“Oh, y ahora ¿quién podrá
defenderme/nos?” (“Oh, who can save me/us now?”) This sentence was
popularized by the television quasi-superhero ‘El Chapulín Colorado’
created by the Mexican comedian Roberto Gomez Bolaños in the 70’s. Most
of Latin America grew with this and other characters that sarcastically
mocked American superheroes and crudely portrayed the reality in Latin
America where real justice is only for a lucky few, the rest at left at
the mercy of sloppy quasi-heroes.
In Colombia, the indigenous
population has screamed this sentence into the wind and no one appears
to come to their help. There are currently 102 indigenous tribes that
comprise a population of 1,392,623 located in the most inhospitable
corners of Colombian territory: jungles, mountain tops, and deserts.
They had been marginalized since the Spanish invaders arrived in 1492,
and, as recent events show, they continue to be marginalized, if not
massacred outright by seemingly intractable conflict between
paramilitaries, guerrillas and the army.
The paramilitaries constantly
threaten and forcefully displaced these tribes from their lands in
order to grow coca or in some cases palm oil for producing biofuels.
The military recently assassinated the husband of an outspoken indigenous leader at a military roadblock while he sat in his car. The guerrilla (FARC), in its most recent massacre, killed 17 indigenous Awá. The Awá have recently launched their own search for the bodies because Colombian authorities offered little aid.
conflict that has the duty to protect these communities is the
government, but, ironically the government disregards the rights of
these communities. The 1991 Colombian constitution was hailed for the
protection it offered the indigenous population and afrodescendant
peoples, but the current government has been systematically altering
these laws. The government introduced laws in congress that impacted
indigenous lands, but the indigenous population was not consulted. The
laws, however, were eventually ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme
Colombia, together with Canada and the United States, were the only countries in the Americas that abstain from adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
One of the contentious points was article 32, which states that,
“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine…the development or use
of their lands or territories and other resources”. Investment
confidence, a core policy of the current government, would certainly be
overshadowed by this article, as the Muriel mining news column exemplifies.
Colombia’s indigenous people want
to live peacefully and not take sides in the Colombian conflict , but
they continue to suffer injustice. Perhaps their only option would be
to form their own armed groups
and finance them by growing coca. After all, crime seems to pay.
Paramilitaries can avoid jail time by handing in their weapons or
selectively confessing their crimes. Kidnappers and assassins from the
guerrilla are named “peace facilitators”. Government ministers are
acquitted by the Inspector General of offering bribes to a
congresswoman to vote in favour of Uribe’s first re-election, while the
same congresswoman is jailed for accepting the bribes.
before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the
Organization of American States, at least the Americas heard some of
their pleas. Let’s hope that international pressure (except from Canada and the US) can persuade the
government to act on those pleas.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong