Freedom for Mother Earth!

The Struggle for Land in Colombia
by Hector Mondragon

En Espanol:

If there had been justice and reparation for the victims of hundreds of massacres committed in the last twenty years in the Colombian countryside, as well as those committed between 1946 and 1958 and in previous waves of violence, the prin­cipal measure would be to return their land to the campesinos, indigenous people and afro-colombians who have time and again been thrown off Mother Earth by blood and fire.

As dawn came on 2 September 2005, two hundred comuneros - commu­nity activists - from the Indigenous Reserve of Nasa de Huellas dared to implement the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court established that the Colombian state should hand back their land as part of an integral reparation to victims of a massacre committed by paramili­taries on 19 September 1991 in the Nilo hacienda - large farmstead - that the indigenous people had occupied. Twenty of them, children included, were assassinated.

Tired of waiting fourteen years for just compensation, the comuneros occupied the "La Emperatriz" haci­enda. They did not have to wait long for the repression, but it had an unex­pected result: every police assault, the gassing, the presence of the Army, and shooting against the people, with many wounded by gunshot, did not terrorise them, rather it enflamed the spirit of civil resistance in the heart of more and more indigenous people. It was impos­sible to dislodge the occupiers and with each day more arrived. When on 13 September the Minister of the Interior negotiated with the Nasa there were 3,500 people in the occupation, with yet more occupying another hacienda called "Guayabal".

This event marked an historic change, it was the first defeat for the terror that in Colombia paralysed direct action to free land from the hands of the landlords. The Nilo massacre signified that the death penalty would be applied to whoever dared to chal­lenge the masters - a sentence applied to campesinos, indigenous and afro-colombians without discrimination.

So, between 2 and 6 November 2003 the terror was hurled at the members of SINTRAGRITOL (Tolima Union of Agricultural Workers) in Cajamarca, who the previous March had occupied a farm called “La Manigua”, the prop­erty of a Colombian ambassador. Five campesinos were brutally tortured and assassinated, and eighteen were 'disap­peared'. At the same place, on 10 April 2004 the Army killed another three campesinos, a baby and a child.

All this cruelty against whoever dares to liberate the land consolidate a gigantic agrarian counter-reform which means that today 61% of regis­tered rural property belongs to just 0.4% of the population, some fifteen thousand people, one of which is President Alvaro Uribe Ve'lez. Nearly 70% of Congressmen also form part of this select group, which has the support of the United States through Plan Colombia which is designed to defend this status quo in compensation for the commitment of Colombia's dominant class for the Free Trade Agreement (FTA - TLC) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA-ALCA), and for the modification of oil, mining, forestry and water legislation... An exchange that also guarantees for the big landlords speculative profits on the price of land in the areas close to the investments and mega-projects of the multinationals.

This consolidates latifundismo - big landlordism - that is based not on agri­cultural production but on speculation. The plantations, espe­cially of African palm, and the exploi­tation of forests and cattle ranching all have the function of guaranteeing territorial domination and not produc­tion as such. Uribe's government started to approve the laws necessary to legalise the ejection of three million displaced people off their lands. The law reduces the time for newly acquired property to be registered. There is an overall development plan. Recent resolutions have legalised African palm crops planted on the community lands of afro-colombians as soon as they have been thrown off their lands, this is part of a norm to perpetuate the violent seizures. And the government's agreement with the paramilitaries (the Justice and Peace law) is the final touch to launder their lands and money.

As a counterpart, the action of the Nasa at "La Emperatriz" has been the true launching of the slogan "Justice and Reparation" for the victims of this infamous empire. The Nasa people have been the first to make this call come true, because it was them who in September 2004 convened the Grand Minga - great gathering - that marched all the way to Cali with 60,000 indigenous people opposed to Uribe's constitutional reform projects and to violence; to say no to the FTA and yes to life, and the project of self-government of the peoples. The Nasa were also the backbone of the popular consultation against the FTA that took place in six municipalities in Cauca when the people voted categorically to reject the monstrosity of "free" trade with the United States, which is indissolubly linked with the specula­tive agrarian counter-reform and the destruction of national agriculture.

The successful resistance of the Nasa at "La Emperatriz" broke down the terror tying down peoples minds. The campesinos, the Misak (Guambiano), Coconucos and all the Nasa indigenous people saw clearly "as when a flash of lightning illu­minates the night as though it were dawn". Even though there are many contradictions between them, that have for years impeded them acting together, they all arrived at the same unanimous conclusion: the moment to recommence the liberation of the land had arrived.

