[News] Popular Minga Marches on to Bogotá
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 14 12:32:38 EST 2008
Despite National and Global Distractions, the
Popular Minga Marches on to Bogotá
Written by Mario Murillo
Friday, 14 November 2008
Bogotá, Colombia-The order to keep them out of
the city apparently came from President Alvaro Uribe.
As up to 6,000 indigenous protesters
participating in the ongoing "Minga Popular"
approached the city limits of Ibagué, in the
department of Tolima, they were met by a squadron
of mounted and special forces police known as
ESMAD, as well as the Army, who were given
explicit orders not to let them into the main highway of the city.
On Tuesday, President Uribe had said the
indigenous protesters should pass right through,
but not stay in Ibagué, as a result of the
"yellow alert" that had been announced related to
the possible eruption of the
Volcano. Already some
families had been displaced as a result of the
warning, so the government thought the presence
of thousands of outsiders would only make matters
worse for the local authorities. At least that's how it was presented publicly.
The leadership of the Minga, however, saw the
order as yet another attempt to stifle their
march to Bogotá, a march called to protest the
government's economic development and security
policies. The indigenous protesters, joined by
union activists and sectors of the peasant
movement, resumed their march on Monday in the
city of Cali, on the 24th anniversary of the
assassination of one of the indigenous movement's
most iconic leaders,
Ulcué. In actuality, the Minga really kicked off
over a month ago, with the mobilization that
began in La Maria, Piendamó, in the department of Cauca, on October 12th.
show of force the state security forces utilized
against the people during the start of the
mobilization several weeks back, one could not
help but appreciate the frustration and anger
expressed by the people as they arrived yesterday
in Ibagué, only to be told they could not stay.
"This is yet another example that should be shown
to the rest of the world, of the ongoing attacks
that we as indigenous communities are facing
here," said Luís Evelis Andrade, Chief Council of
Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC.
Andrade and others pointed out that theirs was a
peaceful protest that, if anything, would show
solidarity with the families displaced by the
unexpected seismic activity of Machín. There was
no legitimate reason to keep them out of the
city, other than to sidetrack their message and
keep them from talking directly with the people of Ibagué.
A Dialogue with the People
Indeed, one of the main purposes of the Minga is
to expand the scope of the popular movement that
over the last several weeks has been publicly
confronting the Uribe Administration on issues
ranging from the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
to human rights abuses carried out by the
military as a result of the government's
so-called "Democratic Security Strategy." After
meeting with the President in a
public debate on November 2nd in La Maria, Cauca,
the communities decided to continue their protest
with a national march to the capital, culminating
with a massive "Congress of the People" scheduled for November 24th.
Along the way, they will carry out barridos with
local communities throughout the country, an
ongoing dialogue designed to dispel the myth
propagated by the government in the mainstream
media, that the indigenous protests are a local
phenomenon solely concerned about "returning some
lands" to certain native communities in Cauca.
Keeping the marchers out of Ibagué would have
prevented them from reaching a very important sector of the population.
Nevertheless, after some tense moments at the
entrance of town that lasted a little bit over a
half hour, it was agreed that the protesters
could proceed with their planned march, and make
their way to the famous Parque Murillo Toro,
where they held a town-hall like meeting with the
community. Once there, they articulated the
agenda of the Minga, and the need to continue
building the mobilization throughout the country.
As they made their way through the streets of
Ibagué, the protesters were welcomed with cheers
from the people lining the streets. They were
later met with messages of solidarity from local
and national union leaders, including Pedro
Varón, president of the
<http://www.cut.org.co/>Central Workers Union,
CUT, and Carlos Rivas of the Tolima Teacher's
Union, SIMATOL, both of whom acknowledged the
important role the indigenous communities were
playing in bringing together so many popular
sectors in Colombia at this point in time,
including women's organizations,
groups, the sugar cane workers, and the trade union movement.
U.S. Transition Getting Considerable Attention
The timing of the mobilization coincides with
major events that are taking place in Washington
with the Presidential transition process. Some
activists see this as an opportunity to present
the movement's agenda vis a vis free trade and
Plan Colombia, to both national and international
public opinion, while, at least for the time
being, Colombia is making headlines once again up north.
Earlier in the week, much attention was given in
the Colombian media to the high-profile meeting
between outgoing President George W. Bush and
President-elect Barack Obama, and more
specifically, whether or not the two addressed
the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in their
private discussions. It was reported in the
York Times that during their meeting, President
Bush had placed the bilateral trade deal between
Washington and Bogotá as a condition to Obama's
request for an emergency recovery package for the
ailing U.S. automobile industry. Later it was
denied by both camps that there was a quid pro
quo on these issues, although the report left
considerable doubt in the minds of both the union
and indigenous leadership here in Colombia.
