More than a week after 40,000 indigenous Colombian protestors filled streets and highways around the country, the national government and indigenous leaders reached an agreement on Wednesday, October 23 that addressed some but not all of the contested demands.
Beginning on October, 12, indigenous people from over 18 regions took to streets and highways across the country to protest territorial and human rights among other issues. Within a few days of the nationwide action, indigenous protestors had also blocked parts of the international Panamerican Highway. By October 20, the protestors left the main highways as the negotiations moved forward.
While there were reports of 130 protestors being assaulted by Colombian soldiers and police, and indigenous leaders and journalists receiving death threats from the far-right paramilitary group known as The Rastropos, the negotiations continued despite the violence.
On October 23, Colombian Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri announced that the government and the leaders of the Indigenous and Peoples Social Mobilization had signed an agreement that contained 25 accords dealing with territory, human rights, autonomy and administrative and juridical matters.
Minister Iragorri asserted that one of the main points of the accords was that the government will comply with article 56 of the Constitution of 1991 which permits the autonomy of indigenous communities and management of their resources.
“We have reached an accord that we considered historic because it is the compliance of a constitutional obligation that for 22 years was not met,” Iragorri said. “We are signing today the transitory article 56 which is the one that permits that this yearning of Indigenous Peoples to have true independence and autonomy becomes a reality.”
In a press statement issued the same day, the leaders of one of the main organizing groups, the Indigenous National Organization of Colombia, known also as ONIC, noted that there had been significant points of agreement.
The ONIC statement noted that the expediting of the constitutional decree regarding the Indigenous territories “…is a fundamental first step towards the autonomy and the government of the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia, and that creates hope for hundreds of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.”
The ONIC leaders also pointed to other achievements in the agreement including: assigning of funds to purchase lands for the Indigenous Peoples; the setting of specific goals of improving sanitation; improving juridical security of the indigenous territories; protection of displaced indigenous women, nomads, semi-nomads, peoples at risk of extinction and those who have chosen voluntary isolation; not filing criminal charges against the protestors; the strengthening of the indigenous guards; develop protections of prior consultation in regards to the privatization of seeds, agricultural policies and other issues.
However, in the press statement the indigenous leaders emphasized that the process of change was ongoing and that they reserved the right to create another mobilization if needed. They also noted that while there was progress, some important problems remained unresolved.
“….nevertheless, there was no accord with the national government on the following fundamental points: i) the structural solution to the territorial problem of the Indigenous Peoples; ii) Our determination to exclude the megaprojects from the mining-energy sector from our territories; the free trade policies.”