The Nasayuwe of Colombia at the United Nations

First things first. I’ve just published a photo essay on the indigenous movement in Northern Cauca. Please check it out.

On the subject, representatives from the Nasa indigenous communities of Northern Cauca, Colombia, were at the United Nations last week. Everyone should have their day at the UN, and the Nasa got five minutes, because they won the UNDP’s Equatorial Initiative Award for Sustainable Development back in February 2004.

Now, it’s true that the UN has a flawless record: from preventing aggression in Vietnam, to stopping genocide in Rwanda, to stopping sanctions in Cuba and Iraq, to stopping the invasion of Iraq, to stopping the US/Israel’s murderous campaign against the Palestinians, to reversing the coup in Haiti, the UN has proven itself singularly effective and principled at every turn.

But seriously, all sarcasm aside, the reason for the above examples is because the UN is an arena, not a government with forces or resources; that’s why what the US says goes in the world. In a context like this, what matters isn’t what the UN said to the Nasa, but what the Nasa said to the UN: what the Nasa are asking from the rest of the world.

What are they asking?

In the photo essay , I touch on the Nasa’s ‘guardia indigena’, unarmed members of the community who carry sticks to symbolize their authority. These ‘guardia indigena’ have actually been very effective in limiting the paramilitary attacks on their communities (and, unfortunate that they have had to, but also in limiting the guerrillas’ attacks on their communities’ autonomy).

Because the Nasa are under siege and under attack by the elite and by the military forces that want to displace them, they are asking for international peacekeeping — but they want it under the command of the guardia indigena. It is actually a very sensible proposition.

El Tiempo, Colombia’s national newspaper, ran an editorial expressing pride in the Nasa for winning the UNDP prize. It didn’t discuss their proposal, however. Don’t expect Bush or Uribe (Colombia’s President) to jump to implement it either.

Still, the idea of an international peacekeeping force under the command of a well-organized, popular, autonomous social movement as an inspiring one, and an interesting one to take to the UN.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.