English translation of the public statement made by the ACIN (Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca). The original Spanish text can be found here.
Mother Earth’s Liberation, the end of the armed conflict, and peace-building
The ACIN’s input for a territorial strategy for collective rights.
Proposals to the popular movement and for human rights in the Public Audience
Emperatriz Ancestral Territory, Caloto, April 22, 2015.
Mining, the sugar cane industry, biofuels, the armed conflict, and illicit crop cultivations are killing our Mother Earth. She can’t take it anymore; nor can her children who defend and protect her. The absence of agrarian policies in the country, the high concentration of land in Colombia, the lack of land for indigenous people that live in the highlands, and for Afro-descendants and small-scale farmers is enough reason to demand the return of ancestral land and free these lands from the exploitative stronghold that has suppressed them.
The purpose of this Audience is to share an analysis on the State’s reasoning for having a military response to our actions. What is hiding behind this aggressive policy? Why are they so excessive with their actions? Is this simply the ill intent of a few officials? Are there reasons or a strategy behind it all? Allow us to share our reflections and propose some alternatives in the form of questions.
First question: Why continue the Liberation of Mother Earth?
1. Since October 2014, the communities that make up the Association of Indigenous Councils in northern Cauca have declared ourselves in the process of liberating Mother Earth, a ritual act of reclaiming ancestral lands that are being developed in Corinto (on the plantations in Quebrada Seca, Miraflores, García Arriba, García Abajo, Granadita and Cultivos Caucana); in Santander de Quilichao (on the San Vicente and Japio plantations), and in Caloto (on the historical La Emperatriz plantation). For this same process of reclaiming our rights, we mobilized in Santander de Quilichao, Buenos Aires and Suárez in La Agustina, and Mondomo on February 25 through March 16, 2015.
2. We have five important reasons for Mother Earth’s Liberation:
a.) The first is that she has been seized for extraction and sugarcane estates, a production model that poisons and destroys, destroying human beings bit by bit. Can anybody be against the act of justice?
b) The second reason is because we have ancestral rights to reclaim our territories and for restitution on behalf of the State. Aside from the fact that some people may show documents to the contrary, this has been said by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights yet the Colombian government does not even budge.
c) The third reason is that the government and the State together (above all the Colombian Institute for Rural Development [INCODER]) have methods of titling and distributing lands that will NEVER resolve the problem. At this rate, we will need at least ONE AND A HALF CENTURIES for the restitution of our land and territories.
d) The fourth reason is that as the government entangles us in INCODER’s bureaucratic procedures, as they pull our hair with compensations ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as they deny us the land titling we already have and prefer to leave them in the hands of the National Agrarian Fund, as all of this happens, they expect us to be distracted by small projects and hand-outs, with small farms of 100 hectares per year, while the sugarcane industry advances like a plague through the flat lands that are the ancestral property of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples that have spent centuries living with us. As they tell us to wait for legal proceedings, they have no problem with changing the law to advance legal mining, blinding themselves to the mining of paramilitary mafias.
e) And there is a fifth, distinct, reason. All of the armed actors are appropriating the lands to defend this model of displacement we have indicated and to position themselves if things should change if we eventually end this conflict.
3. We have responded in this way facing an economy that does not respect natural methods. We have strengthened these actions of territorial control against mining and illicit crop cultivation, in some casing evicting machinery. We have eradicated illegal crops in a concerted fashion, we have prevented armed actors from entering our land, and we have also denounced before local authorities to see if they will collaborate with indigenous authorities.
a) The response from the local and national authorities has been non-existent or inefficient. In March 2014, for example, the Huellas Council, Toez and López Adentro from Caloto, denounced the situation on the Palo riverbank, without any effective answer from the municipality, but instead the renewal of social and environmental damage. The same thing happened to the Guadualito Council, La Concepción and Las Delicias, in Santander de Quilichao, that before these controlling actions, we received threats to indigenous authorities, without any response from the State.
b) In other words, the State is negligent or complicit, one of the two, with this displacement model programmed and directed against Mother Earth.
c) The situation is all the more difficult with the sugarcane industry because they are covered by “legality” (in quotes), because they have ministers and advisers in the high government (their own minister Iragorri, the Eder family, etc.), and because they control land policies.
4. The root of the problem is the indefinite postponement (the government would like to say “definite”) of encompassing agrarian reform. The argument by the government and their intellectuals is that agrarian reform is no longer needed, that we are past the time of agrarian reform, that giving lands back to indigenous, Afro-descendants, and small-scale farmers won’t bring them out of poverty. Pure lies! What they want is for us to continue in poverty on tiny pieces of land. What they want is for us to fight amongst the indigenous, Afro-descendants, small-scale farmers who are trying to guarantee a space for our families to live.
