On July 16, when the military had yet to retreat from indigenous lands by the proposed deadline of the previous day, the Nasa forcibly removed troops from El Berlin’s mountaintop base. Dramatic photos of the event splashed across national and international news, some featuring members of the Nasa indigenous community surrounding several soldiers, picking them up, and moving them away from their posts and others featuring crying Colombian officer Sergeant Garcia, retreating from the encampment.
The municipality of Toribío in the Colombian department of Cauca has become emblematic of complexities in the war that continues to plague the country. Toribío is one of 19 indigenous communities that make up the Pueblo Nasa, the very well organized and pacifist indigenous community located in the North of Cauca. The Nasa’s ancestral lands are rich in natural resources exploited by multinationals as well as located in a strategic corridor for both illegal and legal trade, which both recently and historically have put the civilian population in the midst of the armed conflict; Toribío alone has been hit with combat over 500 times in the last ten years and the FARC guerrillas attacked 12 times in the first half of July alone. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has issued protective measures for the Nasa reservation.
“The community of Toribío has learned how to live in the midst of conflict,” relates a recent Nasa communication. “They have survived both FARC and army attacks. The children have learned to pass through police blockades on their way to school.” The investigative journalist site Silla Vacia pointed out, “The Nasa have been urging respect from armed actors for twenty years, but not from Bogota or any other large city like most of us do, no, but rather face to face.”
The constant threat from armed groups reached a breaking point at the start of July. After a week of intense battles between the armed forces and the FARC in the town of Toribío, all amidst the indigenous and civilian populations, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) called for an end to fighting between the security forces and the FARC. They published an open letter to all armed actors, calling for them to leave the indigenous territories.
The indigenous right to self-governance is constitutionally recognized in Colombia and the Nasa are protected by the Indigenous Guard, a community self-defense movement authorized by the autonomous community which holds their own internal justice processes and provides peaceful security to inhabitants. The Indigenous Guard is armed with ceremonial staffs. Under Colombian and international law, the construction of military bases within indigenous territories requires free, prior and informed consent from the community, a requirement that the Nasa claim was not respected.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: Indigenous Nasa Resist Militarization in Cauca.