Fall Tour CHRN Brings Indigenous Representatives


The 1999 Fall Tour of the CHRN featured Eulalia Yagarí, an Embera Chamí, who is serving her third term as a State Assemblywoman in Antioquia, and is a leader of the Organización Indígena de Antioquia (O.I.A.). Also participating was indigenous Senator Francisco Rojas Birry, who spoke at a conference in Boston organized by Cultural Survival on November 6, 1999. Following are fragments from a declaration by the O.I.A., and from the comments by Eulalia Yagarí and Francisco Rojas Birry at the October 15 conference in Washington.

Stop the Ethnic Cleansing in Colombia: We, the indigenous peoples of Antioquia, Colombia, demand that we not be forced to take part in the war

We the indigenous peoples of Antioquia have organized a system that revolves around our own set of authorities, known as the Saila among the Tule (Kuna) and Cabildos among the rest of the groups. For 13 years, these indigenous leaders have been grouped in the Organización Indígena de Antioquia (O.I.A.). The O.I.A. was created and gained momentum through the right against the exclusion of indigenous people. It is part of the broader national indigenous movement, especially the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and the grass-roots movement for democracy in Colombia.

The indigenous struggle in Antioquia is being conducted within the indigenous people’s national program, which can be summarized in the defense of unity, the Colombian Constitution, and instruments of international law such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Labor Organization Convention 169, on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. These instruments recognize our status as original inhabitants of America, originators of a culture with its own identity, a knowledge, a religion, a social, political, and economic organization, and autonomy, all recognized by our ancestors, our traditional authorities, and our organizations.

We, the indigenous peoples of Antioquia, believe in a negotiated solution to the armed conflict. In accordance with the principle of autonomy, i.e. the right to organize ourselves and administer justice in our own territories, and the right to self-governance according to our own laws and customs, we the indigenous peoples of Antioquia and our regional organization, the O.I.A., determined in October 1994 that we would not be a party to the armed conflict, stating: “The indigenous communities of Antioquia declared our neutrality in respect of the armed conflict. This means that we do not accept conscription by any armed force. Neither the army or the guerrillas or the paramilitary will get information from us.


Eulalia Yagarí

As a long-time representative of national and regional indigenous organization, Eulalia Yagarí described her community of 16,000 indigenous people as being made up of four ethnic groups, 70% of whom live in the Urabá area. She said that her people are victims of the war, although they live in a coffee-growing area without marijuana, coca or poppy production. They say "no" to fumigation, because of the effects on health and the environment. The FARC have killed 22 of her people; the paramilitaries have killed 18 community members, including community leaders (dirigentes de cabildos); 6 community members have been disappeared. The community has been subject to many other human rights violations, which have been perpetrated even again pregnant women. Speaking strongly, Eulalia Yagarí demanded that US aid be focused on humanitarian programs, such as education, health, agrarian reform or crop substitution programs. If aid leads to a military escalation of the conflict, it will be the Indians who pay. Indians are simply not taken into account (except for the Constitution of 1991). She called for a “wall of solidarity” to denounce the human rights violations by the FARC and the paramilitaries, and some members of the military. Eulalia Yagarí concluded with these words: “Whites do commerce; the Indian is the victim; the drug traffickers are at fault; war is fought over a business. They want to do away with us. We live in a land of hunger with rich soil. We are not all guerillas or drug dealers. We are like dewdrops of water in the morning. All they do is to eliminate the Indians, Blacks and poor people.”


Senator Rojas Birry

Senator Francisco Rojas Birry, a representative of Colombia’s indigenous communities, continued to describe civil society under fire, admitting that it would be difficult to find words to describe what is happening to ordinary people in Colombia. Senator Rojas Birry speaks as one who lives with peasants in the country, in the mountains, with Afro-Colombians beside the rivers, with indigenous people. The multi-ethnic people of Colombia include 80 indigenous communities, each of which has its own culture, language and customs. After 500 years of survival, then came the war. Indigenous people look at the sources of war, asking “who are those people who attack those who defend the poor?” Indian reservations or “resguardos” make up 25% of Colombia's land, and Indians are 2% of the population. All of the armed elements pass through Indian land – the insurgents, the paramilitaries or self-defense units, and the drug traffickers with their laboratories. The organized civil society of indigenous communities is violated by all of the actors. There was a time when Indian people thought the insurgents might be able to represent them. But now it is clear that the paramilitaries are killing everybody – indigenous people, students, labor leaders – and the Indians can no longer say that the war isn’t affecting them, or that they stand apart because they are not part of the government. Those who have been killed include a long list of indigenous people, among them the three North American Indian rights activists who were killed by the FARC [in March 1999]. Indians condemn this killing, and they would do so also if the victims were not Indians. Indians have nothing to do with arms. Military aid would be a mistake, because it would internationalize the conflict. Senator Rojas Birry recalled the old Indian saying that “there’s something behind the mirror.” From the time of the conquest, Indians have always been taken advantage of for some reason. The military aid must also have some deeper purpose or meaning. The problem is not the 20,000 FARC; there are antecedents. Other groups in prior years have agreed to turn in their arms; if the FARC did the same it would not be a solution. What is a viable proposal? The people have spoken through marches, through the Citizen Mandate for Peace, through the actions in defense of life. The voice of the people is “We do not want to be drawn into the conflict. We want to focus on our own development.”


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