Indigenous movements in Colombia’s southwestern Cauca department denied Tuesday being infiltrated by FARC rebels, following comments by the country’s defense minister suggesting the insurgancy had influenced ongoing protests in the region.
“It is false that we are infiltrated by the guerrilla. Today we are making a pronouncement against what [they] are saying,” said Hector Fabio Vircue, a regional indigenous leader in reference to comments from both the Colombian government and Pluricultural Organization of Colombian Indigenous Peoples (OPIC).
While speaking at a security council on the island of San Andres, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon claimed intelligence sources had revealed ties between FARC rebels and indigenous organizations in Cauca.
“It’s not what we are saying, it’s what the indigenous population has said (…) the FARC without doubt has influence, infiltration in the social movements and there are [indigenous] members in this organization,” said Pinzon.
The defense minister’s comments were supported by claims from OPIC director Ana Silvia Secue that an agreement existed between the guerrillas and indigenous communities to drive security forces out of the region. She went on to say the arrangement prompted Cauca’s indigenous organizations’ anti-army discourse.
These allegations were denied by Vircue, who claimed the goal of the indigenous movements in Cauca was to rid the territory of both army and guerrillas.
On Tuesday, Cauca media reported a very tense situation as the standoff between the army and the indigenous protesters continued. According to newspaper El Pais, over 1,000 indigenous protesters tried to forcibly dismantle the local army base in the municipality of Toribio, claiming its existence put the community members’ lives at risk. The army said its orders were to stay in the area.