The Association of Indigenous Councils of
said on its website the "exchange of favors may
not have been discussed explicitly (between Bush
and Obama), but no doubt it was a tacit proposal.
Impunity in exchange for the US-Colombia FTA. The
lives of trade unionists in exchange for the FTA.
The lives of 1,200 indians killed over the last
six years in exchange for the FTA. We cannot
accept that life is traded for a free trade agreement."
Anti-FTA activists in Colombia welcomed the
election of Barack Obama, who had spoken against
the Colombia trade deal throughout his campaign,
including in the last Presidential debate held
just three weeks before election day. During the
campaign, President Uribe had been extremely
critical of Obama, especially after the Illinois
Democrat spoke out against the rampant human
rights abuses committed against trade union
activists in Colombia in an April 2008 speech. On
several occasions, Uribe called Obama
mis-informed, a tag that Senator John McCain used
against Obama on this particular issue during the
debate. President Uribe - and McCain - argued
that the U.S.-backed "democratic security
strategy" led to marked improvements in the
everyday work of organized labor in Colombia,
claim that Amnesty International called the
President's relentless denial of his country's human rights crisis.
In the last week, Uribe has claimed in the
Colombian media that he was "totally neutral"
with respect to the U.S. elections, although a
number of columnists had to remind him that he
continuously courted the Republican ticket,
hoping for a continuation of Bush's policies
regarding Colombia. He embraced Sen. McCain in
the coastal city of Cartagena in July, and met
face to face with Sarah Palin at the Colombian
mission to the UN in New York when he was there
for the General Assembly sessions. Now Uribe is
faced with a temporary snub from the Obama team.
How long it will last is anybody's guess.
With Obama in the White House come January, there
is considerable hope from Colombia's popular
movement that the focus of U.S. policy towards
Colombia will gradually move away from its
emphasis on militarization and free trade, and
shift towards human rights and social concerns.
People are not naive to think it will lead to
revolutionary change in policy, remembering that
it was a Democratic Administration that pushed
through Plan Colombia. Yet there is some degree
of optimism, and a general feeling that Obama
will be more open to their concerns. In an open
letter to the President-elect, ACIN expressed
gratitude for Obama's recognition of the problem
facing the trade union movement, but urged him to
also consider the violence and aggression committed against indigenous peoples.
"We hope that you will contribute to change all
this," they wrote. "We hope that you will listen
to our words. ... These are the words that we
have shared throughout Colombia since October
10th, through the Minga of Resistance, a national
mobilization we convened as indigenous peoples,
in association with other peoples and processes.
We believe that the spirit of change in your people cannot be contained."
The chances of these words being heard and felt
by Barack Obama hinge on whether or not the Minga
can reach many more people, both here in Colombia
and in the U.S. Unfortunately, at least for the
time being, their message to the Colombian people
is not getting the same media coverage that the
protests were receiving several weeks back, when
the national police were firing on peaceful
protesters in La Maria. Naturally, a non-violent
march, even with thousands of people, meeting in
permanent assembly with concerned citizens in
cities and towns throughout the country, does not
have the same dramatic impact that violent
confrontations have, at least for the major
corporate media. As a result, the Minga's
collective message of resistance is instead being
drowned out by, for example, tonight's Latin
Grammy Awards ceremony, where several Colombian
artists are up for some big prizes.
This is the banal stuff that Colombian media love to report on, relentlessly.
As for the U.S. public, it's an even more
difficult challenge. Colombia has never been, and
is not now, high up on the agenda of policy
makers and the corporate media. That said, there
is considerable reason to be concerned. Both the
Angeles Times and the
Post published editorials in the last few days
urging the passage of the US-Colombia FTA. They
see it as a matter of U.S. national security, and
argue that now is the time to "seal the deal." It
is strikingly clear that the urgent cries of the
Minga Popular are not even on the radar screen of
the shortsighted editorial writers in the U.S.
But the resilience of the thousands of people
participating in this historic march is evident
nonetheless, and is resonating in many circles
within Colombia and outside. The consistent
messages of solidarity have been coming in from
throughout Latin America, Europe and Canada. The
hope is that the movement will keep growing, from
Ibagué, where it left this morning, to its next
several stops along the way, until it reaches
Bogotá next week for the People's Congress at the
footsteps of the Presidential Palace.
And eventually makes untilit makes its presence
felt, all the way up to Washington.
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