Colombia: Despite Repression, the Minga in Huila Continues for the Liberation of Mother Earth

On the evening of August 8, communities belonging to the Movement for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth, made up of the Nasa, Misak & Yanacona Peoples of the Regional Indigenous Council of Huila -CRIHU- and the Association of Affected of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project-ASOQUIMBO-, among others, began to arrive at the bridge of the Pescador River in the Municipality of El Hobo (Huila) giving initiation to the permanent assembly of the Minga for the Liberation of Mother Earth . Since its start, the Minga has been planted as a space of peaceful social construction that demands the presence and answers from President Santos and the responsible Ministers regarding the problems facing the heart of Huila, in particular the mining and energy policies and related impacts in the territory and communities that ancestrally and historically occupied the region. The Minga has four demands:

  1. The suspension of the Mining-Energy Locomotive mega projects, in particular: the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project, the presence of oil company Emerald Energy in the Páramo of Miraflores Peak Reserve, and the recent total expropriation of the Huacacayo-Yuma-Magdalena River to Chines State owned company Hydrochina as part of the Master Advantage Plan of the Magdalena River.

  2. Access to lands for campesinos and indigenous peoples

  3. Demilitarization of territories

  4. A political solution to the armed conflict.

The permanent assembly of the Minga was accompanied by the Indigenous Guard- the Caretakers of the Territory- and took charge of the security of the Minga´s participants, mingueros, and where the assembly was being held. To promote the process, rallies were held along the highway to inform the public. The peaceful mobilization established a space from where it could demand its rights and the presence of national leaders to the area of concentration. The State´s response was the presence of Police that totally locked-down the highway and thus risked the lives of mingeros by spreading false information that the mingueros would harm other inhabitants in the region in an attempt to distort the meaning and dignified and peaceful process of the Minga. From the beginning, the role of the Police was to stigmatize the participants as subversives, not only in language but also by sending special counter-guerrila operative forces, as well as anti-disturbance agents.

On August 13 the Riot Police (ESMAD) attacked around 2,000 mingueros. An armored vehicle, tear gas, explosives, police brutality and a disproportionate use of force left 25 injured. While the order that was given was to burn the camps where the mingueros were living and to force everyone away from the bridge, the resistance and struggle of the Minga against State forces defended the territory and maintained its permanent assembly. Two ESMAD agents were injured during the attack and were immediately attended to by the medical mission of the Minga. One of the men carried a 9mm gun, various explosive devices, which along with helmets, shields and uniforms that were detained during the police attack were later given to the People´s Defense- Huila Regional, in the absence of the General of Police, Rodolfo Palomino.

The days following the police attacked at the Pesacador Bridge, police helicopters continued to circle the Minga day and night, and more ESMAD agents and armored vehicles were brought into the region. The Police and Media continued to criminalize the social protest. From the onset the strategy of the government was to divide the union between indigenous peoples and campesinos in an attempt to end the situation with a bureaucratic agreement. During this time leaders of the Minga traveled to Cauca and were able to speak in the dialogue held between the Minga in Cauca and leaders from the National Government, helping to push State representatives to recognize the legitimate process of the construction of the Minga in Huila. There was also a mobilization in the municipality of Oporapa in the south of Huila against Hydrocina´s presence in the region and it company´s appropriation of the Magdalena River.

In a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Interior, president of the CRIHU and leader of the Minga, Leonardo Homen, expressed that “the government only comes to sit down with communities after there has been a massacre and some amount of dead. When there is a process such as a Minga we are told that it is an issue of security, that’s what the Vice Minister told us, but if we were in electoral campaign season then they would go to the last corner, then there is no security problem, but since it is a public debate, they do not want to assume responsibility. That is why we only want people that have decision making abilities.”

In addition, the campesino from the community of the Honda and member of ASOQUIMBO, Jesus Elias Benavides, asked Cifuentes, a representative of the Ministry “how does a indigenous or campesino community get to dialogue with the State after what happened on the thirteenth” Cifuentes responded that, “she was traveling and state functionaries do not work on the weekends.”

On August 16 an Act of Agreement was reached between the National Government and the Movement for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth that committed the State to make available the responses to all the former petitions, demands, investigations and studies requested by the Movement, as well as the updating and turning over all the agreements and pacts that were not kept by the national and regional government with both the indigenous and campesino communities before August 30. Also agreed was that the State give a date before August 30 to plan and hold the Roundtable of Commitments in Neiva between September 6 -20 to reach solutions regarding the demands cosigned in the Act of the Movement as well as guarantee to cover all costs and logistics for the Roundtable in Neiva.

During the following weeks the Minga for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth, while traveling throughout the Upper Magdalena and Colombian Highlands met with other sectors to participate in the Minga and the March to Neiva for the Roundtable of Commitments. In the days following the signing of the Act, over 60 organizations from Chile have pronounced their support for the inhabitants of Huila and a rejection to the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project and the Corporation of the Upper Magdalena, while CAM has suspended some of the activities of the Emerald Energy oil-company.

While communities wait and see whether the State will assume responsibility regarding its commitments in the Act of Agreements, the indigenous peoples, campesinos, fisher-people and other participants in the Minga continue to build and walk together, defending the territory and liberating Mother Earth for the cultural and biologically diverse inhabitants of the Huilense Territory.