To the People of the Great Territory from the Cxhab Wala Kiwe (Territory of the Great People): I’m the one who is grateful
As I thank you for the good-bye letter you sent me and made public, I need to recognize that there is a lot contained in your words. I will reply as I can, knowing I will not be able to do them justice. Your letter expresses a spirit that moves and inspires me to honor it on its own terms. This is why I start from the wisdom expressed in the conclusion, where you invite me to keep the friendship and gratitude and to continue without resentment and bitterness. I owe this to the Nasa people, all the communities, the process, to you and everything there and from there that has been built and continues to grow. I make this promise to myself, and express it to all of you, with all my heart. I owe it to you. It is precisely because I have learned so much and found so much there, among you and that exemplary people, that it pains me to be away and disabled from discovering more with you every day. To live in Northern Cauca is, above all, an opportunity and privilege to share a territory with a people whose history and experience moves and brings together commitment. I’m the one to say thank you. You are the ones who will be missed.
During my time there, I was able to speak with many elders. I am aware that, hardly 40 years ago, there was nothing but disdain for the Nasa people, just as there was for all indigenous and Afro-descendent communities in Colombia. I know that the landowners and their descendents, like Juan José Chaux Mosquera, have transformed their disdain into an obsession, a project that is sick with a greed that has poisoned its own legacy. Many like him hate the indigenous and the poor in principle and have gone so far as to direct death squads to “put the Indian in his place.” That is, to put the indigenous where these descendants of the conquest feel they belong: as slaves, working the land in misery for eternity. What you have been able to do, as peoples facing five centuries of racism, tyranny and eviction and from misery, contempt and invisibility, through your own commitment and strength, and supported by the living memory of your cultures, is truly exemplary and admirable. Seen from the eyes of your oppressors, it is also impossible, which is why they have not been able to understand and respect you.
Among many images, I keep this one with me from the hacienda ‘La Emperatriz’, when the Liberation of Mother Earth began. Before the community, you burnt the equipment of the riot police [ESMAD]; the tools of aggression that had done you so much damage and sewn so much terror. While this was going on, an indigenous elder, humble and whose appearance exposed a long life of suffering and struggle, spoke to a policeman as he hid behind his intimidating shield and uniform. Two captured policemen were handed over, protected by the same community they mistreated. It was the word and action of freedom face-to-face with the machinery of terror and eviction. She looked at the policeman in the eyes to talk to him. For her, he was a human being within a machine obedient to tyranny. People like her have made the impossible possible. Misery has become dignity and invisibility, inspiration. They are the great people of the territory from the territory of the great people (Cxhab Wala Kiwe).
I met with the Taita (elder) Lorenzo Muelas in Bogotá. He was the last elder I saw before I left. We spoke of “The Strength of the People,” his book, but also a feeling that lives within that title. The indigenous struggle brought him from the enormous pain of eviction to participation in the Constituent Assembly and other leadership roles. In his pauses, in his wise words, I found myself among many other indigenous men and women whose qualities and strength become wisdom through the humble collective work that has forged and woven these processes. Like many other elders, he is alone and feels unjustly mistreated. He fears being dispossessed and suffers as a result of the divisions among the peoples. He wants to end his days in peace, on his land, living alongside the indigenous and peasants. Remembering him, and those like him who have opened the path, I demand that his wishes be honored, that he receives retribution. I’m the one who, upon demanding respect and care for the elders, thank you.
Thanks to all of you in the Tejido de Comunicación (Communication Team), because we learned collectively to do that which is necessary (beyond that which is possible) while challenging abuse against the process by challenging one another. Day and night, in spite of the constant aggression, acts terror, violence against the Peoples’ Summit, the Liberation of Mother Earth, the Minga. Days and nights preparing for the Popular Consultation on the FTA. Sharing the hours of anguish from an act of terror, a massacre, the commercial and official disinformation carried by mainstream media, but also the overwhelming joy from a victory, from an act of dignity, when words and actions broke the siege and defeated deception to fly freely through ancestral communication strategies such as assemblies and encounters within the communities, but also through the media that we appropriated for the process and transformed into our own tools of communication, like community radio, internet, print and documentaries. We did not become media of the process: we became communication of, from and for the process. Under adverse conditions, without resources, under constant attack, this was possible because of a profound commitment that has not been named. Today, to weave communication contrasts with what commercial media and press agencies do. It has become the seed of an alternative that is both locally rooted and is potentially available beyond the local environment to masses of people. I am the one who is grateful. I am the one who has to thank you. I will miss the chance to continue with you, to remain “us”, together in this exemplary work, accompanying the process, establishing ourselves as a school to teach others: weaving within the process and beyond, the tapestry of threads, knots and patterns of communication for truth and life. You are weavers of the word, something that means so much more than 'journalists', although you are excellent journalists as well, even though you are systematically denied your own capacities and an opportunity to train and improve your skills. I will continue to pursue what I can and what I am allowed for the Tejido.
