Colombian Indigenous Leader Announces Agrarian Stoppage to Pressure the Government- Part II

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By: Carlos Aznárez / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / April 26, 2016

This is the second part of the interview with Feliciano Valencia, in which he talks about the indigenous peoples’ mission to preserve Mother Earth from the predation of extractivism.

Feliciano Valencia is the leader of the Nasa people struggle, in the Cauca department, national spokesman of the Congress of the Peoples and member of the Peace Committee of the Association of Indigenous Chapters of the North of Cauca, ACIN.

Read the first part of the interview here.

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Resumen Latinoamericano: Previously you talked about the “liberation of Mother Earth”. What do you mean by that?

In 1971, in coordination with the peasant movement, which at the time was organized in the National Association of Peasant Users, the National Indigenous Council of the Cauca (CRIC) was born, with the firm purpose of recovering our memory to create consciousness and organize the peoples that were disaggregated at that time. The slogan of the struggle was centered around territory and our rights as indigenous peoples. That task took us 10 years, in which we managed to consolidate the regional organizations and we fought for the expropriation of land. At that time, we fought for “land for the people”. We had been expropriated the lands of our grandparents that had been taken by landlords, and we were practically enslaved on those lands.

Then came another phase, the 1980s, when indigenous organizations were concerned with strengthening autonomy with the leadership of the chapters, which nowadays function as a government within our territories.That took us another decade. Alternatively, we worked on winning back our lands. That lasted until 1991, when the Massacre of the Nile took place here in the Caloto municipality and 20 of our comrades were murdered. That was the culmination of the phase of recovery of land with the peoples of the Cauca and Northern Cauca. Then a transition began, because Colombia passed a new Constitution, where we are recognized as subjects with political rights that are equal to the rest of the Colombian society, and so a new phase had started.

Our slogan is “from protest to proposal” and so we began to build what today is the basis of our organization: political participation, access to public corporations, access to economic resources, forming a leadership and communities and self-government. We slowed down a bit on the recovery of lands and began to become more involved with administration, construction of public policies and participation in the rest of Colombian society. That took us until 2005, when, in the indigenous reserve of Huellas, and due to the lack of fulfillment of the agreements by governments, we decided to retreat again from that policy of using what the state gives us, to return to the struggle for the recovery of our lands. At that moment, we debated two issues. Before, the method for recovery was to occupy the lands until the state gave us a status of legality and property over those lands.

In 2005, our strategy changed. We would occupy the lands, and upon the arrival of the government, we would negotiate with them. That changes the process a bit because now we are negotiators more than freers. After three years of that, we decided to change again, and took up the slogan of Liberating Mother Earth, in three senses:

Firstly, to occupy again the lands of our ancestors. Secondly, to remain on those lands so that the government gives them to us, and finally, to motivate and organize indigenous communities so that they not only defend those occupied lands, but the whole territory.

This was a consequence of a situation where we were being victims of lumber multinationals, such as Smurfit Kappa from Colombia, which occupies a vast portion of land, from Buenos Aires to the Nasa area. Another occupier was Anglo Gold Ashanti, which came to our lands to extract gold, and the same happened with water multinationals, which came to the Colombian massif and there were also sugar cane industries. That’s why we decided to not only occupy land to give it to the indigenous peoples but to free Mother Earth. It wasn’t only about possessing the land —it was about defending the land because we were being victims of powerful economic sectors that came to make deals with resources, land and territories.

When we began with the occupations in 2005, other sectors joined us: students, unions, peasants, Afro-Colombians. There was a lot of diversity. So, there are three main items: occupation of lands, defense of the territory, and coordination with other social and popular processes of the country.

With the amount of experience and organization you have and with the bonds you have created with different sectors to coordinate a greater social movement, what is missing to achieve better conditions for the people?

I think we have to solve several dilemmas. On one hand, the Colombian left has to achieve a transformation and define its ideology more precisely, or, in other words, the ideological trench from where we’re going to build up power. There’s a dilemma that has us a bit tangled up. We either bet on the communist or socialist model —and as a result, whenever we speak of communism or socialism, many people will get uncomfortable— or we bet on the communitary model that we propose as indigenous peoples.

Our second dilemma is: do we take over the current power, which is corrupt, full of vices, bureaucratic, only based on enrichment? Do we aim to take over that power that promotes an economic model that threatens the land? Do we focus on earning the same power that has always excluded us? Or do we build our own? If we bet on the latter idea, we have to renounce to several things that tie us to that power. And proclaim our own autonomy, in our own terms and on an organizational structure that includes us all, with our many different interests. Therefore, we must search for the essence of the paradigms that each of us holds up, and put them on the table and build a model that overcomes them.

Indigenous peoples have one way of thinking, peasants have another, and the same is true for the Afro community, urban citizens, students, women, minorities… So, the issue is how to intertwine our ways of thinking and our objectives. We have to define our trench so that we don’t fall into a trench that other built for us. We have to build one together, and feel it as our own.

Thirdly, we have to leave behind many vices or interests that are inside our heads. For example: left-wing politicians have to open up their minds so that we can also be included, and not repeat the story where the politician defines the way to go and the people only follow. We have to break that scheme.

The Congress of the Peoples has been very emphatic on that we must build from the bottom up. This is not vanguardism, this isn’t about important people, this is about everybody and we must push forward together.

The other thing that we have to decide, as Congress of the Peoples, is which is going to be the economic model we’re going to promote as a base for these processes. Is it an agrarian model? Is it a public model? Is it based on companies? Or on cooperativism? We have to decide which economic model fits with this project, so that we can build it over time. And then comes another dilemma: are we going to keep doing politics as we currently do it? Our effort to get seats in Councils, Assemblies, Municipalities, Congress, is that our political goal? Our political goal is to break free from those paradigms and start building a new one. I believe we lack definitions on those matters, and we need to walk that path faster, to establish and build and put up for debate our ideas for a country, for power, for a system, for an economy, for a democracy. And to put them up for debate on a national level, to see what emerges, what we pick up from that exercise.

Another thing we must do is be very informed about the talks that the ELN is going to begin and to analyze in depth the Havana agreements. To speak with the FARC and the whole social movement they have, to build agreements on the vision on the government, power and democracy. And to speak with the ELN on these matters too, to see in which ways we can coordinate, and which elements we have in common, to avoid bumping into each other, since we’re on the same side. Because if we don’t dialogue on these issues, I’m very worried that the Havana agreements may end up creating tensions with what we’re building, or that the implementation of the agreements ends up delegitimizing our project.

We don’t believe that we’re the first ones, or the only ones, nor that we have the key to the solution, but we’re determined to not let history repeat itself again. Now there are more poor people in Colombia, but we still don’t converge. The ones who believe in a different Colombia are also more, but we also don’t converge, and the victims of this conflict are millions, but we can’t coordinate, while the right, the political system and the corrupt are always united. That’s what we have to elucidate and begin to overcome.

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