I had the joy of beginning to get to know Feliciano during the mobilisations of the Minga last October. His reflections and thoughts, shared with others in his role as spokesperson for the Minga have been hugely valued by thousands of indigenous, peasant farmers, afro-Colombians, students and displaced people. He has a special quality of being able to listen to all these different oppressed peoples and then speak across these differences, finding commonality in their different histories of oppression and struggle.
“ Solidarity, autonomy, mutuality, integrity, reciprocity, these values among others must be the essence of how together challenge this hegemonic model, this project of death. And we must learn together, from one another, at the same time as we keep walking the word in Minga.”
“The Minga is a process not an apparatus to use. The Minga has no owners, nor is anyone more important than others, there is a principle of equality.”
Feliciano speaking at a Minga event,July 2009
He has been detained by the DAS for kidnapping and personal damage for an event that happened in October 2008. Fourty thousand indigenous 40,000 indigenous marched in Minga from the south of Colombia to Bogotá, the Capital city inviting Colombians to build a new country based on equality with them. While still in indigenous territory, the indigenous guard discovered a member of the armed forces had infiltrated the march in order to gather intelligence and frame the indigenous march as having links with the guerrilla. He was detained with a rucksack containing camouflage clothes, radio equipment and explosive manuals.
The right of the indigenous people to their own law is recognised in the Colombian constitution and in international agreements. The indigenous authorities made the collective decision to give him 20 whips, which was carried out in the presence of the congregated community as well as the governments ombudsman, and human rights organisations.
Despite it being a community decision and carried out by the indigenous authorities, the Colombian government the arrest warrant was signed for both Feliciano and Aida Quilcué (another spokesperson for the Minga). This is a clear persecution against those who speak out against not just the government, but also against the neoliberal capitalist system imposed on Colombia by Europe and the USA.
“This minga was not organised to confront the government, not even to confront Uribe , he'll fall one day, the problem is the system, it is the model, here we must have clarity. The laws and policies come from the imperial countries.”
Feliciano Valencia, July 2009
Yet again the Colombian government wants to silence critical voices. And I'm sadly all too sure sure the mainstream media will be silent too. Their silence to date around the seven thousand social activists, people just like Feliciano, who are imprisoned within Colombians squalid prisons tragically highlights where their interests lie.
But yet again people refuse to be silenced. The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) has responded by calling for a permanent assembly in Popyan city centre, where Feliciano is being held, to reject this latest attack by the government against them. They plan to stay until he is released.
It is through uniting our voices and efforts that Feliciano Valencia and the thousands of other political prisoners in Colombia will be freed.