Colombia’s indigenous suspend peace process talks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos shakes hands with FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez, while Raul Castro looks on at the signing of the cease-fire in Havana. (Credit: Presidencia El Salvador/Flickr)

Indigenous groups in Colombia this week suspended the process of prior consultation related to the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC, saying that the government has not shown a genuine desire to include them in matters related to ethnic development.

“Following the systematic weakening of the fundamental right to previous consultation, as well as our full commitment to contribute to peace in Colombia, we decided to suspend the process of previous consultation about the laws currently negotiated (with the government) until we are guaranteed a space for direct dialogue,” a national indigenous organization (Spanish abbreviation MPC) said in a statement.

The group specifically accused the government of avoiding presenting certain laws at the negotiating table, and of not including proposals meant to preserve and develop the rights of the country’s Indigenous community.

They also demanded direct access to the Monitoring Commission of the implementation of the final peace deal so they can help oversee rural reform.

The move comes amid mounting concerns that the implementation of Colombia’s peace deal, which the government signed with the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in December, is spiraling out of control. Earlier this month, the country’s Constitutional Court overturned two principal aspects of the legal framework established for implementing the peace agreement – a decision the deal’s supporters say could undermine the integrity of the peace process.

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Supporters of the process say the court’s decision has already fueled dissent and uncertainty among government critics. Some 5,000 indigenous people across southwestern Colombia marched in the city of Cali this week, for example, to denounce the rate of violence and assassination of the country’s indigenous, rural, Afro-Colombian and human rights leaders.

According to a U.N. report, 14 of the country’s indigenous leaders have been assassinated since the beginning of May; last year, the death toll reached 127.

Last week, minority organizations and unions also mobilized hundreds of thousands to strike in protest of the government, demanding an end to unmet promises in regards to poverty, substandard labor conditions, and government corruption.

Critics have also widely criticized the government’s denial of the existence of armed paramilitary groups, which have been moving into territory being vacated by rebel fighters since the signing of the historic peace agreement. According to the U.N., inter-group fighting for territory and resources has contributed to violence, including death threats and killings, against human rights and land activists across rural regions of the country.

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The Colombian government has also come under fire from indigenous groups for breaching the peace deal to benefit large landowners instead of small farmers and ethnic minorities, many of whom have been displaced.

The peace accord ended a 52-year war that killed 200,000 people and displaced millions of others, particularly poor and indigenous populations living in rural communities. Colombia has the world’s highest proportion of its citizens living as internally displaced persons – more than 6 million individuals, or 13 percent of the national population as of the most recent estimates made last year.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com