Indigenous protest in Bogotá

By bogotapost December 2, 2015
Colombia Indigenous communities

Members of the indigenous community gather to protest the capture of Feliciano Valencia in El Campín. Photo: Minga Social y Comunitaria 2015

2,000 representatives from indigenous communities in Cauca arrive in the capital to defend their rights

On Wednesday November 25, 2,000 people from indigenous communities took to the streets of Bogotá and marched from El Campín to Plaza Bolívar.

The march was part of a week of action, centred around demands for social rights as well as  for the release of Feliciano Valencia, an indigenous leader who was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison, which the protesters believe contravenes the special indigenous jurisdiction.

Ricardo Rojas, of the Indigenous Association of Northern Cauca told Colombia Informa, “We decided to come to Bogotá to make it clear that it was a mistake to capture Feliciano Valencia. What we are looking at is not only the issue of Fernando. It is evidence of an attack on the special jurisdiction and actions against social protest that have been exacerbated in parallel to the peace process which is taking place in Havana.”

Valencia was found guilty of kidnapping and causing personal injury in a case that dates back to a period of unprecedented mobilisation and protest in 2008. His community detained Private Jairo Chaparral Santiago and accused him of attempting to infiltrate their community and sabotage their operations.

Valencia said that the soldier had radios, cell phones and an instruction manual for making explosives in his possession. He was tried according to local customs and given 20 lashes. The prosecution say that Chaparral was severely beaten and held blindfolded in a cage.

As the leader of the National Indigenous Council of Cauca, Valencia is being held responsible for what happened to the soldier.

But campaigners say the case goes to the heart of indigenous rights, as Valencia was acting under the jurisdiction given to him by the constitution. They fear the case sets a precedent, and that they will lose the autonomy they had established in 1991.

Valencia said in an interview with Semana, “The same constitution gave us this indigenous exemption and the indigenous jurisdiction. We are acting in this context, we have always acted in this context and we do not aim to violate what is established by law.”

In the same interview, he said that “tempers were running high” and that he acted to isolate and protect the soldier.

Valencia was originally acquitted in March, until the High Court overturned the decision and found him guilty. On November 5, the court allowed for him to serve his sentence on the indigenous reservation.

In other news, in La Guajira, 928 Wayuu people have begun the process of officially recovering their names. The indigenous people, who had been given names like ‘Salchicha’ 50 years ago, can now alter their official identity documents.