Hundreds of forcibly displaced Indigenous families in Bogotá continue to demand a comprehensive response from the Colombian government.
By Jessica Garcia
"They want to evict us like animals, but we have nowhere to go, I can't leave the territory", says a social leader who is currently among the people staying in the Integral Protection Unit (UPI) La Rioja, in Bogota. The Indigenous peoples continue to resist, in the face of a State that seems not to be ashamed of its policies of oblivion and indifference. Around 1,300 people, mostly women and children, from different native peoples of Colombia, have been housed for the last 10 months in the UPI La Rioja in overcrowded conditions, after having been transferred to these spaces temporarily in May 2022, with the commitment to receive comprehensive humanitarian care while they were there.
A year and a half of resistance in the face of constant indifference
Almost a year and a half ago, on September 29, 2021, more than 1,000 people from various Indigenous peoples in Bogota (Muisca Gue Gata Thizhinzuqa, Tullpa Yanacona, Embera Katio, Embera Dobida, Kokonuko, Nasa, Cumbaltar Pasto, Uitoto Monifue + Uruk, Kubeo, Koreguaje, Wuayuú Bakatá, Zenu, Pijao Mohan and Esperara Siapidara) arrived at the National Park, as part of a march that had lasted all day, in protest against the lack of response from the Local and National Government to the humanitarian situation in which these people found themselves in different parts of the city.
At first, they decided to stop in the park to rest, but the immediate response they received from the State was repression. Then, they decided to stay there and declare a permanent Minga until a dialogue table was established with the District Government. However, it took eight months before the District and National Governments decided to sit down and listen to the communities.
During those eight months, the only response from the State was repression and constant finger-pointing. As a consequence, around 1,500 people lived all that time in conditions of indignity due to the lack of humanitarian assistance and the lack of concrete proposals to resolve the claims of the families present there.
In May 2022, after the constant repression and the death of several children due to inhumane living conditions, a negotiation table was established between the National Government, the District Government and Indigenous Authorities in Bakatá. Through it an agreement was reached: a) safe return to their Indigenous territories with guarantees for the families that decided to return; b) temporary housing in decent conditions, guaranteeing: food, schooling, transportation, health care and early childhood care; c) support for an organizational process with psychosocial accompaniment for those families that decide to remain in Bogotá; d) departure of the families coming from the 15 Indigenous peoples of the National Park.
Immediately after the signing of this agreement, the families that were in the National Park voluntarily left the area and accepted the housing offered by the District Government, and more than 1,000 people moved to the UPI La Rioja. However, according to the agreement, this was a temporary accommodation until the voluntary return in safe conditions of those who decided to return to their territories and the relocation of those who decided to remain in Bogota could be organized.
The situation today: the non-compliance with the commitments made continues
Almost a year later, the families are still housed in the same spaces without any kind of comprehensive response from the State. Last October, representatives of the Indigenous Authorities in Bakatá were received by President Gustavo Petro, but they still have not received a response to their claims. Leaders of Indigenous Authorities in Bakatá have denounced that there are children with malnutrition and that there are days when "sometimes they are very hungry", because they cannot go out to work to be able to get resources to feed their children.
Today the communities continue to demand to be heard and to respond to the Agreement assumed by the State in May 2022. This means that there should be humanitarian assistance for those who are housed in the UPI La Rioja and that the return to the territories should be voluntary and in safe conditions for those who decide to return. At the same time, a relocation plan should be offered for those who are not able to return because there are no conditions to do so.
It is necessary to remember that the return must always be voluntary and that, consequently, families in a situation of forced displacement cannot be forced to return to a place where they feel their lives are at risk, as is the case with the Embera community in La Rioja.