[News] Popular Minga Marches on to Bogotá

Anti-Imperialist News 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.

Given the 
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 
Northern Cauca, 
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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