5. They will not achieve this. We will not continue in a war amongst the impoverished while the sugarcane factories keep all the land in Cauca, with all of the water from our mountains, with all of the air. The solution to the land problems in northern Cauca is agrarian reform that recognizes collective land titling in rural communities. But we are almost sure the State will not do this.
a) Because of this, the first proposal we will make in this Public Audience is to our Afro-descendant and small-scale farming brothers: Let us join together to liberate Mother Earth. Let us have a peace gathering so that the land will only belong to who loves and cares for her. Let us have a debate on the possession, use, and redistribution of the land.
b) The second proposal is that we come to an agreement on land being only for life. As a result of liberating Mother Earth, we must advance on agreements and delimitation of ethnic and small-scale farming territories, guaranteeing that all human beings, and Mother Earth herself, have rights.
c) The third proposal is for us to together launch a political debate on the structural problem of Colombia’s economic model that is based on extraction and destroying nature. Many people are resisting dams, mining projects, privatization of air and water, diversion of rivers. Let’s come together, have a peace gathering. It is time for us to form a Movement of Victims of Extractive Development Crimes.
6. The Liberation of Mother Earth has been decided by the indigenous authorities to be a permanent and indefinite struggle. This is not a mobilization to negotiate with anybody. Yes, we are open to dialogue, but only for them to tell us how they will restore Mother Earth. We will take many paths, all of them in peace, and all of them legal.
i) Lawsuits against the State for human rights violations in Liberating Mother Earth
ii) Lawsuits against the State before the Human Development Index (IDH) Commission and arrival at the IDH Court to achieve a restoration of indigenous ancestral territories in northern Cauca
iii) Lawsuits to procure the end of the dominion over lands held by those occupying the land and the like.
iv) Indigenous judicial actions for the return of occupied lands, what some call the recovery of lands and territories.
And here we have the second question: Why the ineffectiveness in safeguarding and protecting indigenous communities?
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) has dictated precautionary measures for the indigenous population, especially in Toribio and Jambaló. The Colombian State has also received imperative recommendations from the CIDH regarding integral reparations for the Nasa people, located in northern Cauca and associated with the case known as the Nilo Massacre of 1991. The Constitutional Court ordered the State to adopt a protection plan (Order 004) for the people of Nasa. The State has a responsibility to guarantee the right to autonomy, to comply with the United Nations’ Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and to reestablish the command of constitutional matters. They should “already” have adopted a time frame for a Safeguard Plan. The government has for months had proposals in their desks to fulfill the demands of the CIDH and the proposal for the Safeguard Plan that was collectively drawn up by us. But they have not wanted to comply. They prefer to adopt isolated measures that better serve as official promotional propaganda than protection of the people. Reality does not change and threatening actions, accusations, stigmatization, and persecutions by different armed groups and state security forces against indigenous authority figures, teachers and guards are evident.
2. Why won’t they comply if they’ve been ordered by the Constitution, the Constitutional Court, and the CIDH? Our answer is simple: because all of these decrees oblige them to recognize our territorial and political rights. The State does not comply because that would mean the return of our territories and the Liberation of Mother Earth, because that would mean ending their model of displacement and destruction of nature. They prefer to violate national and international law before guaranteeing our human rights.
Third question: Why does Juan Manuel Santos’ government have a military response to a legitimate and legal civil action?
1. We, the indigenous people of Cauca, have never refused a dialogue with the government. What’s more, some accuse us of being too amenable with successive governmental delegations that come to “calm us down” (in quotes) every time we raise our voices and staffs just a bit to reclaim our rights. Before and during these most recent mobilizations, reconciliation with the national government has been useless. The ministers of interior and of agriculture have come to speak with us and they say that is a good sign. They present these visits as a grand gesture we should appreciate, but none of these meetings have gotten to the root of the problems. To draw out a solution to the problem of our land, all the while maintaining the process of displacement from the sugar cane industry, they want to trick us with small talks and projects. Of course, we have rejected these offers. To fulfill these obligations by means of investment does not absolve them of their obligations in terms of land and territory.
2. But if we are always ready to talk, why is the military and paramilitary response so disproportionate? The story is always the same: that we are infiltrated by the guerrillas. No one knows better than the military that we are autonomous in the face of the insurgency, the army, and the paramilitaries. How could they not know if they have been engaging in intelligence work for fifty years and they know that we fight for autonomy and a dignified life? Land autonomy and a dignified life. That is the problem. What the State and other dominant sectors of Cauca and Valle do not accept is that we are autonomous and seek out life with dignity. To achieve this would be taking away from them a huge piece of the power they have accumulated after five centuries of stealing our land and well-being.
