Despite the ongoing peace process, the brutal aggression against Indigenous communities by landlords and right-wing mercenaries continues unabated.
Members of Colombia’s Indigenous Nasa people are protesting attacks against their leaders by right-wing paramilitaries, as continued violence casts doubt on the prospects of social peace that many had hoped would replace Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.
More than 2,000 members of the Nasa tribe in Cauca held a mass mobilization Friday on the Pan-American Highway to denounce the assassinations of social movement representatives and prominent members of their tribe. The violence comes as a continuation of the brutal treatment meted out to campesinos and the Indigenous community by landlords and paramilitary forces, who witnesses claim were allowed to carry out their killings in broad daylight just meters away from Colombian National Army personnel.
Nasa organizer Javier Oteca, who many saw as a fearless fighter for the interests of the Indigenous people of Cauca, was shot to death by right-wing mercenaries on March 29 at 1:30 p.m. as Colombian service members stood by and watched. Dressed as farm workers, the perpetrators were allowed to flee following the assassination before Indigenous Cauca residents detained six people suspected of aiding the killers.
The Nasa protesters are demanding justice for their community and an end to the illegal expropriation of their territories by landowners aided by private military forces.
This comes amid the comprehensive shedding of weapons by the revolutionary fighters of the FARC, who are making good on peace deal pledges to hand over arms to United Nations officials at special camps. Among the disarming fighters are members of the Jacobo Arenas unit, a 6,900-strong force which resided in the Cauca province for decades. The fighters traversed the country on foot, by boat and by truck to resettle at camps in U.N.-monitored zones around the country.
However, FARC members — guerillas who resided for years in the poor rural countryside — have complained that they won’t drop their weapons until the conditions at camps reach minimal standards of habitability, as agreed to in last year’s peace deal.
Many have greeted the disarming of FARC combatants as a crucial aspect of a transition to a just and peaceful Colombia. However, Indigenous people and campesino communities have witnessed a situation where armed right-wing civilians operate with impunity once FARC guerrillas leave the territory.
The Nasa people, one of the largest among Colombia’s more than 90 Indigenous nationalities, reside in Cauca, one of the more violence-plagued provinces in the Andean nation. Their land is coveted as an ideal location for growing coca plants and opium poppies that fuel a still-booming drug trade.
Representatives of social movements have increasingly faced attacks from both state and non-state actors. Just last week, a coalition of groups denounced the repression of social movement leaders, 12 of whom were arbitrarily placed in detention by Colombian authorities without charges.
The National Liberation Army, or ELN, released a statement last Monday pointing to the continuation of state terrorism and illegal assassinations despite the ongoing peace process and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.