Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day 6: Walking the word - decolonising solidarity

It is the end of the beginning. The last day of an exhausting but amazing week of mobilisations. The closing act of the Peoples Pre-congress takes place in the central park in Cali, after another two hour march. An afro-colombia leader from Choco is given a special place in the closure to make visible the presence of afro-colombian communities in the Minga. Choco is the poorest region in Colombia.
"The only way to travel in Choco easily is by plane and we all know who planes are for. We travelled on foot, in canoes and in buses for several days, sleeping in difficult conditions and going without food to get here, to participate in Minga".

He tells us how the population of Quibdo, the main town in the region, has doubled from 40,000 to 80,000. Choqueños, mainly afrodescendents, have been forced to abandon their territories due to the violent imposition of megaprojects such as mining and palm oil .

"We know that alone we are not able to change things, we need to unite with indigenous, with campesinos, because in the end we are all living with the same difficulties and problems. This is why seven hundred of us have made the huge effort to be here in the Peoples Pre-congress".
Tears trickle out of me as I make links between this declaration of the Peoples Pre-congress and a difficult conversation I had last night.

Last night a friend challenges me to reflect on something I did. He challenged me to look at how I controlled the way in which we discusses a difficult conversation, racism within the Minga. With the bitter taste of irony in my mouth, I, with my full set of colonial priviliges, british, privilige to move wherever I want in the world, white, privilige to walk down the street and for people not to think I am going to mug them, set the terms for how we discussed racism that suited my needs, and not his. As we talk, his anger manifests itself as he goes over and over the two words he has written on a scrap of paper, ego britanico.

I have seen this before many times. The arrogance and preponencia of british people to have their own way, the result of being from a country that has repeatedly colonised and dispossed other peoples throughout history to get its own way”.

His words challenge rather than shock or suprise me. I am grateful to this rare person who critiqued me to my face. I wonder how many people I meet share similar criticisms about my way of doing things but do not tell me. I wonder what this says about ongoing patterns of colonial power within my everyday relationships here. I breathe deeply as I look at my challenge of how to achieve the balance between being myself and being conscious and accountable to how my self has been shaped by my cultural-political-historical context.

Back in the park, we listen to a song by Mercedes Sosa, recently passed away, as the Peoples Precongress in Cali draws to a close in Cali's central park. The thousands of participants stand intently, some listening, some quietly singing alone. The compañeros who sings it, dedicates it to those compañeros no longer with us, including Mateo. As I listen to the beautiful melody, I imagine what he could have taught me. Mateo, a Swiss revolutionary, worked for ten years as part of the Red de Hermandad. He was killed last December in a road accident. Incredibly missed and rememberd within the social movements in Cauca and Valle I wish I had the opportunity to know how he worked to de-colonise himself.
After the song, two compañeros read the final declaration.

"Minga is a collective expression that revives hope, that strengthens resistance and walks the word in defence of dignity and in commitment to collective life. We are conscious of how the neoliberal strategy is strengthened in our territories through the handing over resources and selling of mother earth to international capital, thorugh the recomposition of of corruption and the legalising of crimes against Colombia´s sovereigny, and through impunity and the militrisation of civilian life."

I seek a place to be alone with my emotions of rage and sadness. The weight of being British, of having benefited from so much violence, of being surrounded in the park by so many people who suffer from this violence, overwhelms me. The weight of knowing that the British ego is alive and kicking and that it continues to play a crucial role within the UK in the justification of the violent looting of other peoples natural resources is overwhelming.

I feel a hand on my shoulder and look up to see the caring eyes of an indigenous leader who I have shared words with during the week. He has 5 bullet wounds from attempted assassination attempts and had his farm burnt down. He is now displaced, living between cities. During this week, he was always accompanied by four indigenous guards. He tells me that when he goes back to his community, it is obligatory for him that he travels with thirty indigenous guard, armed with just their bastions of resistance. He listens to my emotions, as the words of the final declaration sound in the background.

"Mingueros and Mingueras, we have gathered in this spaces filled with dreams and ideals and we leave with thoughts on how to legalise with significant popular legitimacy, with proposals on the path to peace, whose route is the word that overflows with solidarity, generosity and resistence."

My solidarity must begin and end with me, a white british folk, learning to notice my colonial mentalities and then taking responsibility for them.

For more thoughs about this work of decolonising solidarity visit, the blog a beautiful wise friend.

To read the full closing declaration and the notes from the 5 tulpas that discussed the five points of the Agenda of the Minga check out this blog (in spanish only)


words from Colombia said...

The kind hand on my shoulder was Jose Goyes. He has just received this phone cal message: ‘Son of a bitch, we’ve been looking for you for days, but before we shoot you we’re going to give it to you in the face you you faggot, then we’re going to finish you off with lead’

This is what those who dare to dream of a more just Colombia must face.

Below is the full detail of the threat against him and other social leaders, translated by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign,



Santiago de Cali, 22 October 2009

The below-signed organisations reject the threats and persecution which is being levelled against diverse organisations all over Colombia, in particular organisations which are part of the Minga of Social and Communitarian Resistence.