3. The instrument of colonialism and displacement that they now use with hate against the indigenous people and other populations is the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD), appointed to the National Police and dependent on the sugarcane industries in Valle and Cauca. We know that many of ESMAD’s orders come from the sugar factories. We have shown that these companies’ private security forces, called security companies, but who are in reality mercenaries, act in conjunction with the police and have shot at our families with impunity. When they fire bullets and gases at us, or when they attack us with machetes and destroy our homes and kitchens that we are building on freed-up land, the ESMAD agents shout crazily that we are thieves of the earth, invaders of private property, enemies of economic development. These are the same arguments by the sugar factories, the same accusations on the Rastrojos’ and Urabeños’ threatening posters. The ESMAD has turned into a repressive figure that in a premeditated manner has intentionally and excessively turned acts of social protests into murder sites. This aggression repeats itself in rural areas with the fatal combination of the ESMAD and the national army.
4. These are not new responses and actions of the ESMAD, the army, and the companies’ private security forces (which, as we referred to in the human rights report, have been previously exposed and are known by everyone). Since 2000, we have registered 504 murders, both individual and in massacres against the indigenous in northern Cauca in incidents by the conflict’s armed actors and repressive actions against indigenous protests and mobilizations. The most recent murders of indigenous people have been against the’walas, or traditional doctors and kiwe thegnas, or indigenous security officers because these individuals are in charge of maintaining our land’s spiritual balance, taking care of our land and community. What characterizes these crimes by state security forces, as well as by paramilitary forces, is that they all attack our projects of land autonomy and dignified life, the great majority are done to impose an extractive economic model, the State wants to halt our actions for collective rights to the land and self-government.
5. All of these criminal acts accompany the criminalization of indigenous people that participate in the Liberation of Mother Earth.
6. There’s something else: previous situations, and others that we refer to later on, show that a high military presence in the region does not guarantee nor will it guarantee the region’s security or peace. On the contrary, cases of murders, planned assassinations, disappearances, etc. keep happening.
Third question: Why is there no action to control paramilitaries?
1. Paramilitary presence in northern Cauca has always been a reality known by the civil population, Colombian state institutions, police, military forces, and administration. In the last months, there has been evidence in the zone indicating the reactivation of these groups’ tendencies to stigmatize and terrify community processes developing actions for threats, assaults, and assassinations. The ACIN has denounced the increase of paramilitary threats against Indigenous Councils that have territorial control over mining areas and find themselves in processes to reclaim their land. Likewise, we have denounced 14 assassinations of land holders committed just this year by these groups, without the State reacting even in the most minimal way to neutralize them.
2. Obviously this does not simply affect the ACIN. Pamphlets threaten social cleansing and other intimidations to the population, but above all they falsely accuse regional social organizations and various noted social leaders, human rights defenders, victims’ representatives, and land restitution organizations; these assassinations and attempts affect all social sectors.
3. It is almost impossible to not see the Colombian State’s responsibility and state security forces with the multiple paramilitary crimes and their longstanding presence in northern Cauca.
a. In the first place, all of these events are happening in a zone with heavy military and police presence. The road corridor between Santander de Quilichao, Corinto, and Mirando has been the scene of the most recent assassinations of indigenous people, and this corridor is one “controlled” by state security forces . . .and it is the zone of paramilitary deployment, where curfews have regularly been decreed by state security forces and sometimes paramilitary groups. In our actions for territorial control in 2013, we would ask, why is one of the most militarized roads the site of indigenous assassinations? The question is the same today.
b. What is mentioned earlier is evidenced by the facts about where Emiliano Silva and Gerardo Velasco were assassinated. The place of interception and kidnapping is a zone of absolute jurisdiction and control by one of the most important military bases in the southwest area of the country: Mobile Base Number 14 under the command of coronel Bladimir Nossa, operations commander. The interception happened less than 200 meters from the roadblock located in Caloto’s main cemetery and less than 400 meters from the command base in the paved road between Caloto and Corinto, a mechanism that only has a one kilometer radius of effectiveness where military guards and sentries protect and carry out peripheral vigilance (according to what the soldiers themselves said to the indigenous communities in the villages of La Selva, Bodega Alta, and Toez to justify their invasive presence in indigenous reservations). In this area (11 pm) was the beginning where two indigenous landholders were assassinated, their bodies found only half an hour from the area in question, with evidence of torture and bullet holes.
