Indigenous Resistance

Translated by Justin Podur 

Indigenous resistance suffers the same problem that every human creation suffers: the powerful try to appropriate it.  We declared at the start fo this forum that ‘the true spirit of this action is not captured by pronouncing ourselves for or against any armed actor instead of against war itself.’  They have tried to make us part of their counterinsurgency strategy: by trying to use our struggle as part of their electoral campaigns, by using our struggle as part of their war propaganda machine, by using our struggle to try to influence public opinion. 

Against these attempts to use our resistance against war and injustice, the Indigenous People’s Congress pronounced in November of 2001 that we “reject the attemtps of the media, national government and some presidential candidates to use the defense of the communities of Caldono as an example of a counterinsurgency action against the indigenous; we are defending life and our dignity.” 

The root of our position is that “like the other social sectors of the country, we dream of building a politics of peace with social justice; one that means democracy and respect for life, a politics that overcomes poverty and misery, and for us, a politics that recognizes the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country.”

The congress ratified that “it is not our policy to participate in the armed conflict in this sense, we will relentlessly defend our autonomy, and our indigenous law and government”; so “we join with the voices that demand an immediate ceasfire; even though we believe that peace is not just a silencing of arms but a guarantee of the collective rights of the people.”

And yet, despite the clarity of what we had pronounced, the media want to continue to present us as flying the flag of civilian counterinsurgency.  This propaganda is not just false, it’s criminal.  It has brought us into conflict with armed bands, it has made us military targets, it has misrepresented our true position on territorial autonomy, and worst of all it makes invisible the democratic potential of our action.  Our answer to war could be advanced in a way that is truly consistent with the struggle for a just peace in Colombia.

At this forum, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), together with the Regional Indigenous Congress of Cauca (CRIC) and the indigenous government of Cauca, want to bring clarity about our position and our project.  We would like to share some of our main ideas:

0.  The history of the indigenous is one of developing our own law.  A law that we have made and that has made us.  We call it the higher law, the original law, because it was there before the state.  Our law is not only a law for us, but it is a law about relations with the rest: the other peoples and the other laws.  We will never give up our law.  To give it up would be to cease to live as we do… to disappear.

But there are two laws, sometimes conflicting.  To date, history has had the stronger or the more barbarous law impose its will.  History is at its root a history of war.  And at this root is the conflict of the indigenous.  The conflict with the state and the conflict with the insurgency, which, as we understand it, is an insurgency that seeks to create a state or, in the case of the FARC, considers itself a state already. 

1.  We are living resistance to war (civic guards, massive mobilizations, commissions of search, territories of sanctuary, territories of coexistence, etc.), the result of our strengthening of the project of territorial autonomy that we have been defending for centuries, and that we have achieved successes in in the past 40 years.

In the middle of a growing crisis of legitimacy, governability and representativeness of the state due to its incapacity to rule and represent society, the indigenous peoples have build a process based on our history and social structure, on particular current struggles (the territorial order and the struggle for indigenous territory) and on the clarity we have sought in consolidating indigenous governance and jurisdiction.  Our governments, despite difficulties, have established their legitimacy.  Our law is of more use than the ordinary law, and here, impunity does not reach the scandalous level it has in the rest of the country.

We will say it openly: we are exercising territorial control according to our history and laws, and in accordance with the constitution, and we are not going to give that up.  This is what is at stake in this war, and what is at stake in any possible peace (that is farther away now than it was months ago): our project of autonomy as peoples– not only the right to be different but the right to govern ourselves in our own territories.  And this, it seems, is what the wealthy, the powerful– and the insurgency– do not like.

2.  This determination, that did not first occur to us months ago when the media presented our indigenous actions in Caldono towards the FARC but from the beginning of the indigenous project, is what has put us in opposition to the territorial projects of the state (with its military-paramilitary strategy) and the insurgency (with its strategy of controlling territories and populations).

We are opposed to the political-economic project of the state (our traditional aggressor, with its politics of integration, negation, and ethnocide that have marked our own history of resistance); and we are in opposition to the territorial-political project of the insurgency (who in the process of constructing a new society and a new state denies the advances we have made in our resistance to capitalism, and who remain in the old and outmoded 19th century idea that non-capitalist peoples are doomed, without a future, waiting to be civilized..)

We are against the military actions of the state and the insurgency, and not exactly because indigenous peoples are pacificists (we have, in our history, fought wars against aggression).

We are against the military action of the state, because it is typical state terror, a mix of fascistic ‘National Security Laws’ and the new ‘Antiterrorist Statute’ that brings military power against civilians and subordinates all of society to that power, criminalizing social protest and empowering paramilitaries.

We also reject the military actions of the insurgency, essentially because it has lost its priorities of building and winning communities, because it has abandoned the construction of popular power, reducing its actions as a state would to ‘controlling’ communities and rejecting any autonomous or self-governance structure that puts its own control in question.  And we reject their arbitrary taxation that is, despite what they say, concentrated upon the poor.  And we reject the terrorist actions that are not dedicated to stopping or hurting their military opponent but instead to creating terror in the population instead of politicizing it.

