Member of the Nasa people, north of Cauca, Colombia. Photo by Santiago Navarro F.
By Santiago Navarro F
The Nasa, an indigenous people who live in the north of Cauca, Colombia, were once again attacked by an armed group that left five wounded and two dead. This event brings the murder count so far in 2019 up to more than 30.
Very early in the morning of August 10, the Indigenous Guard of the San Francisco reservation in the municipality of Caloto (one of the centers of collective property) were taken by surprise. One of the more than five armed groups that operate in the area attacked the guards with gunfire. Kevin Mestizo Coicué and Eugenio Tenorio were killed, while Leonel Coicué, Sandra Milena Pilcue, Aurelino Ñuscue Julicue, Julio Taquinas, and Edinson Edgardo Rivera, 7 years old, have been wounded. All are indigenous.
Prior to this attack, a pamphlet menacing the indigenous communities and signed by an organized crime group had begun to circulate on social media: “They were warned nicely, but these Indian sons of bitches don’t understand, we’re going to finish them.”
“Who did it? It’s an armed group that’s trying to control and manage the drug trade and this has us very concerned, because the threats continue to be very frequent in our territory,” said one of the traditional leaders of the Nasa people, who spoke anonymously for security reasons.
This scenario occurs in the midst of a transition process from a war that lasted more than 50 years between the many administrations that have governed Colombia and the ex-guerrilla organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). During this war, the Nasa people were considered an enemy by both sides.
“The war was very aggressive with us, because the government said that we were collaborators with the FARC, who said that we were collaborators with the government. But to us, the war is a business and we don’t collaborate with anyone. The land dispute always existed from both sides. In 50 years, we strengthened our traditional guards and we rose up with our command staffs for the defense of territory and life,” commented a Nasa man, who introduced himself just as José.
For the Nasa, “the war that the armed groups has declared on our community, especially the Indigenous Guard, attempts to silence our voices, exterminate life, and take over our territories,” stated a communique (link in Spanish) from the 126 traditional authorities organized in the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and the Indigenous Guard, as defenders of life in all of its manifestations.
There is intensive industrial sugarcane production in this area, principally for ethanol fuel for cars. This production is backed by the government. Add to this the FARC dissidents who are still armed, and “additionally there are organized crime groups that want the land for poppy and marijuana production,” said a member of the Nasa people, who decided to remain anonymous for security reasons.
Since 2005, the Nasa have carried out direct actions for the liberation of their lands from monocrops and exploitation. They cut and dismantle cane plantings with the goal of letting nature itself return to cover the land with its vegetation, but also for the families that make up this people, who cultivate organic food. With the crops that they grow, the Nasa have undertaken other direct actions in which they give away food in the poorest neighborhoods in cities like Cali.
“It’s time to liberate and defend the land because they’re killing it. And who’s killing it? The sugarcane, mining, hydroelectric dams, soy, palm oil. Uma Kiwe, our Mother Earth, is enslaved just like our peoples and we have to liberate ourselves along with her,” says José.
While the members of the Indigenous Guard of Caloto were being murdered, the Third International Encounter of Liberators of Mother Earth was being held in the liberated zone called La Albania. People from the diverse geographies of Colombia participated, as well as those from other countries such as Chile, Brazil, Peru, and Mexico, from which pain and rage were shared in one same sentiment.
The authorities present in this space made themselves heard with a call to solidarity to the international community and to other peoples who resist and struggle for the defense of their lands. “From this liberated space, today we say that as indigenous communities, we find ourselves in assembly and on maximum alert to defend and care for our territory. We hope to count on the peoples of the world in their solidarity and their rejection of these actions,” they expressed.