Letter from CRIC to Uribe

[Note: This letter was published in December of 2003 and received some publicity in the Colombian media. Several of the indigenous communities that signed this letter were then besieged by the military and paramilitaries in what can only be interpreted as collective punishment for their insistence on autonomy.]

Popayán, December 15, 2003

Mr. Alvaro Uribe Vélez

President of Colombia

Mr. President

In 1985 our traditional authorities in Tierradentro issued the Resolution of Vitoncó, a document which showed the public, for the first time in Colombia, a social position demanding from the armed actors respect for our legitimate ancestral authorities and our territorial autonomy. Equally important has been our organization's contribution through peace initiatives in the 1980s that led to the Constitution of 1991, the first national accord which recognized the ethnic diversity of the Colombian nation, setting up clear guidelines for the conduct of the state with respect to our communities.

With our letter of 2002, we informed you that "The Constituent National Assembly was a stage at which the indigenous people for the first time and in a very direct way became political protagonists and were able to achieve the recognition of many of our ancestral claims, which became part of the constitutional normativity. At last, the state and the Colombian society recognized the cultural and ethnic plurality of our country, which allowed that the indigenous peoples' ways of being, thinking, and feeling be understood as an enrichment of the foundation of Colombian nationality. Our languages, rights, authorities, culture, territories, and visions were accepted by official institutions. Similarly, the collective property and ancestral territorial rights-inalienable and non-seizurable-were also recognized, providing a possibility for the establishment of proper institutions to be administered according to local uses and customs".

In the 1990s the indigenous people of Cauca, applying these constitutional principles, reached an agreement with the Colombian State regarding its obligations towards our communities. This was done through agreements, the signing of the presidential decree 982/99, and the registration of CRIC (Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca) as a Traditional Indigenous Authority commissioned by the cabildos (councils) and communities (Resolution of June 25, 1999). Our authorities also appointed part of the Indigenous Protected Area of Guambiano de La María Piendamó as a territory dedicated to the coexistence, dialogue, and negotiation between civil society and the Colombian State. In addition, we have already made it possible for the peace accords between the State and the insurgency to be realized in our territories.

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As you can see Mr. President, our search for the civic coexistence with the participation of a Social State of Rights is not a novelty. Our concerns and requests continue to be the same:

1. Demand from the armed actors respect for our territorial autonomy, traditional authorities, and collective decisions.
2. Demand from the National Government and state institutions compliance with the terms and principles of the constitution.
3. Insist on dialogue and negotiation which involves the participation of civil society, to solve the social and armed conflict which exists in our country, preventing the transformation of crimes against humanity into laws of forgiveness and oblivion.

However, the indifference of those in power towards the opening of possibilities, which could lead to the achievement of the above goals, is evident. We find that no one cares to respect our decisions. On the contrary, an intensification of armed confrontation displaying astonishing military strategies has taken place on our territories.

· While the national government raids the residences of suspected guerrilla collaborators in Toríbío, Jambaló, San Sebastián, Bolívar, Totoró, Tierradentro, and Santa Rosa, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) threatens the "families, those loyal to police and soldiers, and the rest of the community" of Cauca.
· While the national government is committed to strengthening the "democratic security" policy entailing networks of informants, rewards, highland battalions, and peasant soldiers, the FARC offers rewards for each dead peasant soldier or policeman, promises "to purchase each riffle that is recovered" and invites "the residents of those municipalities in position to attack state forces" to join their files.
· While the government employs politics of seduction to invite the guerrillas to give themselves in to the state military forces, the FARC invites soldiers and police to desert their positions and join the FARC's files.
· While the national government obliges the mayors and state employees to continue to operate in their municipalities without offering them any life guarantees, death threats from the FARC against attorneys who refuse to resign, persist.
· The state forces as well as the guerrillas warn the population that they should not admit or host in their homes persons from the opposite side.

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On the other hand, the political decisions at the national level contradict the constitutional mandates with respect to human rights and diversity. Consequently, we are forced to eyewitness the biological warfare against the cultivation of illegal crops, which affects seriously our health, subsistence farming, our traditional seeds, and the natural environment. We are exposed to the intensification of armed confrontation which is centered on the civilian population, the continuous bombing day and night, the occupation of communities by foreign armies which is done under the pretext of combating terrorism, and the impeachment of entire communities-especially social organizations-for assisting the guerrillas. We are astonished to find out about the elimination of resources for social investment so that the armed war and the debt repayment can be sustained, the creation of a fertile ground for economic liberalization and the free trade agreements, and (as if it weren't enough) the approval of the Anti-terrorism Statute which is nothing else but a legitimization of human rights violations.

