The armed conflict in Colombia threatens the basic survival of the country’s over 80 different indigenous communities. However, the armed conflict that rages across their lands threatens their basic survival. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the state of human rights and the fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples reports that 66 Colombian indigenous groups are “on the brink of extinction as a result of the murder of their leaders, massacres, threats and the forced dispersal of their members.” Evolving guerilla tactics, legislative battles in the capitol, multinational corporate greed, and unfounded judicial proceedings increasingly deny communities their fundamental rights to safety, autonomy and access to livelihood stated in the Colombian Constitution.
Although the number of massacres in indigenous communities has decreased in recent years, the Colombian National Indigenous Organization (ONIC) maintains that indigenous groups experience rising rates of assassination, detention, kidnapping and displacement. Additionally, out of the 86 municipalities involved in the counter-insurgency program, the 'National Plan for the Consolidation of Territory,’ transnational mining industries are now active in 21, and large-scale ranching and mono-crop cultivation of oil palm, teak and rubber is occurring in 14 others. If violent human rights violations and unchecked industrial development continue, the social and cultural identities of Colombia’s indigenous peoples risk being irrevocably impacted.
However, Colombia’s indigenous communities also represent innovative models for peace and economic and cultural prosperity in the country. In the Cauca province, the Nasa have organized the Indigenous Guard—prompting their nomination for a Nobel peace prize—to peacefully protect their community against armed incursion. Their 2012 mobilization to defend their territory from all armed actors, and subsequent negotiations with the federal government, has brought issues of free, prior and informed consent, autonomy and self-determination to the forefront. Other Colombian indigenous groups have established seed banks to protect traditional food crops and Life Plans outlining sustainable development projects that will serve to protect cultural identity as well as nutritional autonomy and economic prosperity.
The US Office on Colombia is committed to advocating for the country’s indigenous communities and educating Americans about indigenous rights and struggles.