Indigenous people in Colombia are fighting their perpetual struggle against the militarization of their communities. In a horrific incident earlier in February, Colombia’s guerrillas (the FARC) massacred dozens of Awa indigenous people in Narino. FARC claimed the massacre was a reprisal for Awa’s cooperation with the military, who came earlier and coerced some people to cooperate with them. This is how the war in Colombia plays out. Not in battles, nor even in concerted campaigns. Just one faction showing up and terrorizing, another showing up and murdering. That the killers are usually the government and the paramilitaries, and that the FARC has been crushed militarily in recent years, could never excuse one such murder nor could it excuse the prior violation of indigenous autonomy in the first place.
In the indigenous-governed town of Jambalo, in Northern Cauca, the people have been encircled by the Colombian army. In a communique this morning, they say that “armed actors of the left and right” have set up camps and laboratories in their territory, and that they are declaring a state of emergency and preparing a peaceful action to remove these armed men from their lands. They point out that they have the right to do so under their own laws and, for that matter, under the Colombian Constitution of 1991.
The indigenous strategy faces a Colombian government that feels that its military options are far greater than they were. A recent article by Garry Leech, an excellent journalist, shows how the Colombian government is driving the guerrillas out of their base areas by massively increasing the footprint of the state, especially the military, through the territory. This wasn’t an option in the past: the state didn’t have the capacity or resources, and the guerrillas filled the vacuum. Today the state is omnipresent in places where it was absent. As might be expected for these times, the state isn’t electrifying or building state infrastructure for development. It is there, and it is armed, but in Garry’s words “it is difficult to locate a single person in La Cooperativa who thinks that life is better now than it was under the guerrillas.”
The Colombian government is stronger militarily than ever, and it continues to use the guerrillas as a pretext to attack social movements. One of thousands of such cases is documented by Andrew Willis Garces in the Upside Down World.
The government is also corrupt to the core, as yet another scandal comes to the fore. A report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, citing one of Colombia’s leading magazines, shows Colombia’s intelligence agency spying on politicians and selling the information to criminals:
This visit comes at a time when Colombia’s human rights record is coming increasingly under fire. The news magazine Semana, which has been running bold and brilliant articles on the subject, reported on February 22 that the Colombian intelligence agency DAS had been wiretapping opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, prosecutors and journalists, and passing on the information gathered to criminal groups; as Semana put it, intelligence is allegedly being sold “to the highest bidder.” President Uribe, who has all along insisted that he is not a crook, has since attempted to calm the storm raging around the scandal by alleging that members of his administration were also victims, blaming drug smugglers, and pledging to take moves to reform, or “purge” DAS, including removing its authorization to conduct wiretaps. In Washington, Santos went further, declaring that DAS should be wound up altogether and given “a Christian burial.”
The exposure of such scandals has surprisingly little effect. The regime is left with a free hand to try to isolate its targets among social movements and indigenous peoples, who are the legitimate authorities in their territories. It is instead the regime that should be isolated.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer. He visited Jambalo in 2004.