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4 January 2007 Edition

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International: Colombia - EU needs to have more critical view

Luís Evelís Andrade

Luís Evelís Andrade

Speaking out for Colombia’s indigenous people


Luís Evelís Andrade is the president of ONIC, Colombia’s Indigenous National Organisation, and he recently visited Ireland as part of a trip to five European countries to launch the results of the international mission that took place in Colombia last September. Here he speaks to An Phoblacht’s Ignacio Irigoien.


Over 15 international delegations visited Colombia last September to verify compliance with recommendations by the United Nations Special Rapporteur  on the position of indigenous peoples. “Basically we want to highlight in Europe the fact that the government is failing to fulfil the recommendations by the Rapporteur and that the situation of the indigenous in Colombia is even worse,” explained Andrade

“I am an Embera. The Embera people are mainly based in the Chocó, northwest of Colombia, but as a nomadic people we also can be found in twelve different departments of the country and even in Ecuador and Panamá. Our nomadic ways have been practically abandoned because the area where we could move is diminishing and because we had to protect our land, we can not abandon it because if we go, it will be taken from us. We see the land as the mother where our bodies are sown and we can not abandon her. But on the other hand we are also experiencing the forced displacement of people because of the actions of the armed organisations and the interest of the multinationals. However, our strategy is always to go back to our land even if we do not have the support of the government. I have to say that we have refugees in neighbouring countries such us Venezuela, Panamá, Perú and Brazil, and in all cases, with the exception of Venezuela they are not recognised as refugees; they are treated as criminals and in many cases they are accused of FARC membership. The Colombian government does not want them to get the refugee status because it may have political ramifications for the administration.


Right wing paramilitaries

Asked whether the demobilisation of right wing paramilitary groups in Colombia was affecting the indigenous, he said: “Right wing paramilitaries in Colombia were part of a state strategy, in conjunction with the economic elites, to justify the eviction of the indigenous, peasants and the Afro-Colombians from different areas of the country, with the excuse of combating guerrillas. Colombia was accused of violating human rights, allowing extrajudicial executions, torture and the disappearance of people. That is why they created the paramilitaries who have often acted with the support and, in many cases, the complicity of the Colombian army.

Now they are apparently involved in a process of demobilisation. They say there are no longer right wing paramilitaries but they still control the economy, political, social and administrative life in the areas where they had a presence. Out of the six million hectares of land they stole, they are only giving back a mere 100,000. So there is no process of compensation or restitution of the goods that they stole.

“Paramilitaries have been responsible for forced disappearances of our leaders. They have killed many indigenous leaders, peasants, Afro-Colombians, social workers, human right defenders. What we think is that the negotiation strategy of president Uribe is to pursue the legalisation of the lands that the paramilitaries stole and guarantee them that they would not be extradited to the US. His strategy has been to set down the conditions to allow the multinationals to get into the indigenous lands to spoil them. In our experiences, multinationals dealing with petrol, coal, gas, wood-and in our case, their interest in our land’s natural resources, are closely related to the violation of the human rights and the armed conflict.”


Miserable conditions of indigenous

The Colombian government presents itself as a referee between right wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas, and those critical of government policies – like human rights activists and community leaders- – are portrayed as guerrilla sympathisers. Asked whether this was the case when it comes to the Indigenous activists, Andrade says: “The Colombian state does not want to be held accountable, but who is to blame for the miserable living conditions of the indigenous people, dying of starvation, malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare? Who is responsible for letting the multinationals get into our territories and spoil our natural resources leaving nothing but poverty for us? This is the responsibility of the Colombian state. Who is responsible for the lack of protection of the Indigenous people’s rights in Colombia? Who is not signing the UN declaration that recognised the rights of the indigenous people?

“When we speak up and denounce the Colombian State and the Uribe government policies, it is not because we have some relationship to the guerrillas, but because we also demand from the guerrillas respect for our autonomy. The government accuses its critics to excuse itself and to discredit social activism and to deny our right to claim our rights.


Role of EU

Asked what he would ask from EU states Adrade says: “We would like to see more support for social initiatives that would work towards the reduction of the levels of extreme poverty of our people; towards the establishment of a real democracy that would include the respect of the collective human rights of the indigenous, the peasants, the Afro-Colombians, everybody.

“We are asking them not to co-operate in projects that seem to benefit the people but in reality are based on the use of force. An example of this is ‘Plan Colombia’ that has a very big section dedicated to the war effort covered by the US ‘aid’ while European funds are being used in ‘peace labs’ that we do not feel are bringing any benefit, because in Colombia the situation is even worse in terms of human rights violations.

“Before the EU had a much clearer position, while now we can see that they are ready to blindly go along with whatever Uribe proposes with the excuse that he is pacifying the country and implementing a real democracy. They actually need to have a more critical view, because under Uribe the violations of  human rights have increased.”





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