Considering this panorama, we arrive at the conclusion that, sadly, this war is not one between armies fighting for state power, but of armies against the civilian population, especially against the population living in territories with strategic importance, economic or military in nature. Here we see the strengthening of war-like confrontation, a condition that maintains anxiety and a high risk of forced disappearances among our indigenous communities of Cauca as well as those in other parts of the country.

We have told you that the establishment of military or police bases in various communities has not proven to be the solution. On the contrary, their existence has proven that there are imminent risks for the population, since their presence only serves to encourage armed confrontations.

It seems it is part of the politics of the Colombian State to implement war actions, ignoring social initiatives and intensifying the conflict, without foreseeing the consequences for the people (which should have been a prime consideration in decision-making).

For us it has been clear that the confrontation exacerbates the violation of human rights on indigenous territories as well as the impunity, which is evident in the following examples:

Toribío and Jambaló
There has been an increase in confrontation, bombing, and exchange of fire, which affect residences, livestock, and people. Threats, break-ins, and promises of rewards in exchange for information regarding any of the armed groups (involved in the confrontation) have also taken place.

Silvia
1. Part of the territory of the Indigenous Protected Area of Quizgo has been undermined, which according to some villagers has been done by the police itself, since it is claimed to be a passage used by the guerrillas.

2. In the Indigenous Protected Area of Pitayó in the Vereda de Calambas, the police has accused a large part of the community of being guerrilla collaborators and has ordered various aerial interventions, such as indiscriminate bombing without concern for the consequences for the community.

San Sebastián
1. An indigenous leader has been assassinated by the FARC. The national army has been pressuring families to give in family members accused of being insurgents.
2. The disappearance and subsequent assassination of an indigenous policeman occurred on December 17, 2003 under strange circumstances.

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Santa Rosa
The town has been taken over by military power and isolated from any flow of information. There has been a total blockage of the indigenous community of Piamonte and more than 40% of the population are under the accusation of being assistants to the guerrilla.

Almaguer
The assassination of a mayor and two councillors by the FARC has occurred.

Puracé
Community members from the Indigenous Protected Area of Paletará have been arbitrarily detained and kept from 4pm until 10am (on the following day). Confrontation between groups has placed school children at risk.

Totoró
Threats against entire communities have taken place. A villager named Arcadio Conejo Sánches has been assassinated under the pretext that his sons were providing military service. According to the previous commander of 3rd Brigade, there is a list of indigenous leaders collaborating with the guerrilla. This has been used as a tool to silence complaints from the communities regarding human rights violations.

Buenos Aires
The presence of armed actors, paramilitaries and guerrillas, as well as night bombers have placed at high risk the population of Naya which is still awaiting the implementation of promised solutions through the Defence Council of the town and the recommendations of UN to the Colombian state.

Similarly, we share the complaints of the ONIC (National Indigenous Organization of Colombia) to Ms. Martha Lucía Ramírez, Minister of National Defence. These complaints express the profound rejection of the declarations of colonel Montoyal Sánchez, Sub-commander of the 18th Brigade of the Army seated in Arauca, who pointed out in a careless and slanderous manner that the 545 displaced indigenous people from Saravena and Alto Carnal, as well as 300 peasants in Alto Carnal follow directions of ELN (Army of National Liberation-a guerrilla force).

Also, the army official Gabriel Pinilla Franco, commander of Battalion of San Mateo de Pereira, confidently accused the Regional Indigenous Council of Risaralda (CRIR) and the Indigenous Council of Peace (of the ONIC) of being wings of the guerrilla.

Obviously, the objective is to delegitimate the demands of the displaced and those of the communities who claim their rights. The dangerous and careless affirmations made by the armed forces of Colombia convert automatically indigenous organizations into military targets. This is why perhaps it is necessary that the ministry respond to the questions put forward by the ONIC regarding the policies of the national government, especially the practices of its armed forces and the labelling of human rights organizations which accompany us as assistants of the guerrillas / terrorists, since those of us in Cauca hear these accusations frequently, especially during encounters between our indigenous authorities and army officials in Totoró, Sur Yanacoma, Jambaló, and Toribió.

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In the past days, more than 300 indigenous visited Popayán, to find out about the public hearing on the 75 detained and accused of being the paramilitaries who participated in the massacre of Naya. The visitors were not invited to participate in the process and had to march on the streets of Popayán to make it known that for 2 years and 7 months the injustices have not been addressed. There is still no indication of who were the intellectual actors behind the genocide, (even though it is well known that the paramilitaries only act when they are being paid) and thus, the impunity of crimes against humanity is maintained.

