Cauca Update

There is a great deal going on in Colombia even beyond Cauca. I am a bit backlogged in terms of article writing, but an article updating and explaining the situation throughout Colombia is definitely on the agenda. Meanwhile, some more information on the military and political situation in Northern Cauca.

I forgot to link here to the article I did a few days ago. on the topic. There is also an op-ed by Daniel Garcia-Pena Jaramillo, a very good analyst with long experience with the FARC and the government from when he was peace commissioner during the negotiations in the 1990s. His piece is on the political failure of the FARC. His last line expresses a disbelief that is widely felt.

Even worse than not speaking though, is not listening. I don’t understand a guerrilla organization that is indifferent to what the people say can aspire to be the army of the people.

Since he wrote his piece and I wrote mine the military confrontation continues. On April 28 the Colombian daily El Tiempo reported new combats in the towns of Jambalo and Tacueyo, which neighbours Toribio (I visited Jambalo briefly last year during my trip to Cauca and have several photos of Tacueyo in the photo essay on the movement). In Tacueyo three minors were injured by a pipe bomb.

These attacks have taken place since members of the community have begun to return. On April 25 El Tiempo reported that 5000 people who had left Toribio were returning. Mayor Arquimedes Vitonas expressed worries that “now will come the selective assassinations.” On April 26, the indigenous council of Jambalo reported that ‘in a gesture of nonviolent resistance the community of Jambalo has decided to remain in Permanent Assembly so long as the conditions under which they can return to their homes are absent.” (They assembled in the centre of town and camped there overnight – defying the armed actors who told them to leave.)

I believe the most important single piece of news in the area is the statement made by the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), whose communique of two days ago demanded that the military organizations ‘silence the guns so words can be heard’. They call for 1) a ceasefire, 2) demilitarization of the region, and 3) commencement of negotiations toward a political solution to the conflict. A translation (I can’t take credit for it) of this communique is below.


In face of the escalation of the war in our territory, and taking into account the difficult situation in which we are living, we the Nasa Paez communities reiterate before national an international opinion – as has already been expressed in the official communiqués of the ACIN beginning on April 15, 2005 (see – our call to a:


We say this taking into account our deep rejection of:

The declarations of Mr. President of the Republic Álvaro Uribe Vélez concerning his firm decision to “eradicate the guerrillas from Cauca” and no dialogue with terrorist groups until they put an end to their military actions (in the same way that has been done with the self-defense groups).

The continued presence and political pressure from the members of the FARC on the dwellers of a wide area of Northern Cauca and their expressed position of strengthening their military control in that territory.

Faced with these radical positions of the actors at war, we the indigenous peoples of the Northern zone of the department reiterate OUR DECLARATION OF A STATE OF HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY until there exist true guarantees for human rights, international humanitarian law and, above all, for the community process of the indigenous communities.

We openly manifest that we the indigenous population, as a whole and as each individual person, are in imminent danger of being subjected to processes of legal prosecution or execution, currently or afterwards, by any one of the actors involved in the conflict.



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.

10 thoughts on “Cauca Update”

  1. One has to definitely
    One has to definitely support the indigenous’ demand for the demilitarization of their territory by all armed actors as move in defense of their autonomy, but the fact is that even if the Uribe government would half-heartedly attempt to comply with this because of internal and external demands (I’m not betting on that however, but let’s imagine), such a move would only be interpreted by the currently politically-autistic FARC as part of their own exclusivist politico-military strategy and nothing more than that. And of course, they wouldn’t see any reason to comply with their part of the bargain either.

    Clearly, military useful moves that are politically useless don’t really change the overall situation one bit, in the end. That’s valid both for the Plan Patriota and for the FARC’s own tactical and strategic innitiatives, since at least the beginning of the Caguan/post-Caguan era.

    With such radical, almost anti-rational and unilateral behavior patterns on both sides of the conflict, one must wonder if Colombia will ever get out of this hole that it has dug itself in, without just slipping back in. Sadomasochism comes to mind.

    Perhaps nuking the whole place, as some Americans egoistically propose in a half-joking manner every now and then wouldn’t be too bad. At least Colombia would have to unite in order to rebuild.

    Cynical, tasteless and pessimistic, yes, but sometimes that’s just the way things seem to impotent observers in the midst of Colombia’s unending violence.

  2. Thanks for the information
    Thanks for the information you provide. Thanks also for your translation of Jaramillo’s article. He seems to have at least some sympathy for the ELN. Do you think that sympathy is well-placed?

  3. anonimato, I of course
    anonimato, I of course disagree completely. Josiah, on ELN. I think the peace process they’re in with the government is unlikely to get very far, and it’s unfortunate. They are however nowhere near as strong as FARC militarily – just not close. They have a tradition of being closer to and more interested in dialogue with social movements. But they too have committed mistakes, errors of political judgement, and actions that resulted in large numbers of innocent deaths. Robin Kirk’s book has some stuff on ELN.

