The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) read this ‘open letter’ from various internationals who volunteered to help a negotiated solution between the combatants who are currently fighting in indigenous territory in Cauca, Colombia. ACIN read this letter at a press conference yesterday: it was written some time ago. The hope is that the government and/or FARC will respond with a demonstration of willingness to dialogue.
An Open Letter to the Combatants in the Colombian Conflict, FARC and the Government of Colombia.
Since April 14, 2005, the territories and communities of Northern Cauca have been transformed into battlefields. Only the representatives of armed factions have been heard. Civilians have been displaced, wounded, and killed; their houses, churches, schools, and hospitals have been destroyed. Their voice, the most important voice in the conflict, has been drowned out.
The indigenous of Northern Cauca have struggled and sacrificed much in order to attain and build autonomy. In the process they have become an example of sustainable development, according to the United Nations Development Program, which granted their ‘Proyecto Nasa’ the Equatorial Initiative Prize last year. They have become an example to the nation of Colombia and were recognized with the National Peace Prize. One of their leaders, Arquimedes Vitonas, is the mayor of Toribio. He was recognized as a UNESCO ‘Master of Wisdom’ and by Colombia’s daily newspaper, El Tiempo, as ‘Person of the Year’ in 2004. Their achievements in land reform, participatory democracy, and indigenous law and justice are no less impressive. In recent years, their ideas have become important throughout Colombia. Their leadership in a march against President Uribe’s ‘Democratic Security’ policy, against the various Constitutional Reforms proposed by the current administration, and the Free Trade Agreement in September of 2004 mobilized tens of thousands of people and opened an important debate on this crucial issue at the national level. Their Popular Consultation on the FTA in March 2005 was a model of transparency and democratic participation in which the FTA was rejected by nearly the whole population, in an election with record participation. This, too, raised crucial questions for debate at the national level, and a political initiative for such a consultation at the national level is growing. The consultation, like the earlier one in Brazil in 2002, set an important precedent for the continent, showing how people can convene transparent and valid electoral processes that have credibility and legitimacy that governmental electoral processes often lack.
Today these communities are again forced to raise their voices and make demands at the national level. In this case their demands have to do not with crucial questions of democracy and economic development, but war and peace. Their autonomous communal processes have been disrupted by war in their communities, a war in which their views and their rights are not respected.
An outgrowth of the ‘Minga’ of September 2004 was the ‘Indigenous and Popular Mandate’. This mandate included the following:
With regard to the armed conflict, the violation of human rights and the politics of “democratic security”
-To design and put in place popular mechanisms for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict.
-To demand truth, justice, and reparations for the victims of armed conflict.
-Promote popular and autonomous mechanisms of civil resistance, peace and security that include the recognition of the Guardia Indigena as a popular force for peace.
-Demand and design mechanisms of civil resistance with national and international pressure, support, and observation to win the exit of armed groups from our territories and respect for the civil population, respect for indigenous autonomy and indigenous organizations.
-Design mechanisms of resistance and civil disobedience against the politics of “democratic security” of the Colombian government.
In accordance with this Mandate, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca has made three demands of the armed actors in their territories:
1) An immediate ceasefire
2) The complete demilitarization of their territories
3) The opening of dialogues between the armed actors toward a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict
Nobel Peace Prize winner and indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum has supported this call with a call of her own to “the armed groups in this conflict, the FARC and the government, to stop the war, silence the guns, and listen to the words and make redoubled efforts to continue dialogue and search for a negotiated solution to the conflict. Colombia must not have a future of eternal bloodshed imposed upon it.” Rigoberta Menchu also declared that she would “answer the call of the Regional Indigenous Councils of Cauca to form a diplomatic mission to aid in the facilitation of a dialogue towards a negotiated solution” and join an Indigenous Peace Initiative led by the Indigenous of Northern Cauca.
We echo Rigoberta Menchu’s support for the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca in their call for a ceasefire, the demilitarization of their territories, and the opening of dialogues. We will accompany the process of the Indigenous Peace Initiative created for these ends.
Manfred Max Neef (Chile), economist, spokesperson for the Indigenous and Popular Congress
Noam Chomsky (United States), linguist and author
Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina), Nobel laureate
Baltazar Garzon (Spain), jurist
Arturo Escobar (Colombia), researcher
Naomi Klein (Canada), author