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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