The government claims that it is upholding its commitments regarding native rights and causes, after thousand of indigenous took to the streets to denounce the government’s broken promises.
Thousands of Indians are marching on the Colombian cities of Bogota, Cali, Cartagena, Valledupar, Ibague and Neiva, to force the national government to comply with agreements signed in previous protests, reports Santa Fe Radio.
Meanwhile, the national government said Monday that it is fulfilling the agreements made with indigenous communities and rural groups.
Minister for the Interior, Fabio Valencia, pointed out that the current administration was the only one to compile other government agreements with indigenous peoples and peasants, identifying 2000 commitments that have not yet been fulfilled.
“This is the first government to comply with the commitments made 20 years ago,” the minister said after a meeting with indigenous leaders in La Maria, in the Cauca department.
Valencia said that the meeting that the national government recognizes that indigenous peoples have rights that must be respected, and added that [their goal] is to preserve and protect indigenous culture, to respect indigenous jurisdiction and harmonize it with the regular courts.
“We are not the counterpart of indigenous peoples, we are national authorities with responsibilities within these communities, we are allies,” said Valencia.
The Minister said that he had ongoing dialogue with various indigenous communities nationwide, recovering the institutional spaces of dialogue and consultation, in order to develop and comply with the provisions of Order 004 of the Constitutional Court. There are joint plans to build safeguards for 34 indigenous groups, along with developing a national security program.
Valencia also said that the government had been supportive of the Awa people following several massacres of members their group. “We do not agree with attacks against the lives and liberties of any Colombian citizen,” the minister said, which he claimed was demonstrated by the progress of investigations and arrests of those responsible.
He also said that “there is no forbidden territory for the national security forces,” and that it is the President who controls public order and has assigned the police and army to protect the lives and integrity of all citizens.
The meeting addressed issues such as human rights of indigenous communities, which Valencia said were a state responsibility. He also said that the government has ensured its compliance and severely punished any violation of human rights.
The issues of the constitution and recognition of new councils and indigenous organizations were also discussed, which the Minister said were recognized as such since they met all legal requirements under the constitutional freedom of association.
Valencia said that for the first time,Colombia’s government is acknowledging and making reparations to those who have been victimized, robbed and displaced by illegal armed groups over the past 50 years. The minister said that he would submit to Congress a new draft for a bill to compensate victims.
He also said that indigenous leaders would be consulted on a new law regarding the protecting indigenous culture, guaranteeing fundamental rights, and protecting natural resources.
Valencia also referred to the commitment that the government has with indigenous communities regarding the purchase of 5,600 hectares, proposing that from next year the Ministry of Agriculture will be able to buy land with funds from a 4 billion peso annual budget to comply with 4,400 hectares. This will be discussed during the 20 October meeting in Popayan on the issue of land.
For its part, the Minister of Environment and Rural Development, Carlos Costa Posada, recognized indigenous authorities as environmental authorities under Colombia’s Constitution and Law.
As for the Ministry of Education, it addressed the issues of education and indigenous teaching status for these communities, and reported 11 sessions of the working table on ethnic education. These meetings have yielded an 80 per cent support for a proposal that the Indian National Consultation Committee consider their efforts, which will be discussed in a meeting on 12 November 2009 in Bogota, in order to define the most appropriate legal instrument to regulate the issue.