Growing is difficult and painful, this is something that Father Antonio Bonanomi, to whom I owe so much, repeats often. The indigenous process cannot avoid facing these pains. Since the Spanish conquista indigenous people have faced misery and tyranny that advances with greater and more sophisticated and perverse forms in our times. To understand these is to immerse oneself in the unacceptable, in what should not be comprehensible: to realize human capacity to harm one another. To understand these perversions, is also to take on a task that no one should have to take on: to confront a much more powerful and terrible enemy than can be imagined. But this task cannot be avoided. It is the most painful, necessary and dignified task that we must meet.
To lose oneself in this most challenging path is easy and undestandable. One becomes confused, duped, resentful, and one often makes mistakes and wrong decisions. In spite of that, one survives by reaching out to a collective wisdom and memory. One either succeeds by maintaining the capacity to learn from mistakes and gain experience, or is crushed under the weight of infamy. It is wisdom and conscious struggle that preserves peoples. It is that which the peoples must preserve and nurture in order to survive.
Often, throughout history, the struggle against misery has lost sight of tyranny. Trying to solve the immediate, practical problem of physical plunder, hunger, from within a regime of infamy can put food on the table, make concrete improvements, convince some people, but acting exclusively to address misery, maintains the conditions of oppression and leaves the regime in place with time to overcome the immediate conflict and continue on the path of exploitation, exclusion, and destruction. Misery is not a good advisor. History - here and anywhere else where this model of greed is imposed - is a record of the manipulation of misery and the handing out of selective benefits without changing anything. On the other hand, struggling against tyranny while ignoring misery is a distortion of the privileged. The American Revolution defeated the tyranny of Empire but ignored misery, and ended by supplanting the tyrant and imposing misery in the name of liberty.
Misery and tyranny are found together. Resolving one immediate problem doesn't change the essence of reality. This is one of the greatest challenges for people facing the "free trade" model of plunder by transnational capital. While they steal everything by combining terror with propaganda and self-serving policies, they develop projects and programs that are little more than small handouts. They condemn the resistance struggles to accept policies, positions and favors within the regime "so that everything changes and everything stays the same".
The indigenous movement, in the particular case of Colombia, faces a violent and corrupt regime, which promotes plunder at the service of private interests and concentrated transnational capital. Seven years of “false positives”, transfers of land, labor, savings and rights to transnationals, spying on and persecution of anybody who opposes the regime through civil means, alliances with death squads, the build up of the largest and most heavily financed (by the U.S.) armed forces on the continent, Plan Colombia and comprehensive dispossession projects that combine infiltration, food, small projects and other handouts, in exchange for unacceptable concessions of wealth, labour and territories, combined with the ongoing killing of indigenous people at the highest rate in recent history and much more. A form of tyranny that is difficult to withstand. A tyranny that makes use of armed insurgency as a pretext to impose and sow terror.
The Minga of Social and Community Resistance, the mobilization of the people behind their collective agenda, was born in this context. The Minga is facing persecution, attempts to manipulate it, to buy it off or subjugate it under the conditions and interests of the ruling regime. Misery and tyranny: tyranny and misery; these are inseparable challenges to the wisdom of the people and their processes.
