In the wake of a violent guerilla attack on an indigenous town in Colombia, regional leaders are warning that the violence will get much worse and that another push for indigenous autonomy is the only way to save hundreds of thousands of people caught in the crossfire between guerillas, the army, paramilitaries and drug gangs.
According to a United Nations High Commission on Human Rights report and local media accounts on Saturday, July 9 FARC guerillas set off a car bomb in front of the police station of Toribio, Colombia in the heavily indigenous Cauca region. The bomb also sent out other flying explosive munitions that landed throughout the town where more than 1,500 civilians were shopping on a market day.
“On top of that,” the U.N. report stated, “non-uniformed guerrillas shot indiscriminately amidst civilians and local properties, without considering the magnitude of the damage to civilians, which included little children.”
The most recent tally of dead and injured, as compiled by the U.N. team, listed the following: four men killed, including one police sergeant; 122 people injured with two in critical condition as of July 18th; 27 homes completely destroyed and 433 residences damaged; a local school listed as damaged enough that 1,175 children and adolescents were unable to attend classes; the local church also damaged and the Farmer’s Bank destroyed.
“The Office of the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights strongly condemns this serious infraction,” the U.N. press statement continued, “…This attack is not an isolated or accidental act.”
The significance of the event went far beyond the destruction and loss of life that day according to the leaders of the Regional Council of Indigenous Towns of Cauca (CRIC), an organization that represents eight Indigenous Peoples groups spread across 84 reservations in the region and is considered one of the major indigenous entities in the country.
“If we do not stop this war, the country will see a terrible massacre of civilians and the destruction of the better part of a peaceful and democratic political project that we as indigenous have worked on over many years,” stated the CRIC press release of July 22.
“Everything indicates that in the department (province) of Cauca,” the statement continued, “especially in the contiguous departments of Huila, Tolima and Valle, all of the territories of the Nasa people, are preparing for an enormous battle of incalculable consequences for the population…While the army involves the civilian population. The guerillas camouflage themselves within the population resulting in the civilian population getting the worst part of the exchange.”
The CRIC declaration noted the recent increased presence of thousands of Colombian troops in the area. In their comments about the Colombian army, the activists are referring to the governments official policy of targeting any residence from which guerillas or other armed parties are firing, ignoring what most Indigenous Peoples have been saying for years and that is that the guerillas force people out of their homes, use the space and then leave. But army operatives do not spend the time needed to find out if the guerillas are still in these residences, and the end result is that indigenous people lose their homes after being assaulted by one of the battling parties.
The CRIC asserted that “both sides share the same strategy: they shoot, they set off explosives or they bomb indiscriminately, with the supposed certainty that the dead or wounded civilians, from being near their enemies, are also legitimate targets.”
Due to this continuing pattern of assaults, murder and displacements the CRIC has announced plans for another “Minga” or Mobilization of Resistance for “the autonomy and territorial harmony and the end of the war with the purpose of demilitarizing the indigenous territories.”
Towards that end, the Indigenous Peoples will “initiate actions that will dismantle the trenches and bases of the police, the army and the FARC encampments in the midst of the civilian population, with the intervention of all of the Indigenous Peoples of Cauca, accompanied by friend organizations who struggle for peace.”
“We do not want to give a military advantage to any of the groups, but to defend the life and the autonomy of the communities,” the CRIC declaration states. “We hope that both sides understand that our purpose is essentially humanitarian. We call to all our friends so that they can make the government and the FARC understand this.”
As of press time there had been no announcements of specific dates for the mobilization.