Mother Earth’s Liberation, the end of the armed conflict, and peace-building

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?