This is the situation that I became involved in, contributing from the inside. It's in this struggle that I surely made some people uncomfortable. I did not do it for selfish reasons. I don't aspire to power nor do I believe in power --neither as a means, nor as an end-- of peoples or individuals. History, it seems to me, shows us that power has been an illness and an instrument of greed that reveals our own immaturity and how far we have yet to go to emancipate ourselves. My convictions and my position --which actually are not mine, because we share them at the most essential level-- have been strengthened and enriched. But I have to go and I say goodbye, fully aware that with or without my presence and beyond the strengths of the process, the contradictions that have arisen persist and should be overcome, at the risk of losing what has been won and being subjugated once again by the "Project of Death" that does not tolerate, nor accepts the people's "Life Plan".
I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who may have felt offended by my character or my work. I have my faults and in a collective, when there's room for debate and reflection, these faults become harmonized and kept in their appropriate place. When these spaces are reduced, any ones individual defects surface out of frustration or from specific decisions that¨ ´assume excessive power. In Northern Cauca, there are collective mechanisms for Informing, Reflecting, Deciding and Acting. I am convinced that the survival of the process depends on the preservation and wise application of these mechanisms.
I do not want to leave. I also don't feel that it's right that I should leave, but I will. I believe, as you say, that the process in its wisdom should resolve its problems. One of them is, precisely, that it was never clear to me what my place was there, and as a result, now, there is no place for me. As I say goodbye, I emphasize what's clear: my commitment is ethical; it's a decision to struggle against what exists and to contribute to changing it from below. I carry with me the living example of this process that I will share as a source of inspiration and experience wherever I go. Whether as an individual or as part of another collective, I will do what I can for ACIN, for the Nasa people, for the indigenous people. To this I am committed. One cannot leave oneself, except through self-betrayal. I am from there even though I must leave. My distance will be a sign of respect, as has been my presence to this point.
After all these years, I will let actions speak for themselves. Neither pain nor resentment have shaped my activities, even when I made assertions, denounced errors and injustices, insofar as was possible. Sufficient and appropriate spaces to address difficulties and problems were missing. This void is a reality that affects many people from the communities and requires attention. For example, the victims of collective struggles and moblizations, including indigenous guards, remain there, requiring and deserving assistance.
I accepted the internal process when unfounded and unjust accusations were made against me, as well as the decisions that were made, even if I have not accepted the fact that the truth has not come out, nor has justice been done to those who have falsely denounced me - who continue to do so. I am not obsessed with this situation. It remains in the hands of the process. And I am convinced that it is the process that will be most affected by the consequences of its actions or omissions. I will not seek to fight back and much less will I seek revenge. There is nothing to be vengeful about. There are contradictions to overcome and correct, which are illustrated in what has happened to me, but I know they are related to much more important affairs than have to do with my particular situation. I reiterate that these are the responsibilities of the process and I beleive that the wisdom of the communities, through the advice of elders and through the capacities and committment of the new generation, these challenges will be confronted and overcome. I have always said what I believed with conviction, but I never imposed myself. I am stating this for the record here because naming openly one´s perceptions and perspectives, as established in assemblies, is the way to address truths, debate and grow, by weaving wise collective decisions.
From now on, I am not a part of the process. I will speak with freedom and responsibility about it, without being a spokesperson. I will express my personal opinions about any topic in an open and honest way, taking care to offer insight, even when taking a critical approach, to consolidate and protect the struggles of peoples for their freedom. I take on the Minga’s agenda as my own, and i will foster it whereever I am, recognizing, as has been decided, that it is of the peoples and has no owners. I will continue to write, speak, study and “Walk the Word” and seek to be a part of conscious, mobilized, active communities.
I will maintain contact as a friend and compañero, but I will take the necessary distance. I aspire to return one day, as you say in your letter, but it will be when clarity and conditions exist to be able to do so. It is so very painful to leave, because of the admiration and love I have for this process and because of how much I miss it. I sincerely did everything I could to stay even when the necessary conditions were not there, which put me at risk of losing everything. We will continue to denounce injustice, from wherever it comes, to overcome it and to not be consumed by resentment. You can count on my friendship, committment and dedication and please extend my gratitude to those who make up the ACIN.
May the spirits of the elders and the wisdom of Mother Earth accompany you all on the journey of the word and action, in the spirit of community, to consolidate your autonomy, to resist and engage in Minga with other peoples and processes in struggle, so that the World that is necessary becomes possible. Everything else remains there and has no owners.
2009-10-08, Listiguj, Turtle Island.