c. Regarding the events denounced above (the death of the two indigenous landholders), previous information makes it known that a side note of one of the flyers (a note sent by the Aguilas Negras in February 2014) affirms they would carry out acts of cleansing like those already carried out in the Guachené municipality.
d. In a November 2014 pamplet that the FARC denounced as apocryphal and that was distributed quickly by state security forces to the regional press, the same threat’s text that was circulated by the group Los Rastrojos appeared. Indigenous authorities have expressed concern about this, which does not only show a plan orchestrated by paramilitaries but also suspiciously links these actions to state security forces.
e. With concern we affirm that regarding these events, state security forces have responsibility through both their actions and their omissions; the passivity demonstrated by the police and the military is questionable. . . or, even more seriously, that some type of coordination may exist to facilitate these crimes being carried out.
f. And the ever-present issue: impunity. One of the factors that has incentivized the strengthening of paramilitary action is the ineffectiveness of the local and national authorities to control factors related to their presence, such as drug trafficking and illegal mining in the area.
4. One serious situation is presented and executed in the urban area of Santander de Quilichao, where the number of homicides, threats and extortions caused by these groups and other unknown groups has been set off. This has happened just when there has also been a visible and almost ostensible growth of state security forces in the municipality. For us, it stands clear that there is a plan to socially divide the region in order to foster the growth of strongly armed, aggressive delinquent groups, that later will be the culturing grounds for paramilitary groups and assassins that will attack the strong social movements of the province.
Considering the deeds of the ESMAD riot police, paramilitarism, and state entities, we demand the following from the national government:
1. Safeguard the lives of indigenous community members in northern Cauca.
2. Stop the military treatment of indigenous communities that are moving forward with their process to liberate Mother Earth in northern Cauca.
3. Tend to the demands of the Nasa people of northern Cauca who are carrying out the process of liberating Mother Earth.
4. That the Colombian state adopts pertinent mechanisms to guarantee life and the continuing defense of human rights.
5. Implement plans to safeguard life, especially regarding the Nasa people, tending to the request made by the Constitutional Court to the Colombian state.
We also demand of control/enforcement organisms:
1. To the National Attorney General’s Office, that they do an exhaustive investigation with the goal of identifying and individualizing both the intellectual masterminds and those that carried out these recent events, including Guillermo Pavi’s death and other deaths in the area.
2. To the Inspector General, that they investigate bringing a case against members of the police, especially the ESMAD riot police and also members of the military present in the region.
Two more questions are left: Why the siege strategy of the army against the FARC?
The declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the FARC beginning on December 20, 2014 was good news for the country. We as indigenous people acting with the ONIC, have participated in verification activities within the space of the Frente Amplio por la Paz; the second verification report we did just in El Palo with the presence of regional social organizations. What we have observed, in addition to the current facts, is a deliberate decision by the army to break the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire by using harassment and sieges upon the guerrilla organization; unfortunately the FARC fell in the trap – the reasons are still not exactly clear – and on April 14th they killed 11 soldiers and injured another 17.
1. In the face of these facts we have indicated in the human rights report, a growing militarization is evident in the western mountains that delimit Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca) from Buenos Aires and Suárez (Cauca). The massive military landing activities and territorial takeover strategies of state security forces inevitably were going to end in confrontation. This put the community in the area in maximum alert anticipating a confrontation between military forces and the FARC guerrillas; the community members of the region had been saying that something bad was going to happen. And it did. They had said it in various public communications that were disseminated widely.
2. But, what interest does the army have in provoking such events? For us it is clear that the army wants to provoke a confrontation on a grand scale that would serve to discredit the peace process; perhaps not something so mortal or bloody; but it is impossible that they wouldn’t have calculated something like this would happen after they taunted the guerrillas so much.
a. But there is something else, as Rozental signals, “The massive transfer of Colombian army troops to northern Cauca was done to take advantage of the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire and carry out a military occupation of these strategic territories. They aren’t the FARC’s territories, but in these areas the guerrilla has had presence. They are territories inhabited by indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers, territories of people caught in the dispute of war between armed actors in the middle of civil populations and against them. The intention is clear: take advantage of the truce and the negotiations to take away more space from the FARC .”
b. We can add: This zone is where huge mining companies want to establish themselves and where indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples resist being monopolized by retro excavators; they are the areas where territorial control is underpinned by the sugarcane industry; it’s the obligatory zone for indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples to expand their strategic territorial recuperation.
c. How can military movements be understood in the region? It’s clear that the government and paramilitaries are positioning already for the so-called “post-conflict;” they’re moving forward with a plan of consolidation in order to secure the territory by military means for the sake of protecting multinational corporations’ extractive mining practices.
d. What are the sugarcane industry, landowners, and Cauca owners playing at? In addition to their businesses, it would seem as if they are pushing for territorial control before there are accords made in Havana, or in other words, to win everything like it or not before a new political pact obliges them to accept a democratic empire. That is what Uribist Senator Paloma Valencia’s idea is about; we don’t believe that her idea of dividing Cauca was simply a crazy idea; her proposal to enclose the indigenous in the mountainside slopes yet leave their properties intact in the Cauca river valley and the productive zones anticipates possible territorial legislation that would give the rich a nice bit of land.
