The Nasa tribe in Colombia has long been caught in the crossfire between government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacks. As the fighting has increased in recent months, the tribe has asked both sides to leave the area, a known corridor for drug smuggling.
The Colombian government has based much of its security strategy around territorial control and protection of populations. Security gains in recent years have come due to increased security presence in population centers. They believe that removing the military from the area would cede ground to the FARC and be a step back in terms of security.
Intense fighting in Cauca between government forces and leftist FARC guerrillas has driven more than 2,800 indigenous and mestizo people from their homes in the past two weeks. The Association of Indigenous Governments of North Cauca, or ACIN, had set a deadline of midnight Monday for all “armed actors” to vacate the 14 Indian reserves in the region.
“We profoundly regret having to use force to restore our constitutional rights. This could have been avoided if the army heeded our request in due form and the government had ordered them to leave,” the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca said in a statement to the Associated Press.
The military personnel that faced attacks on Tuesday were lauded for not resorting to the use of force against the Nasa. Many soldiers engaged in non-violent resistance strategies in an attempt to prevent their removal from the post.
Unfortunately, events took a turn on Wednesday. Riot police firing tear gas and shotguns retook the strategic communications outpost located on a hill in Colombia’s turbulent southwest. Eight Nasa Indians were injured, though none seriously.
In an unrelated incident in the same region Wednesday, soldiers shot and killed a man when he ignored orders to halt at a military roadblock, Toribio’s chief of security told The Associated Press.
The man was not an Indian, said the official, Carlos Pascue, but a group of Nasas angered by the killing seized 30 soldiers and held them for 10 hours before releasing them.
Critics have scolded President Juan Manuel Santos for failing to protect troops. Colombia’s constitution recognizes the autonomy of the indigenous peoples and their right to exercise control over their designated territories. However, Santos said the government would not remove soldiers from the area, but it was open to dialogue even though pulling troops out from the region was not negotiable.
It is unclear whether this incident will have an appreciable impact on Colombia’s 2014 presidential elections.
For further information, please see:
AJC – Colombia’s military retakes hilltop from Indians – 18 July 2012
BBC News – In pictures: Indigenous Colombians expel soldiers – 18 July 2012
Christian Science Monitor – Armed with sticks, Colombia’s Nasa Tribe attacks a military base – 18 July 2012
Reuters – Colombian forces clash with indigenous group, blame rebels – 18 July 2012
Fox News Latino – Indigenous People Confront Army In Colombia – 17 July 2012