Today, October 22nd 2009, a threat arrived by fax to the offices of the trade union central CUT Valle. Signed by the ‘Black Eagles New Generation’ paramilitary group, the threat declares the following organisations as military objectives: NOMADESC, CUT VALLE, PROCESO DE COMUNIDADES NEGRAS PCN (Black Communities Process), LA TOMA COMMUNITY COUNCIL, INDIGENOUS CABILDO AUTHORITY CERRO TIJERAS.

The following leaders were also named as military objective: LICIFREY ARARA- mining leader from Suarez municipality, Cauca department; EDWAR VILLEGAS- member of the CUT Valle Human Rights Team; JOSE GOYES- member of the Political Commission of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC); DIEGO ESCOBAR- Member of CUT Valle Executive Committee; PLUTARCO- Member of human rights association Siglo XXI in Buenos Aires municipality, Cauca; and MERALDINO CABICHE- member of Suarez municipal council who has been the victim of multiple threats in the past week.

The threat seems to have been sent from a fax machine in Santander de Quilichao municipality, Cauca department, in an internet café called ‘Terra Punto com’.


The fax arrived to the CUT Valle fax machine (number 3901498) at 12.33pm today, titled ‘THE GOVERNMENT CONTINUES COMPLYING WITH THE AGREEMENTS AND COMMITMENTS’.

The text reads as follows:

“You are defenders of the guerrilla, requesting land to plant coca to strengthen the indians and the guerrilla. You don’t understand the efforts of the President of the Republic Alvaro Uribe, who with the help of Familias en Accion (Families in Action), Forest Keepers (Guardabosques) and Democratic Security (all 3 are policies of the Uribe government)- a group of men and women concerned with improving the country. We have decided that it is necessary to begin again the fight against thos who camouflage themselves in social organisations such as CUT Valle, Nomadesc, Human Rights defenders, NGOs, enemies of our democracy.

Those bureaucrats don’t let Cauca progress, they don’t allow the entry of multinationals which bring benefits to the communities of SUAREZ, MORALES and BUENOS AIRES.

Some of these organisations have made agreements with owners of mining deeds requesting the eviction of communities in mining zones in return for money, such as in La Toma community. We have documents to prove this.

Today we have decided to declare these son of a bitch bureaucrats as military objectives: human rights defenders, Nomadesc, CUT Valle, PCN, La Toma Community Council, Cerro Tijeras, Licifredy, Eduar Villegas, Jose Goyes, Diego Escobar, Recheche, Plutarco, Counciller Meraldino. Signed Aguilas Negras Nueva Generacion (Black Eagles New Generation).”

words from Colombia said...

SOS continued...

It is important to highlight that the organisations and individuals mentioned in the threat have been working together in defence of the rights of the communities of Suarez, Morales and Buenos Aires municipalities in Cauca department for several years. In particular, they have denounced the Colombian state’s non-compliance with agreements signed with the indigenous, afro-Colombian and campesino communities in the area in 1986 (and ratified in 2006). They have also denounced the harmful presence of the multinational companies Union Fenosa (Spain), AngloGold Ashanti (South Africa) and Smurfitt Carton de Colombia (Ireland).

Harrassment of Aida Quilcue continues

At approximately 7.45am on October 21st, four men who in a 5 door vehicle were seen to be monitoring the house of AIDA QUILCUE, ex-Chief Counciller of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC). The car’s registration plate was recorded, but when the details were taken to the
police to ask them to run a check on the vehicle, the reply was that this registration doesn’t exist.

At approximately 12pm on October 16th, when AIDA QUILCUE was in the mobilisation of the Minga of Social and Communitarian Resistance in the outside the Cali Municipal Administation Centre, she was followed by two men. When the men were apprehended by indigenous guards and members of the CUT Valle Human Rights Team, they stated that they didn’t have identification (in Colombia it is obligatory to carry identification at all times). The men were handed over to the police, but the authorities have yet to clarify the men’s identity, where they come from, and why they were following AIDA QUILCUE.

Threat to Jose Goyes

The same day, at approximately 1pm, member of the CRIC Political Commission and Ex-Governor of Honduras indigenous reserve JOSE GOYES received a call from a man who said, ‘Am I speaking with Jose Goyes?’, Goyes replied, ‘Yes, with him’, ‘Son of a bitch, we’ve been looking for you for days, but before we shoot you we’re going to give it to you in the face you you faggot, then we’re going to finish you off with lead’.

We are deeply concerned by the serious incidents involving threats, harassment, persecution, eviction and murder which have been occurring all over the country. Such events have increased drastically over the past few months. We want to highlight that the country’s human rights crisis is intensifying as we enter the pre-electoral period, and when the social sectors all across the country have staged mass demonstrations in the Minga of Communitarian and Social Resistance, manifesting their inconformity with the current government’s policies. The Minga has been able to show the serious human rights violations which are being committed all over the country.

We call on all of you to speak out as soon as possible, and demand a clear response from the Colombian state, in order to prevent an attack against any member of the threatened organisations.

If you are in Britain, you can direct your correspondence to the Colombian embassy at [also ]