Each group decided on their own account that the day would be 12 October, the 513rd anniversary of the initiation of resistance, and a day on which the trade union centres had convened a national stoppage. Campesinos and indigenous groups from Cauca department took over 15 haciendas including Corinto and Miranda, where three thousand campesinos reclaimed their right to land; the old Cocunuco hacienda was divided into four farms that were occu­pied by indigenous groups and peasants from Paleterá, Puracé and Coconuco; El Japio in Caloto was occupied by Nasa indigenous people from Caldono, Los Remedies in Silva municipality was occupied by the Kisgó people, and the Misaks occupied Amabala.

Each event repeated what had happened at La Emperatriz. On several occasions the police said over the tele­vision, radio and daily press that the occupiers had been dislodged, while as many times the television pictures showed the occupiers still firmly in the farms. For the first time millions of Colombians directly saw confronta­tions for the land. In only those cases where agreements were made did the occupiers withdraw under their own will, in the others, as at El Japio, they stayed in occupation.

The national government and the government of Cauca department wanted to pretend that the occupa­tions had only been by indigenous groups, and through the mass media they accused the Indians of having a lot of land "at the expense of the campesinos and blacks". But the occupations showed the reality of a campesino-indigenous alliance. The indigenous "lot of land" is not in Cauca, where just 800 landlords own the same amount of land as 200,000 indigenous people, nor in the rest of the Andes, but in the Amazon region where the state has done nothing more than recognise the posses­sion of Amazonian peoples from time immemorial. In an inter-ethnic meeting that took place at Santander de Quilichao, the afro-colombians did not denounce the indig­enous people, but the government for throwing them off their lands, and they strengthened their alliance with the Nasa. Demonstrations organised by the latifundista Governor of Cauca against the indigenous people were poorly attended who were urban 'peasants' and public employees.

Much more importantly, one could see that what occurred in Cauca was part of a national mobilisation of indigenas, campesinos and afros, As well as in Cauca, the neigh­bouring departments of Nariño and Valle witnessed further occupations, 25 thousand people demanded an immediate solution to their situation of critical poverty. At Inzá (Cauca) five thousand campesinos and indígenas blocked the highway. Between Mallama and Ricaurte in Nariño four thousand campesinos and indígenas from the Awá people marched for two days against the FTA and the policy of 'democratic security', and for respect for human rights. At San Miguel two thousand campesinos blocked the road between La Vega (Cauca) and Popayán in support of the national strike, for the liberation of Mother Earth and an agrarian law. At a place called Gabriel López a thousand campesinos blocked the road to Huila. Four thousand people marched from "Mi Bohío" in the south of Cauca to Popayán where they joined up with an urban march. In Barbacoas (Narifio) three thousand afro-Colombians and campesinos took over the town centre demanding drinking water and solu­tions to substitute for illegal crops.

Five thousand afros marched in Buenaventura in support of the strike and in protest and government resolu­tions that eliminate their rights. In Caldas and Risaralda the Embera mobilised massively for a Minga in defence of their territories. The march was prohibited by the government, yet managed to finish, despite repres­sion that left one indigena dead and several injured. Twenty thousand campesinos and small farmers from Tolima and Huila departments, and indigenous people from Huila gathered in the city of Neiva to reject the FTA. There were campesino demonstrations in Fusagasuga (Cundimarca), Tunja and Ventaquemada (Boyacá). Five thousand indigenous people marched between Sampués and Sincelejo where they joined the trade union march. In Santa Rosa in South Bolivar a proces­sion of a thousand artisan miners protested against the multinational Kedahda, a subsidiary of AngloGold Ashanti that wants to take over the exploitation of gold in the San Lucas mountains.

The mobilisation of 12 October was evident proof of the new assent in the campesino, afro and indigena struggle, that had already been a fact felt through the Indigenous Gathering in Tolima a month before; in the two multi-day marches to Carmen de Bolívar; in two uprisings against the paramilitaries in San Pablo (South Bolívar); and civil stoppages in several localities along the Pacific coast.

The government fears that the libera­tion of Mother Earth will extend, and so on the afternoon of 8 November they attacked the Nasa occupying El Japio with armoured cars, police squads and fire arms. They want to kill the struggle and on 10 November they did kill Belisario Camayo Wetetó, a 16 year old indigenous guard, they shot and wounded Gerson Menza, detained and wounded several more community activists - comuneros. While the Nasa resisted the police attacks at El Japio, on 9 November the Misak have occupied the "Corazón" in Piendamó. Hundreds of campesinos united with indigenas to occupy from 10 November three farms in Morales municipality, also in Cauca.

The drums have sounded and we have all heard them. They will not stop beating until the land is free.

[translated by Andy Higginbottom, Colombia Solidarity Campaign]

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