4.  The indigenous peoples cannot stand still in this situation.  This is a war for our territory, our resources, our societies and cultures.  It is a war in which the main armed actors do not recognize our right to govern ourselves.  We can be neither still nor neutral.  On the contrary: we exercise our law, our government, our territorial control, and we fight to create a just, democratic, and intelligent society.  Is that a crime?  Does this make us warmakers?  We think this is the path to peace.

5.  It is in the exercise of our project that we have developed actions to resist war, actions to affirm our territory, law, and government.  These include:

Actions in defense of the community and territory, in the development of our civic indigenous guards, a hundred-year old tradition that was the basis of our recuperation of land in the 70s and 80s, of our territorial and resource politics in the past decade, and of our own social control throughout history.

Direct action of the indigenous authorities when the humanitarian government and non-governmental organizations do not respond.  These include our search for Kimy Pernia in the paramilitary zone of Tierralta (Cordoba), conducted by 1000 indigenous in the Andean zone.

Massive actions to demand peaceful solutions by the state and the insurgency, like the protest march against armed groups that brought 30,000 Paez, Guambiano, Coconuco, and others to Cali last June, and the more recent actions in Caldono to defend our territories and community.

Establishment of sanctuaries or refuge zones, in Choco called De ara de, or houses for all, that try to respond to the problem of displacement.

Establishment of special zones for food security projects.

Dialogues on humanitarian issues with the indigenous governments and authorities in guerrilla influenced areas.

Creation of spaces of exchange with other popular sectors to build unity, spaces like the “territory of coexistence, dialogue, and negotation’ in the indigenous reserve ‘La Maria’ in Cauca, whose objective is to bring together different expressions of society to present proposals fo the solution to the armed conflict suffered by the country.

6. Those who have supported these initiatives when they have coincided with their interests have been quiet when the initiatives ran counter to their interests.  The government proclaims our mobilizations in Caldono are part of their counterinsurgency strategy, but call us guerrillas when we denounce the paramilitary massacre in Naya that happened with clear complicity by the Army and obstruct the commission of indigenous authorities in our search for our leader Kimy Pernia Domico in Tierralta, Cordoba.  The guerrillas denigrate our unarmed indigenous guards, but try to recruit them and create armed indigenous militias.

To the state, we are an example when we demand that the FARC and ELN leave our territories, but we are traitors when we tell the Army to not use our territory for military actions and demand that they dismantle paramilitarism.

 7.  Our actions in resistance have taught us to build peace.  In various locations we have insisted that we have principles to guide the search for peace.

First, to do so in Minga; a truly participative process in which everyone decides and not only the legally and illegally armed;

To do so looking for the source of problems before they grow;

To do so acknowledging the cultural, territorial, political and ethnic reality of the country.  A state and an economy that is ours and not of other societies or interests.

To do so thinking of justice and peace made by authorities that come from the traditions of the peple; a state and a negotiation in which the bases are the authorities of the communities and their social organizations, not the technocrats that rule today in Colombia.

To do so thinking that nature is to be respected and protected, not used and abused.

And to do so thinking fundamentally of a territory governed by the people who live in it and not by distant governments or businesses; we consider it a principle for peace that the distribution of power take into account territorial, ethnic, and regional autonomy.

We ask again: are these principles of war?  Is this a counterinsurgency strategy?  Is this contrary to the spirit of the constitution?  These are principles that we defend in our resistance to war.  We consider them democratic and just principles, and those who would use our resistance to war for their own interests are in fact neither democratic nor just.

8. We dispute territory with the state and the insurgency.  They contest our laws and seek judicial hegemony.  It seems that the project of indigenous autonomy conflicts with any model of the state, whether the current one (defended by the army and the death squads) or the one promoted by the insurgency (that it tries to impose on the people).  We think that it’s possible to have a country where our law and our autonomy is respected.  And where the autonomy of all movements, social and community organizations, is respected.  This autonomy is the only basis upon which a democracy from below, a popular power, a community authority can be constructed.  This is not a struggle particular to the indigenous: on the contrary, it is the basis for a different kind of state and a different kind of society.

9.  Your presence in this event is a sign that we are building together with the social and popular organizations.  We hope we have spoken well.  As we said “the recent history, and all history, has taught us that the powerful will not make a new country, nor will they make peace, nor will they bring about justice, nor will they make peace with nature.  They don’t need it, and they couldn’t do it if they wanted.”  The indigenous struggle is peaceful.  But it is not passive.  It cannot be, while they are killing us.  If our rights are not respected, we can bring about an indigenous and social uprising– an uprising of our thoughts and of our actions.  We maintain our shout: “Peace for the indigenous, peace for all; Justice for the indigenous, justice for all; Dignity for the indigenous, dignity for all.”

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