President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday called on Colombians to understand and appreciate the country’s many native ethnicities and cultures.
“What a rich culture! A wealth that is further supported by 65 native languages. This cultural heritage is a priviledge that few countries of the world have, and we, as Colombians, should know, value, respect, protect and defend [this privilege],” said Santos in a press release in honor of the International Day of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Colombia’s indigenous population is comprised of 87 different groups and reaches nearly 1.4 million, making it the third-most ethnically diverse country in Latin America, preceded only by Brazil and Mexico.
“Our indigenous people –thanks to their organization, their understanding and persistence– are an example for those from other countries as to the effectiveness of recognizing their rights,” Santos congratulated. He continued by saying these are teachings that Colombia should share with the world.
The day was also used to recognize the rights of said indigenous peoples, as the UN representative for indigenous rights encouraged the Colombian government to advance in their dialogues with the indigenous movement in the southwestern Cauca department where the Nasa indigenous tribe has demanded all armed forces leave their ancestral lands, FARC rebels and government security forces alike. The indigenous peoples have watched as conflict between armed actors has increased over the years, turning their rural lands into a hub of violence.
Under Colombian constitution as well as UN law, the Colombian government is technically not allowed to have military presence on Nasa land without their permission. However, Santos has continually said that he will not remove troops until all FARC guerrillas are gone as well.
Santos acknowledged that these indigenous communities have been affected by the armed conflict, saying that it is necessary to strengthen institutional action and improve the warranty of rights of indigenous communities. “Despite efforts made, we’re aware that there is still much to be done and that our indigenous people are still suffering from poverty and marginalization,” Santos addressed.