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Colombia: Locals Demand End to Cauca Conflict

For more than 20 years the municipality of  Toribío in Cauca [es] has put up with hundreds of battles brought about by the Guerrilla, paramilitary groups [es], and the government's forces. The indigenous people from the area have cried out unsuccessfully to the government and other armed groups for a cease fire. Cauca is a militarily strategic area, because it is a corridor between the Andes, the southern part of the country and the Pacific Ocean. This conflict has provoked the inhabitants of Toribio to move to calmer areas, as the blog Proclama (Proclame) [es] demonstrates in images.

Nevertheless, a group of indigenous people have decided to expel these armed groups from their territory.

As we reported previously, on July 9 the Association of Indigenous Councils of Cauca (ACIN) published a letter [es] directed at the armed groups, demanding that “armed groups and legal and illegal armies”” abandon their territory.

After serious clashes [es] and the visit of President Juan Manual Santos to Toribío for a cabinet meeting, on July 15 ACIN again published another  letter [es] on their web page.  his time, in the letter addressed to Timoleón Jiménez, Comander of the FARC [es] (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the Association reaffirms their request that armed group abandon their region, stating their desire for peace and warning that their actions are not a declaration of war.

Likewise, the indigenous people have asked President Santos for more investment in social issues and the discontinuation of the presence of the military.

The indigenous people maintain that they seek protection in the international humanitarian rights, since they argue that it is necessary that the sides in question locate themselves in sites where they do not put the life and integrity [es] of the indigenous people at risk. They have circulated another letter from the ACIN on Facebook [es] titled “Constitutional and legal foundation for the recovery of indigenous territory in Cauca”, which highlights some of the indigenous people's arguments:

a. El gobierno no puede ocupar propiedades inmuebles [...]

b. La expropiación de los resguardos indígenas y tierras comunales étnicas está prohibida por la Constitución [...]

c. El gobierno tiene obligación de realizar una consulta previa para buscar el consentimiento previo, libre e informado en caso de operaciones militares [...]

d. La militarización de los territorios indígenas no es mejora en la seguridad de los pueblos indígenas [...]

a. The government cannot occupy private real estate [...]

b. The expropriation of the indigenous reserves and ethnic communal lands is prohibited by the Constitution [...]

c. The government has the obligation to carry out a prior consultation to seek prior, free and informed consent in the case of military operations [...]

d. The militarization of the indigenous territories is not an improvement in the security of the indigenous people [...]

After the first confrontations and the lack of solutions, the indigenous people resolved to give the government an ultimatum so that its troops would vacate the region at midnight on July 17.

Removal of the government troops in Toribio.

Having met the deadline [es] declared by the indigenous people for the removal of the military forces, indigenous people from the north of Cauca arrived at the military base located on El Berlin mountain in Toribio, to demand the departure of a group of 100 military soldiers.

The news media reports that the soldiers did not object, since they had the order to not attack anyone nor respond to any aggression from the indigenous people.  In the early morning of Wednesday July 18, however, the police ESMAD (Mobile anti-riot squadron) removed the indigenous people form the military base on El Berlin mountain.

In turn, the indigenous have detained 30 soldiers [es], who will not be freed until the death of one indigenous person has been cleared up.

Nelson Armesto Echavez, on the page Patio Bonito Al Día, speaks of the image [es] that the government has created linking the indigenous people's actions with the FARC:

El Gobierno Nacional ha buscado deslegitimar la acción digna y el derecho que tienen los indígenas a no ser involucrados en un conflicto, vendiendo a la opinión pública que la acción heroica es producto de una manipulación de las FARC, lo que ha sido desmentido por los jefes de esos resguardos, quienes han sido claros en pedir a las Fuerzas Militares como a la guerrilla misma, que abandonen sus territorios.

The National Government has looked to de-legitimize the dignified action and the right that the indigenous people have to not be involved in a conflict, selling the idea to public opinion that the heroic action is the product of the manipulation of the FARC, which has been disproved by the chiefs of the reserves, who have been clear in asking the Military and the guerrilla to abandon their territory.

The Pluricultural Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (OPIC), a group of indigenous people whose creation was driven [es] by the ex-president Alvaro Uribe during his government, has also claimed that the indigenous protest of Cauca has been infiltrated by the guerilla. Semana [es] reported that this accusation did not sit well among the indigenous leaders of Cauca:

El portavoz indígena dijo además que esa afirmación era falsa y que ellos no están coordinando acciones conjuntas con las FARC, sino que por el contrario ellos les han desmantelado retenes y les exigen de igual manera que abandonen su territorio.

The indigenous spokesperson also said that this statement was false and that they were not coordinating actions with the FARC, quite on the contrary they had dismantled their roadblocks and likewise demand that they abandon their territory.

The conflict [es] between the Indigenous Guard of Cuaca and the guerrilleros of the zone is not new [es]. In these past weeks, the Indigenous Guard has confronted the guerrillas several times [es], managing to expel them [es] from various districts in Toribio.

Reactions and citizen reports

Some local blogs, such as Popayancity [es], repost the general information that the traditional media transmits. Other international media outlets such as Servindi [es] give a much more detailed account of recent events. Meanwhile, some Colombians show themselves against [es] and others in favor [es] of the indigenous people.

On Twitter various words and hashtags have become local trending topics, such as FFMM (“Military Forces”), Farc, #ApoyoAlasFFMMEnelcauca (“I support the military forces in el Cauca”) Cauca, #CaucaResiste (“Cauca Resists”), ESMAD and Ejército (“Military”).

Many people on Twitter continue to comment from various perspectives.

Former presidential candidate Antonio Navarro (@navarrowolff) [es] speaks of the various positions among the indigenous people:

@navarrowolff: En el norte del Cauca hay indígenas que apoyan el gobierno, otros que apoyan a las Farc y otros, la mayoría, que están contra ambos.

@navarrowolff [es]: In the north of Cauca there are indigenous people who support the government, others who support the Farc and others, the majority, who are against both.

Journalist Daniel Coronell @DCoronell) [es] warns of the opportunist way that the politicians are treating the topic:

@DCoronell: Lo de hoy en el Cauca fue grave, pero no fue una masacre de militares. Hay gente tratando de sacarle provecho político a la situación.

@DCoronell [es]:What happened today in Cauca was serious, but it was not a massacre of military soldiers. There are people trying to get political benefit from the situation.

Nicolás Umaña Jimeno (@NicolasUmana) [es] disagrees with the indigenous attitude towards the military forces:

@NicolasUmana: Respeto a los indígenas mucho. Pero no veo que derecho tienen para maltratar y humillar a los soldados colombianos.

@NicolasUmana [es]: I respect the indigenous people a lot. But I don't see what right they have to mistreat and humiliate the Colombian soldiers.

As far as he is concerned, Julián Román (@JulianRoman) [es] doubts those who say the indigenous people are guerrilleros:

@JulianRoman: Toda la “gente de bien” que anda diciendo que los indígenas de Toribio son guerrilleros, no saben ni donde queda Toribio.

@JulianRoman [es]: All of the “well-off people” who are saying that the indigenous people of Toribio are guerrileros, don't even know where Toribio is.

The Colombian government has reiterated [es] that it is open for dialogue but that neither the military nor the ESMAD (mobile riot squadrons) will abandon the zone.

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