EL ESPECTADOR, August 1, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Creating a Truth Commission that would address the history of the ethnic peoples, and regulate the creation of the Association of Traditional Indigenous Authorities (Attis in Spanish), are two of the important recommendations of this chapter of the Final Report.

For the indigenous peoples, the war definitely did happen. “It took courage on our part to tell our truth,” Álvaro Piranga Cruz, stressed from Amazonas Department. He is a former communications counsel for the ONIC[1] and one of the people that actively participated in the preparation of the ethnic chapter of the Final Report on the Armed Conflict. This Tuesday, August 2, the ethnic volume, called “Resisting is not Enduring”, is being launched. It gathers the findings on the ways that the armed conflict impacted the indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, raizales,[2] palenqueras,[3] and the “gypsy” people also called Rrom. It also contains recommendations for ways to avoid repetition, so that rights and dignity might be pillars in the lives of the ethnic peoples, one of the populations most affected by the war.

This volume, all by itself, is a landmark: it’s the first time that one of the 51 Truth Commissions in the world has dedicated a complete section to relating the horrors that looted the ethnic peoples, both physically and culturally, and also to narrate the forms of collective and spiritual resistance. While this volume is being published formally, and was being distributed among the indigenous populations, EL ESPECTADOR  in Leticia (Amazonas Department), learned of some of the findings and recommendations contained in its pages. Seeing them serves as an appetizer, like an ABC, to address the keys to the ethnic truth and its relationship with the government and the insurgent groups and the paramilitaries.

Beyond the nation-state

One of the first things that has to be made clear is that the narrative of the ethnic communities maintains that the effects go beyond the existence of Colombia as a nation. That’s to say, that the violence the indigenous and Afro-Colombian people have suffered in the armed conflict have historical precedents in slavery and the things that happened in “the colony”.

As this chapter explains, it was that inheritance that unloosed the racist treatment against the ethnic peoples and that also, that the extractivist model established in places like the Colombian Amazon and in the Pacific, served as a base for the violences that took place in the armed conflict between the former guerrillas of the FARC and the government, among other armed groups. That’s why even though the mandate of the Truth Commission indicates that it is to study the war that took place between 1958 and 2016, in the case of the volume on the ethnic peoples, it recognizes that the effects began several centuries ago, and that they came as a result of the racist and colonial treatment during the conflict, that is still in effect today.

“The violences in Amazonia can’t be understood without recalling the slavery, without recalling the exploitation of the rubber plantations (a little before the Casa Arana[4]), events that led to the disappearance of Amazonian peoples,” explained Gabriela Recalde, the Commission’s social dialog consultant, to this newspaper. She added that “it’s exactly because of that that Amazonia signed up for the long-lasting forms of violence that were exacerbated in the armed conflict.” Recalde emphasized that in the territory, with its demographic density of ethnic inhabitants, and because of the particularities of the extractivist economy there, was really a detriment to the economic development that belonged to the region.

Therefore, she left on the table some questions for the government that surge out of the chapter on what happened in Amazonas, and in the volume on ethnic issues. “If the deployment of Plan Colombia was so powerful in Amazonia, why is the implementation of the Peace Agreement not present at all?”

Indigenous territoriality

Among other things amply covered in the investigation by the Truth Commission is the way in which the armed actors usurped the territories of the ethnic peoples. After nearly four years of work, the Commission identified 17 corridors that they used for years to do their trading and carry out their commerce among the different towns. Once the armed conflict got under way, the illegal actors used those paths for their troop mobilizations or for the illegal economies. That resulted in having the indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples see themselves as involved in a war that was not theirs, nor belonging in their territories, but that was taking place among them and took their bodies.

In addition to that, the Truth Commission indicated that the territorial configuration of the government had not considered the territorial realities of the ethnic peoples, as they are groups of people who often don’t remain completely in just one place, but rather, because of their history, they have located in more than one department. Because of that, the Commission needed to have the ethnic chapter show that even though the traditional geographic division had not considered the ethnic division, it’s necessary to recognize it and to think about a regional policy that’s much broader, so as to include the autonomous governance of these people, so that they can be in a dialog with the governmental structure.

One of the recommendations from the ethnic focus is to regulate the Indigenous Territorial Entities (Etis in Spanish). Etis is a political and juridical space that the indigenous peoples in Colombia have, in order to develop, design, and implement new governmental structures for their towns. “They are a historic opportunity to avoid the imposition by the majoritarian society of administrative forms that don’t fit,” explains Biviany Rojas. They were created by the Constitution of 1991 in Article 286; however, they have never been regulated by Congress, and so the Truth Commission is insisting that that is urgent. At the same time, the Commission advises that Articles 2, 7, 10, 40, 246, 286, and 330 of the Constitution also be regulated.

A Commission for the ethnic peoples

Finally, among the most relevant matters in this chapter is the proposal to create a Truth Commission just focused on consolidating the historic memory of the ethnic peoples, including the Rrom people. In Colombia, they represent less than 1% of the population, but there are also things to tell about the damage that the war did to the “gypsy” culture. Besides, the Commission believes that having an entity dedicated just to this work is an answer that can lead to attending to the ethnic victims of the armed conflict in a dignified way.

The recommendations in the Final Report on the indigenous, Afro-Colombian, raizales, palenqueras, and the Rrom people are not necessarily new. They are recommendations that could have been made in other opportunities by the government, by social organizations, by associations of mayors or other city officials, but the government has never paid any attention to them. “This is an exercise in the collection of recommendations, adjusting them and organizing in subject blocks; because the tools belonging to the victims, to the civil society organizations, to politicians, have power to demand that the government comply with these obligations that can transit to a great peace,” concluded Gabriela Recalde, the Truth Commission’s consultant for social dialog.

[1] ONIC. National Indigenous Organization of Colombia.

[2] The term “raizales” refers to the people who live in the Caribbean archipelago.

[3] The term “palenqueras” refers to a people living in and near Cartagena whose ancestors helped escaped slaves.

[4] Julio César Arana was a major figure in rubber exploitation.

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