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November indigenous strike in Colombia could rival Ecuador’s October protest

Protesters display banner Friday in Bogota of indigenous and social leaders murdered in Colombia.

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) announced a national strike for November 21 in Colombia claiming the government is not doing enough to protect indigenous communities. “A campaign of genocide has been carried out against native people for centuries and it is time for us to make a stand,” said ONIC leader Luis Fernando Arias.

A military armored vehicle arrived in Cuaca Department after last week’s murders.

The announcement follows the murder of five indigenous guards Tuesday in Cauca department in southwest Colombia. According to the government, the murders were committed by breakaway FARC guerrillas working with Mexican drug cartels. The murders follow four others in Putumayo, Antioquia and Magdalena Departments in recent months.

Although ONIC acknowledges the involvement of drug gangs and former guerrillas in the murders, it says the government downplays the role of right-wing paramilitary groups in violence against indigenous populations. It also claims that President Iván Duque has not done enough to stop the murders of community leaders who support the rights of the poor and indigeous.

“The government has been directly and indirectly linked to the violence for years and has done little to stop it or to prosecute the murderers,” says Arias. “They prefer to accuse leftist guerrillas for most of it and ignore the rightwing terrorists.”

ONIC is demanding the resignation of Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, which it says has protected paramilitary activities in rural areas. “The country cannot continue to be plagued by murders and torture and we must hold those who allow it to continue accountable.”

Hundreds of local politicians and social leaders have been murdered in recent years — more than 100 in 2019 – and indigenous leaders blamed most of them on paramilitary groups, some of whom are involved in drug cultivation and trafficking.

Among the victims of the indigenous murders was Cristina Bautista, the leader of the semi-autonomous Tacueyó reservation and her unarmed indigenous guardsmen. Besides those murdered, six others were wounded as the attackers fired on an ambulance that arrived at the scene. An initial investigation suggested that the massacre came in response to the capture of three FARC dissidents by local indigenous guardsmen.

In announcing the strike, Arias acknowledged he success of indigenous protesters last month in Ecuador. “Our Ecuadorian brothers and sisters proved that together we are strong and have our message heard.”

The president of Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) Jaime Vargas. has offered to support of the Colombian protests. “This is part of the same struggle we face in Ecuador and will support our friends in Colombia,” he said, adding that he Conaie will organize marches in major Ecuadorian cities.

Vargas says he is talking to indigenous leaders throughout northwestern South America about organizing an Andean-wide protest. “We are considering a regional uprising against the indignities and violence our people are suffering,” he said. “Our experience in Ecuador proves that united action is effective.”