Indigenous groups from the southwest of Colombia have been clashing with police over the past few weeks after months-long protests over land failed to produce agreements with the national government.
The Colombian indigenous group Nasa, of which some 160,000 call the Cauca province in western Colombia their home, have occupied several properties in the municipality of Corinto in northern Cauca since December of last year, claiming they constitute part of their ancestral homeland and thus have a right to use them.
The group continues to occupy the land in the face of massive operations by the National Police to dislodge the indigenous community.
Witness accounts indicate that tanks, helicopters and riot police have descended on the rural municipality to uproot what has been described by government officials as an illegal occupation of private property by the Nasa people.
The group has been growing sugar cane on the land as a means of helping a “community in growth that doesn’t receive answers or solutions from the national government,” as they see it.
The police have destroyed many of the Nasa crops in the area, as well as burned the sacred meeting place where Nasa leaders make decisions and discuss the future of the group.
Thus far, three police and two indigenous have been injured, but no one has been killed.
According to the National Police, the property belongs to Incauca, an agroindustrial company operating in Cauca that processes and commercializes sugar cane. The police have stated that they seek only to restore the property to its legal owner.
The police also claim that the Nasa have armed themselves with improvised explosives and use gas masks to resist attempts to dislodge them.
The Nasa, however, paint a different picture. They claim that the police attack them with gases and plant the explosives in their settlements, allowing them to allege that the indigenous have entrenched themselves with homemade bombs.
“Our motive is not to kill or wound, our motive is to resist,” the indigenous group claims.
This latest indigenous occupation is part of a broader plan of “liberation of mother earth” undertaken against private interests that own large swaths of land in Colombia.
“They are ancestral lands and we are demanding that the government hand them over to us. There are seven properties in Corinto, two properties in Santander de Quilichao, and another in Buenos Aires.” explained the Nasa leader, Feliciano Valencia.
Alta tensión en Corinto (Confidencial Colombiana)
Masivo operativo del Esmad en Corinto (Confidencial Colombiana)
Indígenas no se retirarán de terrenos en disputa en el Cauca (vanguardia.com)