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Colombia: President and Indigenous Leaders Meet to Discuss Cauca Conflict

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

After unsuccessful meetings [es] between indigenous leaders and government delegates on the ongoing conflict in the Cauca department, the Cauca indigenous people demanded a dialogue [es] with the presence of President Juan Manuel Santos. On August 15, 2012, the President met with indigenous leaders in a meeting [es] in which no solid agreements were made regarding the grievances of the indigenous people.

At the meeting's venue, the reservation of the Nasa people at la Maria, more than 16,000 indigenous people from various regions around the country showed up with the intention of speaking with the President and putting forward an initiative of peace, intending to send away armed groups participating in Colombia's armed conflict in the region.

At the meeting, the President gave signs of peace and asked for forgiveness, as Servindi [es] reports:

Durante la reunión, Juan Manuel Santos pidió perdón por las víctimas indígenas del conflicto entre las fuerzas del orden público y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc).

“Pedirles perdón y al mismo tiempo pedirles que trabajemos juntos para que eso deje de suceder y no suceda nunca más”, expresó Santos al iniciar su intervención.

Sin embargo, reafirmó que no retirará a la fuerza pública de esa zona, como lo piden los indígenas. Las comunidades, por su parte, entregaron al presidente un documento donde exigen el retiro del ejército del cerro Berlín.

During the meeting, Juan Manuel Santos asked for forgiveness for the victims among the indigenous people in the areas of conflict between the armed forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

“I am asking for forgiveness and that we work together for this to stop and to never happen again”, expressed Santos at the beginning of his intervention.

However, he reaffirmed that he will not ask the armed forces to stand down from this zone, as the indigenous people request. The communities, for their part, handed the President a document that demands the expulsion of the army from Cerro Berlín.

Besides presenting their proposal [es], the indigenous communities asked that the agreements signed in 1995 [es] be revised, as well as other policies governing indigenous people and dealing with issues like autonomy, human rights, peace, territories, health, ethno-education and communications.

Servind also refers to one [es] of the grievances of the indigenous people:

Entre las demandas de los indígenas se cuentan el retiro de las concesiones para explotación de los recursos mineros y energéticos de sus territorios y no entregar más tierras para la realización de proyectos multinacionales.

Among the demands of the indigenous people is the withdrawal of mining and energy concessions in their territories, and no more handing out lands for developing multinational projects.

Days before the meeting, Jenny Manrique wrote about “The value of dialogue for the indigenous people of Colombia” on the blog Americas Quarterly [es]:

Es lógico. El único interlocutor válido para resolver el conflicto desatado por la presencia de grupos armados y fuerza pública en territorio Indígena de los Nasa-Páez en el norte del Cauca, es el presidente Juan Manuel Santos. Mesas temáticas, delegados ministeriales, despliegue de fuerza pública, son medidas además de controversiales, inútiles. La presencia de ONGs internacionales y los informes de los relatores de derechos humanos sobre la situación de los pueblos Indígenas, respaldan el proceso y lo blindan pero terminan siendo insuficientes porque el estado colombiano no se anima a reconocer lo que la Constitución del 1991 le dio a estas comunidades: Autonomía.

It's logical. The only valid mediator [es] to resolve the conflict that broke out due to the presence of armed groups and the national armed forces in indigenous territory of the Nasa-Páez in northern Cauca, is President Juan Manuel Santos. Dialogue tables, ministerial delegates, the deployment of armed forces, are not only controversial, but useless. The presence of international NGOs and reports from human rights rapporteurs [es] on the situation of the indigenous people, back the process and reinforce it but end up being insufficient because the Colombian state does not bother to recognise what the Constitution of 1991 gives to these communities: Autonomy.

Manrique concludes:

Que la deuda del Estado con estas comunidades es histórica e inmensa se ha dicho hasta el cansancio. Masacres (como la del Nilo), desplazamientos, asesinatos selectivos han sido denunciados ante organismos como la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos que ha condenado al Estado colombiano por su acción u omisión en los hechos. De la reunión de este martes depende que se reconozca el valor del diálogo para los Indígenas y la necesidad de una interlocución seria y definitiva con el Gobierno que medie en el tema de la Autonomía contra el mandato constitucional que determina la presencia de la fuerza pública en todo el territorio nacional.

Cauca puede ser ahora un escenario piloto de un modelo pacifista, o seguir apareciendo en los medios por cuenta de una violencia que a pesar de tener múltiples calificativos de los actores, parece que sólo tiene uno para las víctimas: Indígenas.

That State's debt to these people is historical and immense has been said to weariness. Massacres (like that of El Nilo) [es], displacements, and selective assassinations have been condemned by The Inter-American Court of Human Rights which denounced the Colombian state for its actions or omission of facts. The meeting on Tuesday depends on the recognition of the value of dialogues for the indigenous people and the necessity of a serious and definitive talk with the government to mediate the theme of autonomy against the constitutional mandate that determines the presence of national armed forces in all Colombian territory.

Cauca can now be a pilot scenario for the pacifist model, or continue appearing in the media because of accounts of violence that in spite of having multiple epithets for all involved, seem to only have one for the victims: Indigenous.

On Twitter, Alfredo Niño Rico‏ (@AlfredoNi_rico) [es] asks for results:

@AlfredoNi_rico:  Sr. Presidente necesitamos resultados en su reunión del cauca con los indígenas solución de problemas inmediatos

@AlfredoNi_rico [es]: Mr President, we need results in your meeting in the Cauca with the indigenous, solutions to immediate problems.

In a similar manner, Nerea Antia Vinós‏ (@belartxa) [es] asks that the President's request for forgiveness be put into action:

@belartxa: El presidente colombiano Santos pide perdón a los indígenas del Cauca. Espero que sus palabras se acompañen de hechos y derechos.

@belartxa [es]: The Colombian President Santos asks for the forgiveness from the indigenous people of the Cauca. I hope that his words are accompanied by actions and rights.

Apart from highlighting the request for forgiveness from Santos [es], the majority of traditional media have also brought forward the President's affirmation of a plan by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) to kill him. Isabel Londono‏ (@isalondono) [es] refers to this declaration by the President:

@isalondono: Santos sale de hablar con l@s indígenas y l@s invalida declarándose amenazado por FARC no será porque salió de la reunión con manos vacías.

@isalondono [es]: Santos comes out to speak to the indigenous and invalidates them by declaring that he is threatened by the FARC. Could he be saying that because he left the meeting empty handed?

Despite not reaching any concrete results, President Santos “qualifies the meeting with the indigenous communities of the Cauca as an important step”, as reported on the official website [es] of the Colombian Presidency.

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

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