Sunday, July 22, 2012
2012-07-21 "Indigenous Colombians Put Guerillas on Trial and Resist the Central Government" by Sarah Vrba
The Nasa people of southwestern Colombia will put three leftist guerillas on trial this week in an attempt to regain autonomy and peace over a region that has remained in the crosshairs of multiple armed groups over the years. The southwestern province of Cauca in Colombia has seen a number of violent and ceaseless battles occur, mostly between the central government’s armed forces and the leftist guerilla group FARC.
The Guardian reports [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/20/colombian-indians-farc-rebels-trial] that the Nasa people want their land back and that they will take the law back into their own hands in order to demand that all armed forces leave the area. The three leftists guerillas will be put on trial after they were captured on Nasa land carrying explosives and weapons. Local groups also clashed with government forces on a hilltop fortress this week, demanding that armed government troops must leave the area.
One man was shot and killed in the region by government soldiers angering the local Nasa people. The group captured 30 soldiers in retaliation and held them captive for an entire day before they released the men to a humanitarian organization this week.
The Chicago Tribune notes [http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-07-18/news/sns-rt-us-colombia-violencebre86i02l-20120718_1_farc-rebels-association-of-indigenous-councils-president-alvaro-uribe] that at least two days of heavy violence have plagued the region as government forces threw tear gas and used armored vehicles to fight back protesters who were reported to be hurling stones. At least 26 people were injured and one was killed in the tense confrontations.
The Guardian notes that the Cauca region remains a critical area for rebel groups because it connects the region in which cocoa is grown with the coastline where the materials can be shipped out of the country.
Both the government and FARC leaders are at a standstill currently [http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/17/world/americas/colombia-indigenous-clash/index.html]. Neither force wants to leave before the other does. A FARC leader confirmed that as long as the Colombian military remains near and around the village of Toribio, so will the guerilla group, but if the military forces left, FARC would “have no reason to remain there,” CNN reports.
President Juan Manuel Santos has seen his approval rating drop drastically in the wake of these tensions in the south. Santos had visited the area last week in an attempt to preside over a meeting to consider locals’ demands for their land to be returned and armed forces to leave. CNN reports that he was booed as he walked through one village. The president has stated this week: "As president of all Colombians, I categorically reject this attitude and make an impassioned plea for the end of hostilities… What we are seeing are unacceptable acts that constitute criminal conduct and should be investigated by the authorities."
Unfortunately, Santos’ words only reaffirm the standstill that plagues all of the groups involved. No group has volunteered to back down, which has recently led to force meeting force in an escalation of arms and checkpoints that has caused major injuries and even death in the region.