“We are not going to hurt anybody, but we will use the force of our united community, our words and our rights to gain back our territories.”
The social, union and human right organizations that have signed below express before the national and international community our solidarity and support for the indigenous communities of Cauca department (province), who have demanded the demilitarization of their ancestral territories. “We do not want to hear a single shot. Wherever we hear one is where we will go,” said Minga for Life, a community organization.
Equally, we, the signing organizations, reject the repressive answer that the Colombian government has given to such a delicate situation. We also reject the intransigent character of their statements in the media -- which have led to the polarization of public opinion --, as well as the role played by the media in distorting information in favour of the government's version of events.
Historically, the Cauca department, located in the southwest Colombia, has been marked by the presence of different social and military conflicts. This presence has dragged civilian, indigenous and peasant peoples into hostilities, causing deaths, forced displacement, as well as great and constant risk.
Tired of abuses by armed forces, and in an act for dignity and autonomy, they have decided to retake control over their territories by expelling the national army and the FARC guerrilla force -- this beginning on July 6th, 2012.
The causes of the social and armed conflicts in the Cauca are many, and include: neglect by the Colombian government; poor road infrastructure; a health system that is not equipped to handle the crisis in the area; an insufficient educational system; an agricultural system that is pulled between traditional crops and illicit ones; a high number of applications for licenses to exploit the mining and energy resources of the region; and the development of monoculture for export, which exceeds 67% of the Cauca territory.
Paradoxically, Popayan, the department’s capital, is home to one of the most ancient oligarchies in the country, which has been openly racist and aggressive towards indigenous communities. This, and the reasons stated above, have made Cauca the epicentre of war in Colombia.
We do not believe that the solution to these problems is to convert the department into a place where only a military solution is possible.
We are calling on the international community, the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Organization of American States to verify compliance by the Colombian government with international humanitarian law in regards to: the actions by the Colombian armed forces; the construction of military garrisons in the midst of the civilian population; and war operations that do not comply with the distinction principles of international humanitarian law.
We are also calling on the National People’s Advocacy organization (Colombia) to encourage dialogue between the indigenous communities and the national government, in order to make advances on agreements that respect the autonomy of indigenous people and their ancestral territories.
Finally, we call upon the Colombian media -- RCN, CARACOL, EL ESPECTADOR, EL TIEMPO, EL PAIS -- to practise truthful, real, impartial and ethical journalistic work, so that it does not threaten Colombians' fundamental right to information. We believe that the media's limited coverage skews public opinion against indigenous people.
In this sense we fully condemn the events that took place on the night of July 17, 2012, when a crowd of people, convened by the National Police forces, gathered outside the headquarters of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) in Popayan. The crowd insulted the council, called them guerrilla fighters, and demanded their exile from the city.
We urge all members of society to demand that the Colombian government, led by Juan Manuel Santos, begin a dialogue with indigenous communities in order to transform this critical situation. This is important because it is clear that the structural problems of a country cannot be solved through the militarization of civilian life.
Finally, we invite the national and international community to come together in solidarity with the Colombian indigenous struggle, rejecting the notion put forth by the state that a military solution is the only one that exists.
Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT –Seccional Valle del Cauca-
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos –Seccional Valle del Cauca-
Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos –Seccional Valle del Cauca-
Proceso Nacional Identidad Estudiantil
Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado –Capítulo Valle-
Sindicato de Trabajadores de las Universidades de Colombia SINTRAUNICOL – Valle
Zona Pública –Colectivo de Comunicación alternativa y popular-
Coordinación Colombia - Europa – Estados Unidos -Nodo Suroccidente-
Colectivo Memoria Viva
Translated by Sandro Aravena Perez.