Various humanitarian missions which accompany the Naya process demand from the Colombian government to fulfill its duty-to guarantee the fundamental human rights of the population affected and to comply with the recommendations of UN, which point to a need to bring out the truth, apply justice, and provide a reparation for the harm done to our people who have been situated in this region for centuries.

As all this evidence shows, the National Constitution and the agreements made with the indigenous peoples remain dead words. The National Government, instead of complying with the Magna Carta, is determined to reform it, while not fulfilling its obligations towards the communities. In a way, this is a permanent declaration of a silent war, the aim of which is to cause the forced disappearance of our people. This is why many of our villagers believe that if the referendum did not gain acceptance by the majority of the population, it was because the government has not complied with the popular mandate and intends to reform the National Constitution.

As traditional authorities of the indigenous people of Cauca, grouped in the CRIC, we believe it is necessary to alert the indigenous communities to strengthen their mechanisms of collective resistance and question the acts of armies when they commit violations, put in risk the civilian population, or violate the human rights and International Humanitarian Law. We encourage villagers to join efforts to defend their territories and autonomy and refuse to belong to any of the armed groups-may it be those of the state, those who support it, or those who combat it.

We demand from judicial institutions and state bodies to regulate the actions of the armed forces in accordance with the constitutional mandates in force. We also demand from the National Government to attend the call of civil society organizations which seek to achieve the peaceful coexistence of all Colombians, based on respect for international accords, especially International Humanitarian Law and those related to ethnic groups and the protection of human rights.

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Despite of our wish to belief in the National Constitution, the current reality makes us doubt its existence and it seems that we are left only with the option of calling on international human rights bodies, countries that value democracy and on social and solidarity organizations around the world to be attentive to the conduct of actors in the confrontation. It should be noted that in reality, the exercise of democracy and the administrative decentralization with budget and governing autonomy have not been assured so far. Similarly, the conduct of the guerrilla-menacing those who remain carrying out the municipal administration-as well as paramilitaries who require unconditional support for the national policy, limit the exercise of democracy in Colombia. The media further prevents the establishment of democracy by promoting the idea that social mobilization and organization are mechanisms of support for terrorism.

We would like to stress the following points in particular:

· The true security on indigenous territories can be assured not through the presence of armed groups, whatever their political inclination may be, but through our own means, requiring the participation of the traditional indigenous authorities. In this manner can be guaranteed the role of the Indigenous Guard and the social control through the law in the Special Jurisdiction of the Indigenous People.
· To guarantee this security, it is essential that the development, which unfolds on indigenous territories, conform to the ideas and views of each community. Therefore, the state must provide the necessary resources to enable us to carry out our plans.
· The sad experience of our compañeros in Naya demonstrates that the above conditions are essential if the violation of human rights manifested in assassinations, threats, and displacement of people from their homeland, is to be prevented.

Our previous considerations imply that it is necessary to guarantee the absence of armed actors on our territories, to say NO to the highland battalions and NO to the presence of illegal armed groups (which we believe should be expelled from the process of dialogue and negotiation or at least the state must ensure that if they want war, it would be waged outside our territories).

Our position does not mean that we would like the state to be liberated from the responsibility of providing security for us as Colombian citizens. On the contrary, we reiterate that this is your obligation and therefore we hold the government responsible for all actions violating the rights of the indigenous people which take place inside or outside our territories.

Finally, we express our disagreement with the approval of the Anti-terrorism Statute, which we believe would aggravate the situation of human rights violations. In relation to the latter, we encourage you to keep in mind the International Humanitarian Law and the recommendations made in particularly by UN.

Mr. President, we continue to believe that an effective solution to the various conflicts that persist in our country can be reached through a political dialogue as long as it involves the participation of civil society. We maintain that to achieve a real peace process, which involves the indigenous populations, it is crucial that the promises made to us by the Colombian State during the last few decades be fulfilled.

We believe that today could be the beginning of a process aimed at advancing the implementation of the agreements, among them those established in the decree 982/99.

Mr. President and those attending the Security Council of Cauca: in the year 1991 we committed to the construction of a real Social State of Rights and even though we are aware of the difficulties in achieving it, our undertaking would not be weakened.

Respectfully,

INDIGENOUS REGIONAL COUNCIL OF CAUCA

[Translated by Jasmin Hristov]

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