Celebrating Popular Struggle in Cauca, Colombia

This month marks forty years since the founding of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) in Toribío, Colombia. It might be a sign of the times that, especially these days, celebrations are often bittersweet. This editorial highlights both the bitter and the sweet of the CRIC’s first forty years, as well as the challenges underpinning the next.

Members of the Indigenous Guard in Cauca during a land recuperationStatement on globalizing resistance from the grassroots, with an introduction by the La Chiva Collective

Source: The Media Co-op

This month marks forty years since the founding of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) in Toribío, Colombia. It might be a sign of the times that, especially these days, celebrations are often bittersweet.

Circulated in Spanish by the Tejido de Comunicación (of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca – ACIN), the editorial translated below highlights both the bitter and the sweet of the CRIC’s first forty years, as well as the challenges underpinning the next. Achievements giving way to celebrations and contradictions warranting great challenges.

In the Sa’akhelu Ritual, held in Cauca’s indigenous territories every year, the hummingbird meets the condor. The hummingbird polenates, creates life, mesmorizes in its rapid-fire action, it’s beauty. The
Condor circles, hunting, looming overhead: it is a terrible kind of beauty. When one overpowers the other, say the Nasa, we lack balance or ‘equilibrio’. While the editorial below speaks for itself, the Tejido’s message is essentially a call to correct an imbalance, one that exists not only within the CRIC as an organization but also in Colombia, the continent and the world.

This message could not be more relevant as we hear of, and reflect on, struggles in other parts of the world: as much as we celebrate victories, we must be conscious of where we are headed.

La Chiva

Celebrating Popular Struggle in Cauca
By the Tejido de Comunicación (ACIN)
February 22, 2011

In February of 1971, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (Spanish acronym, CRIC) was founded upon the bases of “unity, land and culture”.

Forty years ago, the founders of this organization united indigenous peoples and campesinos, planting the seeds of a struggle that would lead to the recuperation of lands from some of the most powerful landowners in Southwest Colombia. At the same time, and with similar vigour, the organization expressed the communities’ struggle to maintain their culture as the sole patrimony of the peoples of Cauca.

These forty years of work have not been easy; they have involved constant community organizing and struggle. Successive governments have sought to co-opt social organizations with promises of projects that could never completely fulfil the needs of the country’s marginalized peoples. Similarly, some indigenous and campesino-based processes have encouraged many to step down from struggle, viewing this as a means for clearing a path for future generations to ensure that the state respects the rights of all life.

Forty years of continuous organizing work have come and gone. The greatest achievements have been the land recuperations and the creation of indigenous ‘resguardos’ (reserves). These achievements have strengthened the communities in that they have allowed many families access to land for sustenance cultivation and, by extension, food sovereignty.

In addition to these achievements are challenges within the CRIC. Some leaders have gone on to create other organizations with positions that contradict those of the CRIC and the communities – such as the
Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (Spanish acronym, OPIC) and the Nietos de Quitín Lame. These newly formed groups have destabilized the CRIC by engaging in various forms of irresponsible defamation that have generated serious conflicts. The contradictions of these parallel organizations have allowed the Colombian government to use indigenous communities for its own ends, destabilizing a long-standing process of struggle.

Thus it becomes necessary to point out the political contradictions that have come about during past forty years. In many occasions, some leaders have deployed discourses that are in tune with the thinking of the community only to end up putting into practice something completely different. Facing these situations, we have come to understand that the political games played by our own leaders give pretexts for these more contradictory organizations to continue planting divisions within the communities.

It is important to recognize that, in spite of the uncertainties, the CRIC has demonstrated to the country and the world that unity is a fundamental pillar in enforcing the constitutional rights of the people. Unity is not granted through the Colombian government’s own goodwill; it is achieved through the long and difficult work of raising community consciousness, guided by the authority of the community assemblies and congresses.

This is why the celebration of 40 years of the CRIC ought to be a space where we evaluate our achievements and difficulties and, in consequence, put forward new short-, medium-, and long-term policies aimed at keeping alive the indigenous movement in alliance with other social sectors in the country.

It is the current task of the new leadership to globalize resistance, to defend against the models of colonization implemented by governments for the exploitation of natural resources and the militarization of indigenous territories. These lands are where the indigenous movement has worked for five hundred years, where the Life Plans have come to foment increasingly conscious and organized communities. For this reason, we consider it the greatest necessity to unite the struggles of indigenous peoples with those of other social sectors across the continent, because we know that the neoliberal project affects not only indigenous peoples but also entire countries and peoples.

This call is for all social organizations to continue the resistance projects confronting the great economic Death Project that destroys all life. We know that struggles are only successful if we come together: peoples, organizations, unions, students, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendents, campesinos, and all others who believe, as we do, in a future for all, and not just a future for a greedy few, who in the name of ‘development,’ enslave and murder us.

For now, the CRIC must continue to unify the communities that are now being torn apart. It must put forward new political ideals founded upon the social wellbeing of communities and the environment. It is the responsibility of all of us to contribute to the strengthening of the CRIC, supporting it with our ideas and participating in making collective decisions. However, we must also demand that these decisions be respected and acted upon. That way, the essence that gave rise to the CRIC forty years ago – that community-based process – can be sustained into the future, inspiring the struggles of those of us working to build a just world.

La Chiva is a collective of people working in solidarity with Colombian and Canadian social movements and communities.