  4. Well, Mr. Justin, I
    Well, Mr. Justin, I suspected you’d say that. But if I may make a humble -and in no way obligatory, evidently- question…what exactly would you see as a probable and reasonable way out of the status quo?

    Your articles and op-pieces, at least those that I’ve read so far here and there, are interesting enough as critique and so on, but -though I’m surely missing quite a few of them- don’t seem to be too constructive as far as solving all these things goes either.

    I don’t really see many potentially positive solutions for Colombia’s near and foreseeable future, outside of hoping for a)a military victory of a magically facelifted FARC that incorporates wider social and political sectors b)a political victory of wide social and political sectors that can actually deal with the AUC, FARC and the traditional political class without slipping right into the pavement. c)something else…?

    Nobody here has a crystal ball, of course, but one can definitely extrapolate from current realities, and the resulting future doesn’t appear to look much better.

  5. Look, there’s nothing wrong
    Look, there’s nothing wrong with taking a realistic look at the situation and concluding that it’s pretty damned bleak. But that’s certainly not unique to Colombia – climate change and impending nuclear doom are bigger and, to my mind, more intractable. All I’m saying is that if there are ways out, people with ideas that could, if they had support, offer solutions, then it’s quite wrong to decide from far away that they can be written off, much less that they should be nuked (I realize you were kidding but the joke was in poor taste). It is all quite likely to end quite badly, but so what? The only interesting and worthy thing to do in such a situation is to grasp at whatever low-probability straws as exist and pull as hard as you can. Cauca is one carajo of a straw, and it is far from the only one. I’m not trying to delude you – this is honestly how I see things, anonimato.

  6. To answer your question, in
    To answer your question, in the terms you phrased it, I’d say the answer is b.

  7. While I’m no expert on the
    While I’m no expert on the situation in Colombia, I do have a number of friends who have spent substantial amounts of in that country on delegations and engaging in accompaniment, mostly through Witness for Peace and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Most of my understanding of the conflict comes through those organizations, either directly or through my friends.

    Both of those organizations hold the position that all the armed groups are essentially the same, equally responsible for Colombia’s tragedy and equally undeserving of our possible cooperation. While I’m not sure that this position is incorrect, I do wonder if the pacifist perspectives of those organizations–or perhaps a fear of red-baiting–lead WFP and CPT to gloss over differences between armed actors that might be relevant for activists on the ground in Colombia. I’m curious for your thoughts.

    Of course even if we would decide that the ELN deserves some level of sympathy, the group’s small level of influence might make it a footnote in our analysis.

    Don’t know if this is a topic you’re interested in pursuing.

  8. Josiah, I don’t think all
    Josiah, I don’t think all armed groups are essentially the same and I don’t think WFP or CPT think that either…

  9. The criticism of the FARC
    The criticism of the FARC seems to go like this: “In the country deep issues about the future, like the Free Trade Agreement, Uribe’s re-election, paramilitarism, are being debated. Aside from the usual denunciations (‘Down with them!’) the FARC have been conspicuously absent from the national debate.” They are also criticized for being an army.

    What is a “national debate?” From here, it looks a lot like “whatever the upper classes are jabbering on about.” When someone gets a Nobel prize, you can be fairly sure they are no threat to the existing social order, but instead articulate a moral stance that bring social movement INTO the existing international system.

    This is moralism. This is basiclly saying that those outside of the capitalist state, who work to overthrow it, have no right to exist. This is the language and method of the US State Department.

    I’m curious if Justin sees a single revolutionary army anywhere in the world that meets his standards. I suspect not. Because common people don’t have the right to overthrow governments (unless the urban middle classes agree…)

  10. So, you think, Mr. Torres,
    So, you think, Mr. Torres, that the debates over the FTA, paramilitarism, and constitutional change only affect the middle class? In fact the exact opposite is true. The middle class have much more immunity to the effects of all of this than the peasants, workers, and indigenous. Makes me wonder where you are, when describe what it looks like ‘from here’.

    That’s interesting that you talk about my ‘standards’ for a ‘revolutionary army’, as if I’m standing in judgement as opposed to simply pointing out what is going on. The only person who is judging movements here is you, Mr. Torres. From wherever you are sitting, you’ve decided that the indigenous are no threat to the status quo, are moralistic, and only relevant to the urban middle classes. And from that, it’s obvious that you don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

    As for the language and method of the state department, yeah Mr. Torres, I’m pretty familiar with it. One of the lines is ‘you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists’ (or should I say, the ‘urban middle classes’?)

    There. Now you’ve called me some names and I’ve replied in kind. Should we get a flame war going, that will end with deleted comments, etc. or is there something serious you actually want to discuss?

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