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Indigenous Colombians: ‘We’re the ones dying’

By: Inside Story America/Aljazeera English/July 18, 2012

Indigenous people in Colombia’s southwestern region of Cauca say they have had enough of being caught in the middle of the country’s long-running civil conflict.

Their leaders want government troops and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s biggest rebel group, to go away and leave them in peace.

The region has been the centre of conflict for years, and it has seen several violent incidents due to fighting between the FARC and government troops.

On Wednesday, they jeered Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president, as he visited their war-ravaged region.

“The mass media are framing it as if the indigenous movement is being manipulated by the FARC so that they can … probably get a shipment of cocaine out on one of the corridors to the export area in the Pacific coast …. What they’re saying is that you can fight the FARC and the FARC can fight the army on our territory but please don’t settle on our territory because that is a major problem for us.”

– Bernardo Perez Salazar, a researcher of armed conflict and the peace process in Colombia

But Santos told residents in the town of Toribio that he would not order the military to quit the nine towns that the indigenous Nasa community leaders want the military to vacate. “The government and the

The FARC has been fighting a succession of Colombian governments for nearly half a century, claiming it is fighting for more equal distribution of land.

The town of Toribio, in particular, has been hit over 500 times in the last 10 years.

And when a fresh round of violence broke out again last week, killing three people, injuring dozens of others and destroying many homes, the indigenous people decided to act.

They are rebelling against all armed groups in the region, both the Colombian military and the FARC.

A decade ago the central government militarised Cauca, positioning many soldiers outside and inside of the Toribio, which brought many more attacks. And the people got caught in the crossfire.

Part of the indigenous culture is really linked to the land so people are finally saying … not only are we going to stay on our lands, these are our lands and we don’t want you here. So they’ve really given an ultimatum to both the FARC and the army that they should leave, that they don’t rely on the state for their security, that they will provide their own security … and so it’s come to a bit of a confrontation and it’s very polarised right now

– Virginia Bouvier, senior programme officer for Latin America at the United States Institute of Peace

The indigenous population say that it is their ancestrol land, recognised by the Colombian government. But it is also a FARC stronghold and a very important corridor for trafficking to the Pacific coast.

So achieving what indigenous people want to do, which is throwing out all the armed forces from their region, will be extremely difficult. But they do think this is their best hope for peace in 40 years.

So how likely is it that the indigenous community in Colombia will be successful in making the army and FARC leave their region?

“We just want our land back. It’s ours. We don’t want to fight against the army but they’ve made our life impossible. We can’t continue putting our head down, it’s time to act but in a peaceful way. We’re just asking them to leave our territory, we don’t want them here any more.”

An indigenous village

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Mexico’s student protesters weigh next moves

By: Valeria Perasso/BBC Mundo/July 18, 2012

During Mexico’s presidential election, a group of university students voiced their frustration at what they saw as biased media coverage. Their movement, born on social media and known as #YoSoy132 (I am 132), shook up a staid campaign – but what now for the protesters?

“Turn off the stupid TV, turn on the truth,” was the call as students marched in their thousands in the Mexican capital and other towns and cities in May and June.

The target of their anger was a supposed alliance between the country’s biggest media outlet, Televisa, and Enrique Pena Nieto, front-runner and candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled Mexico for much of the 20th Century.

The students’ rage at what they saw as unfair media coverage widened to include allegations of vote-buying and other irregularities during the election itself.

Mexico is now awaiting a ruling by the electoral court on the validity of the 1 July election, which was won by Mr Pena Nieto.

At the same time, members of the #YoSoyy132 movement are deliberating their group’s future course.

Broader goals

Some of its leading members see the need for reorganisation.

“We already know what we want in the long term – to awaken society’s political consciousness and to democratise the media. We now need to figure out how, and in order to define that we have been working in student assemblies,” says student Ari Santillan in Mexico City.

The movement held its first national assembly days after the election, aware the next steps would be crucial for its political survival.

Birth of a movement

On 10 May, 131 students heckled Mr Pena Nieto during an event at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City.

Members of the PRI said they were outside political agitators. In response, the 131 posted a video on the internet showing their student ID cards.

The movement was born, with people spreading the message on Twitter with the hashtag #YoSoy132.

Thousands of mainly young demonstrators took to the streets to protest against Mr Pena Nieto and what they say is bias in Mexico’s mainstream media.

The first goal, activists say, is to outline an agenda that tackles issues of a wider public interest.

“We know that we need to look at broader topics to keep the support of the Mexican society,” student Ignacio Martinez told the BBC.

“But we want to keep the original spirit of the group that was born non-partisan.”

But many are concerned the student movement will have to compromise and search for allies if it is to enter the political mainstream.

“They should remain independent rather than defining alliances. But this is just wishful thinking, I don´t think their voices will rise above other groups that know how to handle political battles,” says Roger Bartra, professor emeritus at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

“They are trapped in this dichotomy – they need to find allies to survive but those allies might devour them.”

Media watchdog

It has only existed for just over two months, but #YoSoy132 has already experienced serious splits.

Some students left saying that, despite its non-partisan character, the movement had tacitly aligned itself with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, candidate for the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). He is challenging the election result.

Others see the group as too close to students’ interests and have created the broader National Front Against the Imposition (of Pena Nieto), an offspring of the #132 that now is going its own way.

“The movement has exceeded the #132 goals. The National Front we now have is more inclusive, it welcomes everyone, from workers to party affiliates – not just students,” says Herz Jossa, who left #132.

The #YoSoy132 movement was born on the streets, but members have acknowledged the need for “a new era” in which public demonstrations are just one part of their activities.

“Taking the streets is a sign of political muscle, but that’s not all we do. We are thinking of engaging citizens in workshops about public media, for example, and that’s just one initiative of many,” says Mr Santillan.

They are also trying to draft a #YoSoy132 bill that would regulate media access and promote alternative ownership of radio and TV networks, although the debate about how they could move such a proposal forward is still in its early stages.

Mexican competition authorities have offered to involve and inform the group about the granting of a broadcasting licence for a third free-to-air television network.

“To survive as a movement, they would need to take part in the new government, in areas such as youth policy. There is a path that they can follow to translate their activism into political participation,” says Prof Alfredo Nateras at UNAM in Mexico City.

But that may be a challenge in itself.

The electoral court is likely to confirm Mr Pena Nieto as the next Mexican president.

A youth movement that contested his victory might not be the PRI’s first choice of dialogue partner.


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