Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Indigenous of Northern Cauca, Colombia

In reportage describing armed conflict -- whether it be war, civil war, or insurgency -- the civilian population is usually cast as helpless victims, one dimensional characters invoked to add human tragedy. Justin Podur counters this tendency with a piece on Znet describing the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca, Colombia, who are embattled between the corrupt left-wing FARC insurgency and the brutal rightist Colombian military as they try to stand their ground against both. As Podur writes, "these people are no passive victims."

Last week, the FARC and the military battled it out throughout this region as the FARC took over a number of mountain towns. Podur describes the damage done by the fighting:
Dozens of homes have been destroyed in the fighting. The FARC use their gas pipe bombs, the Colombian military uses aerial bombardment. The hospital was damaged, disrupting health services, and the health organization is overstretched. All agricultural activity has been interrupted.
Add to this over 1800 displaced people and you have a damn fine humanitarian mess.

Yet Podur doesn't sink to the old standard, and reports the local communities' defiance.
[T]he population have activated their contingency plans: permanent assembly, to keep the communities together and protected as much as possible, while political pressure is built to get the armed actors out of the region. They will have to contend, in their plans, not only with the utter lack of respect for them on the part of the FARC and the Colombian army’s brutality, but also for all the legal repression by the government...Their project is not neutrality or passivity, but autonomy. The military actions and military bluster over their territories drowns out the fact that they have their own ideas and plans for how to live – including how to resolve Colombia’s armed conflict. It starts with respect for civilian populations, with respect, in the words they would use, for life. That means, as a starting point, demilitarization of their region.
This doesn't seem likely, but thanks to Podur, these people aren't merely extras with no control of the script.