3. We want to emphasize that the media display about the news has hidden all of the regional context: They have hidden the commemoration of the 2001 Naya massacre, the presence of the Bloque Calima in the area for more than two years that has left almost 300 people assassinated, the development of unpunished drug trafficking, the ignorance of the land property rights of the indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and small-scale farming communities that inhabit the Naya. Effectively, the balance of the provocation has been very profitable for big companies, the government, paramilitaries, and mafias in the region.
Finally, why insist upon ending the conflict and building peace?
1. The FARC’s unilateral ceasefire announcement, President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposals to end airstrikes against guerrilla encampments, joint announcements from the negotiating table in Havana on de-escalation, are all seen by communities affected by the armed conflict as important gestures in ending the war and building peace.
2. The FARC’s declaration has been celebrated by the urban centers of Corinto, Toribío, Jambaló, and Caldono that have been struck in recent years by hundreds of incidents of guerrilla harassment and military responses. The unilateral ceasefire and halting of airstrikes have been a relief for indigenous and small-scale farming communities. The ACIN’s human rights office has registered an important decline in the amount of community harassment cases as well as fighting in rural areas. We are pleased that after 500 harassment cases, five occupations of urban centers, and the destruction of more than half of the town of Toribío, we have seen relative calm. We also see many positive changes in the behavior of the FARC’s military structure with the rest of the population. Of course, this non-confrontational situation has been interrupted on occasions in rural populations when military offensives and FARC responses have affected the civil population, or when tragedies occur such as that of Timba.
Facing this situation:
a) We continue to demand a bilateral and indefinite ceasefire by any methods including massive public protests.
b) We insist that the FARC uphold their unilateral ceasefire, that they instruct their ranks to not provoke or fall victim to provocation.
c) We insist that the government reinstate the halt of airstrikes against FARC encampments that do not only affect the fragile unilateral ceasefire, but also civil communities, destroying their community’s wellbeing and deeply harming Mother Earth.
d) We call on the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) to agree upon a timetable for peace talks. The indigenous of Cauca, the ACIN and the CRIC, would be in agreement with this process.
e) Northern Cauca is one of the territories with a high presence of land mines that should be prioritized. We demand that this process be designed with community participation and we think it crucial that there be present international organizations with expertise on the subject.
f) We call on the national government, on large-scale media outlets, and on the political right to moderate their language and war propaganda. This demand comes on behalf of a people that have spent 500 years in war, experiencing all of its pain.
2. The indigenous of Cauca propose that northern Cauca be a Peace Territory, united with other peace territories that have been launched in the province. The CRIC has made it known that they are available to take up these initiatives in other regions of the province. On this subject:
a.) The peace territory is so we can achieve a bilateral ceasefire of fighting and hostilities with permanent social mobilization (meetings, international missions, accompaniment, dialogues between all different social actors). We believe that the strength of the people, the legitimacy of actions such as this will make those who are armed feel obligated to respect life, organizations, the people’s autonomy, and as a result, they will prefer to deescalate the confrontation until is barely there.
b.) A peace territory is for resolving conflict. That is why our experience must be a space to overcome some of the conflicts we have suffered and for us to hopefully continue to excel. If we add agreements to overcome previous conflicts to our pact on the Liberation of Mother Earth, we will have furthered the fulfillment of our rights.
c.) A peace territory will foreshadow what the land will be when they sign the peace accords. From there, they can analyze, debate, and above all propose structural alternatives to resolve problems, social, economic, and territorial necessities of the different political administrations in various ethnic sectors. In our case, we must advance structural proposals to define the State’s politics on land ownership and the use and distribution of land in Cauca. We call on the government to see us as a pilot project in transitional democracy, and to accept our alternatives and decisions with political and monetary support and above all that they may not attack us legally or militarily. As someone would said, “It is territorial peace!”
5. The signing of accords to end the armed conflict is not peace. We know that. But it is a fundamental step in building peace.
Count on us for peace. Never for war.
Cxhab Wala Kiwe- Association of Indigenous Councils in northern Cauca- ACIN
Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC)
National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC)