Like young people, peasants, and Afro-Colombians, indigenous communities in Colombia have been victims of state terrorism and armed organizations. According to data from 2020, at least 269 indigenous leaders have been assassinated since 2016, 242 of whom were killed after signing the 2016 peace agreement. 167 have been assassinated during Iván Duque’s presidency. In 2020, when most Colombians were confined to their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a 40 percent increase in murders of human rights defenders compared to the previous year.
The murders of these indigenous leaders and human rights defenders occur throughout the country, but are concentrated in the southwestern department (province) of Cauca, where the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) is located. The CRIC is one of the most important organizations in the country and where Indigenous Minga meetings are convened. Minga is an Indigenous word that refers to acts of communal work, but now refers to collective acts of protest “to recover what a community believes it has lost: territory, peace, lives.” It is a space for meeting, dialogue, and marches of native peoples.
In October 2020, the Indigenous Minga brought together several indigenous communities and summoned President Iván Duque for a meeting. About 8,000 indigenous people traveled from Cauca to Bogotá to dialogue around the defense of life, peace, territory, and democracy. However, despite the communities’ strong mobilization, the Duque government instead sent the then-Minister of the Interior Alicia Arango. The dialogue failed due to the government’s refusal to meet their fundamental demands.
Indigenous organizations and the Minga participated in the mobilizations during the National Strike initiated on April 28, 2021. They were present in several cities, including Popayán, Cali, and Bogotá. During one of the mobilizations in Cali, police-backed paramilitaries attacked the Minga with firearms, injuring nine.
Duque then refused to dialogue with the Minga for the second time and ordered them to return to their territories “to avoid unnecessary confrontations.” He sent Interior Minister Daniel Palacios and Defense Minister Diego Molano — in other words, representatives of the repressive organs of the State.
So far this month, eight indigenous leaders and teachers of the Awa and Embera indigenous communities have been murdered. Five were killed on September 20, and others were attacked but escaped unharmed. There has also been forced displacement of the Llanos del Yarí Yaguara reservation in southern Colombia.
The murder, persecution, and displacement of indigenous people is occurring against a backdrop of violence caused by paramilitary groups linked to the State, landowners, and drug traffickers, as well as dissident armed groups. The army and police — whether directly or by omission — are also part of this brutality against indigenous communities. These communities are protecting their territories by preserving the environment, as in the case of the Llanos del Yari reservation, or are in territories disputed by the groups that control the drug trafficking corridors, as in Cauca.
Even so, the indigenous peoples are resisting the right-wing governments that want to disappear them or remove them from their territories to allow the extraction of natural resources and the proliferation of drug trafficking. The indigenous peoples are another example of the organization and persistence that are part of the mobilizations and protests taking place across Colombia.
Originally published in Spanish on September 23 in La Izquierda Diario
Translated by Otto Fors