On Monday, April 29th an indigenous council in Northern Colombia sentenced two members of the FARC guerrilla forces to 40 years of prison for the recent murder of eight indigenous people from the local communities, including Benancio Taquinas and three other elder traditional healers.
After the trial on Monday, in Toribio, Cauca, leaders of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (IRCC) announced that two of the original six FARC guerrillas who were arrested on April 26th were found guilty. The other four FARC members were released according to press sources.
The two men found guilty were transferred to a jail in nearby Popayan and will serve out their sentences in the indigenous run facility.
Feliciano Valencia, an IRCC leader, stated that the imprisoned men will stay under indigenous control and will not be delivered to official Colombian authorities. According to a report issued by the IRCC, from 2012 to 2013, 65 indigenous people were killed by the FARC in northern Cauca alone; among those killed were four revered elders. The report also charged that the Colombian Army had killed 3 indigenous residents in Caldono, a fact that had been characterized by Colombian authorities as a “military error.”
The IRCC had declared in July of 2011 that through the official resolution granting territorial control to the indigenous communities, that these communities would take action against any group – be they from the FARC or from the army – that generates disharmony in their territory. They asserted that the murder of the spiritual leader and healer Benancio Taquinas propelled them to take action.
Indigenous sources stated that six men, who have not been named in any press accounts, were arrested by indigenous guards at dawn on Friday, April 26, on the San Francisco reserve for the murder of indigenous people from the San Francisco, Toribio, Jambalo and Tacueyo communities. Four of the murdered men were traditional healers, which, made their killings especially serious, according to a press statement issued by four of the largest indigenous organizations in Colombia: the Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca (IANC), the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (NIOC), the Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca Association (ICNCA) and the IRCC.
“It is important to note what has happened in the last year in the indigenous territories of Northern Cauca, covered by the ICNCA, there have been multiple outrages, among them the murder of eight indigenous people at the hands of armed groups at the margins of the law and the national army,” the statement continued. “Among the victims were four The Walas – Traditional Healers which made the issue more serious when taking into account the cultural and ancestral value of our elders.”
In an open letter issued on May 2 and addressed to Timoleon Jimenez, a FARC Commander, the indigenous leaders stated that they would be willing to enter into dialogues with the guerrillas but that the communities would continue to arrest any “armed actors” who sought to kill people in their territory.
Letter to the Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Timoleon Jimenez, and to the other members of the Secretariat
We are pained and worried by the consequences of the war in our territories but at the same time we have hope and expectations because in Havana the termination of the armed conflict is being negotiated, the indigenous groups of the CAUCA who are the Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca Association (ICNCA), the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (IRCC), and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (NIOC), we write to you Mr. Timoeleon Jimenez, Commander of the Major Forces of the FARC, to express the following:
From our view as millennial peoples and from our autonomous communitarian actions, in a radical way we have decided to cross over to the war, regardless of the risks that this signifies because we are tired of crying over our dead; recognizing also the pain of the rest of the country. Due to this, just like the great majority of Colombians, we are hoping that a real peace process is started that results in social justice, liberty, well-being and dignity for all the diverse peoples of the country. This desire was demonstrated in the massive and diverse mobilization of last April 9th in which we the indigenous participated with firm convictions together with communities from all corners of Colombia. This same desire was expressed in the prior National Congress of Peace that took place in Bogota from April 19 to the 22nd in the headquarters of the National University. The people want to live in peace just as your forces do, Commander. In both occasions, you presented your greetings, your objective for peace and your commitment to society to reach it or to help build it. That was what we understood from your words.
Unfortunately, the talks we held with you to address humanitarian issues on various occasions in the region, in the late ’80s, in the ’90s and in recent years connected to the peace dialogues in Havana, have only ended in empty discourses on your part because it is one thing to make proclamations in certain scenes as you did, and it is an entirely different thing that has caused suffering in our communities due to the actions of your subordinate combatants. We say this with dignity and responsibility that we know that no guerrilla fighter, militia member or commander takes up arms without the consent, order or prior directive of the supreme commanders, or you and the secretariat. It would be better to say, Commander, that all of this is part of a careful plan of war, finely crafted, that not only seeks to destabilize the oligarchical government of Colombia, but also to destabilize the autonomous legitimate and traditional governments of the indigenous peoples of the country. It is undeniable that the modus operandi, the victims and the methods used [against other parts of the country] were the same ones you utilized in Cauca, Nariño, the Cauca Valley, Chocó, Orinoquia, and the Sierra Nevada among other regions. Look no more, Commander, at what transpired in the ’80s, but only in the last three months when eight indigenous residents were killed, among them were The’walas, traditional healers of the Nasa people – killed by militia of the organization that you direct, a situation that is further aggravated when considering the targeting, the recruitment of minors, the threats against our leaders and members of the indigenous guard and the repeated smear campaigns against our organizations. Due to these factors it behooves us to say that we are victims of a systematic policy to exterminate our process. Commander, whoever gave the order to kill our The’walas – Traditional Healers - hates our culture and evidently is not a revolutionary.
Due to those factors and at not seeing a willingness to improve things from the guerrilla forces that operate in the region, on April 29th of this year, making legitimate utilization of the law of Uses and Customs, we took action against two militia men of your organization, who were responsible for the death of our spiritual guide Benancio Taquinas of the Jambalo Reserve. We reiterate that this is how things will proceed when members of the armed groups are found to be involved.
But, as is the custom of Indigenous Peoples, despite the difficulties, we come back to reiterate our desire for dialogue to overcome these same difficulties. Because of this the conditions that we require are: that you stop killing, targeting and dividing us. That we establish as the first point in the dialogue agenda, a satisfactory mechanism of international verification and one that includes our own communities. That you respect our indigenous authorities and communities in general and, above all, that you respect our exercise of territorial control that assumes Truth, Justice and Reparation. If you take into consideration these points, Commander, we express to you and to the secretariat a public invitation to converse, and the time, date and place remain open upon agreement. On our part you can count on our total commitment to preparations for a possible meeting. We await and we hope to find a similarly positive response to our appeal
C.c. Negotiations and Dialogue Table, Havanna
Indigenous Authorities – the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (IRCC); the Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca Association (ICNCA); the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (NIOC).
Toribío -. Cauca – Colombia, April 29, 2013.
Letter translated by Rick Kearns