Indigenous freedom fighters

Life for most indigenous Colombians is hard enough. They live in poverty, without health insurance or jobs and without access to schools. This despite vast tracts of land that are set aside as their birthright. They have become leaders in confronting the mining, oil and forestry industries in a number of regions, sometimes giving up their lives to protect their world. But their stories of struggle are not written in history books. On the other side of the world – especially in the Amazon rainforest – the indigenous peoples of the Bogota region have also struggled for independence for centuries. In Colombia, many of the indigenous tribes live in seclusion in their jungles, where the intensity of the drugs trade has affected them as never before. Life as a river community The Amazonian region is regarded as Colombia’s biodiversity area, one of the richest areas in the world and the number one biodiversity hotspot in the Amazon region. Over the past few years, the indigenous peoples here have found themselves living in high profile situations as they have increased their resistance to industrial projects in the areas they traditionally live. Colombia’s indigenous population is not represented in the country’s Constitution. Colombia is the only country in the world which does not have an indigenous constitution. Despite being among Colombia’s most vulnerable indigenous communities – there are only about 2.6 million indigenous Colombians – the indigenous communities in the Bogota region are not well represented in the country’s Congress. The recent break-out of civil war has left many of the indigenous populations in Colombia in the hands of drug-runners – and the region is believed to be a staging post for drug traffickers. The anti-drug task force commander Rodrigo Guerrero is on record as saying that drugs now flow more freely into the nation than ever before. Several indigenous groups living near the Amazon rainforest have also lost their lands and been forcibly evicted from their lands. In many communities, the indigenous peoples are now actually being driven out of their own jungle in order to make way for mining projects in nearby communities. Diabolical plan As part of Colombia’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the government plans to turn much of the Bogota region into an industrial park. While the colonial capital of Bogota has been renovated and modernised in recent years, the locals say the proposed industrialisation of most of the regions of the country will merely increase inequality in Colombia. The indigenous peoples of the Amazonian region are, in many cases, also pastoral, and in the Amazon rainforest they find it hard to settle because the rainforest keeps them from finding a suitable environment to live in. Foreign investors – many of them European – have been investing big money in the region to make the best use of the abundant forest resources. For the most part, they have been ignoring the indigenous peoples living there. The local opposition is being led by 15 indigenous groups in the Bogota region. Very few people can bring together indigenous groups who are already fighting for their own liberation from the rapacious industries in the area. We have started a war in favour of justice – the truth

Welfare activist Adrian Serrano In the jungle forest region, which many of the indigenous peoples now inhabit, there are not enough titles to secure their homes – many are staying in captivity rather than risk losing their land. As part of the international Caravan of Heroes that passed through Bogota this week, some activists are distributing basic items to the indigenous peoples. Other activists are working on a diffuse plan of action to get their demands about their rights resolved. The pressure on the indigenous peoples is coming from all sides. The Colombian Government is clamping down on all forms of guerrilla groups. Illegal mining is rife, with the government trying to encourage foreign companies to invest in the region, and foreign investors have repeatedly said they are willing to do business with the indigenous peoples because it would bring economic benefits. Some indigenous leaders have also been beaten up. For Adrian Serrano, an indigenous social activist, the situation is causing a lot of concern. Mr Serrano was held for 40 days in early 2006 by the military. He told us that more attacks on indigenous communities are on the cards. “We have started a war in favour of justice – the truth,” he said. “The truth of what is happening in our territories is an international crime, criminal.”

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