CALI, Colombia – Hundreds of indigenous people from southwestern Colombia gathered on Monday in Cali to denounce violence by illegal armed groups and demand the government meet its commitments.
The representatives of these communities arrived in caravans of “chivas” (buses) and settled in the People’s Coliseum awaiting a response from the government to their request for talks to address “structural issues” of their social struggle.
The indigenous people demanded that Colombian President Ivan Duque meet with them, but the president instead sent a high-level commission with decision-making power made up of various ministers and other senior officials who traveled from Bogota on Monday.
The gathering was held to “tell the Colombian government that we have a pending dialog,” the counselor of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Aida Quilcue, told EFE.
On Saturday, the gathering began in the town of Caldono, in the department of Cauca, and on Monday the people were in Cali, the capital of neighboring Valle del Cauca, with the intention of starting a walk to Bogota if the government does not respond to their requests.
Quilcue believes that the most important thing about the meetings with the government is to expose “what is happening in the indigenous, Afro and peasant territories, in relation to life, territory, democracy and peace.”
She asked the government to focus more on the protection of rights, rather than how much money it had invested.
Indigenous communities in southwestern Colombia, mainly those in the department of Cauca, are often victims of violence by illegal armed groups that seek to seize their territories for the production and trafficking of drugs.
Another voice that demanded “protection of the life and culture of the indigenous” is that of Davis Taicus, of the Awa people, who traveled to Cali to join the gathering from the jungle department of Amazonas, bordering Peru and Brazil.
“I am tired of seeing my people die,” he said, claiming that the government wants to bring “multinationals that are destroying the Amazon” to this part of the country.
Last Friday, Hermes Pete, the senior counselor of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) said: “We tell the president and the national government that we are claiming for life because they are killing us in the territories.”
Pete then claimed that the communities in the southwest of the country “are being slaughtered and culturally murdered,” for which he asked for help from human rights organizations and the international community.
Interior Minister Alicia Arango led the government delegation that traveled to Cali, along with Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Mabel Torres, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz, High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos, and the High Councilor for Post-Conflict Emilio Archila, and other officials.
“Teamwork and agreement with indigenous communities has been fundamental in many of the agreements that have been reached,” Arango said in a statement from her office.
The minister assessed the government’s compliance with regard to tertiary roads in which about 25,000 million pesos (about $6.5 million) are being invested in areas where communities of Pastos and Quillacingas towns live, in Narińo department, bordering Ecuador.
These investments, she said, also open the possibility of reactivating their economies, which, like that of the rest of Colombia, has been heavily hit by COVID-19, with 911,316 infections and 27,834 deaths so far in the country.
The Ministry of Interior assures that the Duque administration has developed about 20 action points for the benefit of native communities, among them education plans, direct contracting of indigenous organizations with the state, and resources for 20 billion pesos for startups.
“In 2020, work has been done to consolidate the follow-up to more than 1,541 commitments acquired by the national government in the framework of 15 ‘mingas’ (gatherings)… and improving reporting and compliance effectiveness,” the ministry said.