Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day 1: Walking the Word in Cauca

A flash of fork lightning cuts throught the dark brooding sky, as two thousand indigenous march with an spirit of confidence and dignity towards us. The red and green colours of CRIC, the Indigenous Council of Cauca, are held high on flags and low, tied around the neck. Daisy Juliana, part of the CRIC and with whom I shared a smile on the bus on the way to meet this first group of marching Mingueros, waits excitedly with us despite the thirty or so armed police near by.

In the 10 minutes that we waited by the side of the rural road, we had spotted one unmarked 4x4 parked up and a police man talking with civilians inside, two men on a motorbike that drove past three times, a private security guard alone on a bridge, an unmarked 4x4 parked on the hard shoulder and a police van that stopped. The presence of suspected paramilitaries is worrying yet all too normal in Colombia. Here paramilitaries groups, whose insitutional links with the Colombian state have been well documented, have used violence and the fear of violence to attack and destroy movements, such as the Minga of Social and Community Resistance, that want to create alternatives to the imposed Western economic “development” model.

As we are “walking the word” Daisy comes and finds me . “It is mainly young people here today, some elders will arrive tomorrow, but us young people are really motivated. We want to change things, we teach the kids, we still have hope that our future can be better” She greets a young lad who is hobbling “He always marches, him and his group from his village, their village is near mine, about 7 hours walk from here.” She pauses from talking to me to shout with others

“No to Uribes policy of democratic security....... No to multinationals in our lands taking our natural resources...... No to foreign military bases in Colombia”

The Minga was a proposal by the indigenous to other social sectors, to organise and come together around a common political agenda. The first steps have been taken with a year of hard work among campesinos, indigenous, students and community groups to dialogue around their individual issues, figure out what they have in common and work together to achieve changes that benefit all.

In the UK it would be like farmers and students coming together to talk about, for example, what privatisation of education and control of food prices by large supermarkets have in common, and from these commonalities coming up with political proposals and plans of action together to confront both. Like this, only with more social sectors involved and not just a vague distant dream of mine.

As we enter Villarica, people coming out of their houses to watch. The response by the mainly afrocolombian community varies from watching quitely from afar to clapping and cheering loudly to welcome the march. I assume most of the men are sugar cane cutters, as the village is in the green desert of Valle de Cauca. This work has been described as modern day slavery. There has been dialogue between the Minga and those sugar cane cutters well organised but they have not felt that they share a common agenda. It is tough work in tough conditions, but the spirit of Minga is to do this tough work. The idea is not to arrive with the solutions but through hard work to build them together. This week The Peoples Pre-Congress will take place in Cali, Cartagena and Bogota to continue doing this work, together.

It is a long ardous path ahead, to build a political proposal for the country that goes beyond regional and sectorial needs, to build a proposal that speaks to all Colombians. But at least they are on it. It is a path which we scarely know we need to walk in my homeland. A big sigh.

Thank you to the lovely family that thought nothing of letting me use a bedroom to write this article. Sharing and solidarity are so precious, beautiful and vital to resistance, to live with dignity.

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