coca there, according to statistics from the Colombian Drug Observatory.

The government has stated, for its part, that the doors are open to continuing the conversations. Even so, it has been emphatic in claiming that it’s a political mobilization. “It’s very important that Colombia is aware that this minga is not a call for improvement; it’s a minga of a political character, because the government has made tremendous efforts to accomplish what was agreed upon,” stated the Interior Minister, Alicia Arango. She was lamenting that the councilors of the CRIC did not attend the meeting.

From the minga, however, they pointed that the refusal of the CRIC councilors to attend was because of “a decision by the Assembly that the councilors are part of the community.” They assured the Minister that this was not a rebuff, but that they were merely following the orders of the Community Assembly.

EL ESPECTADOR spoke with Nelson Lemus, one of the spokesmen for the minga called by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) to explain their complaints against the national government.

What is the indigenous minga requesting?

There are three fundamental points. The first is that we reject the war, the violence. The first point is the defense of our lives. As Colombians we defend our lives and we won’t keep quiet about the killing. This country has gone back 25, 30 years to the period of massacres, and it’s a serious thing that these are happening in a country after signing a Peace Agreement.

The second is that we believe it’s important to have the debate with the President that we have been waiting for. He arrived at Caldono (April 9, 2019), but we didn’t manage to have a debate, because we wanted it to be public, not a debate with a small committee. It wasn’t possible. We are inviting, first of all, Colombian society, and second, the President, to have a debate about the structural issues in this country: the issue of fracking, of prior consultation; so that we can express our views and the development of our rights: territory, life, peace, employment, and all the constitutional rights we have as Colombians.

And the third point is peace. We believe it’s necessary to keep investing in peace, and we want to give President Duque the message that war is not the way. That peace is costly, but it provides the people with dignity.

How about the subject of crop substitution?

We reject fumigation; that doesn’t mean that we agree with the use of illegal crops, no coca, no poppy, no marijuana. We believe that that is something for which there has to be an alternative. We agree with substitution; that means that you change from planting coca, marijuana, and poppy, to legal crops, financed with government funds. That is the proposal and that is what the government ought to be doing.

Why are you asking for a reform of the Armed Forces?

We believe that the Armed Forces, for example, in the case of the Police, ought to do what they are required to do by the Constitution. Why did they give the Police long-range weapons? The Police did zilch in helping with the work of the community. And why did they give them weapons? At some point they justified it because there was a war and there were guerrillas that might take power, but now, who is going to take power? Now, the guerrillas, who once were very powerful in this country, have laid down their weapons. So why are those people still armed? Our proposal is for fewer weapons, more social investment, so that the people can have more possibilities to be productive, have jobs, have health care, and those things, plus education, should not be merchandise. They are fundamental rights that help people, and that’s why the government ought to accomplish that.

Have the indigenous communities received government assistance during the pandemic?

Tuna fish and lentils. That’s all. We have an IPS that has not received one peso to carry out the contingency plan in the framework of Covid-19, and that’s serious.

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