Celebrating Popular Struggle in Cauca, Colombia

Feb 25, 2011

Celebrating Popular Struggle in Cauca, Colombia

This month marks forty years since the founding of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) in Toribío, Colombia. It might be a sign of the times that, especially these days, celebrations are often bittersweet.

Circulated in Spanish by the Tejido de Comunicación (of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca - ACIN), the editorial translated below highlights both the bitter and the sweet of the CRIC's first forty years, as well as the challenges underpinning the next. Achievements giving way to celebrations and contradictions warranting great challenges.

In the Sa'akhelu Ritual, held in Cauca's indigenous territories every year, the hummingbird meets the condor. The hummingbird polenates, creates life, mesmorizes in its rapid-fire action, it's beauty. The
Condor circles, hunting, looming overhead: it is a terrible kind of beauty. When one overpowers the other, say the Nasa, we lack balance or 'equilibrio'. While the editorial below speaks for itself, the Tejido's message is essentially a call to correct an imbalance, one that exists not only within the CRIC as an organization but also in Colombia, the continent and the world.

This message could not be more relevant as we hear of, and reflect on, struggles in other parts of the world: as much as we celebrate victories, we must be conscious of where we are headed.

La Chiva

Celebrating Popular Struggle in Cauca
By the Tejido de Comunicación (ACIN)
February 22, 2011

In February of 1971, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (Spanish acronym, CRIC) was founded upon the bases of “unity, land and culture”.
Forty years ago, the founders of this organization united indigenous
peoples and campesinos, planting the seeds of a struggle that would lead
to the recuperation of lands from some of the most powerful landowners
in Southwest Colombia. At the same time, and with similar vigour, the
organization expressed the communities’ struggle to maintain their
culture as the sole patrimony of the peoples of Cauca.

These forty years of work have not been easy; they have involved
constant community organizing and struggle. Successive governments have
sought to co-opt social organizations with promises of projects that
could never completely fulfil the needs of the country’s marginalized
peoples. Similarly, some indigenous and campesino-based processes have
encouraged many to step down from struggle, viewing this as a means for
clearing a path for future generations to ensure that the state respects
the rights of all life.

Forty years of continuous organizing work have come and gone. The
greatest achievements have been the land recuperations and the creation
of indigenous ‘resguardos’ (reserves). These achievements have
strengthened the communities in that they have allowed many families
access to land for sustenance cultivation and, by extension, food

In addition to these achievements are challenges within the CRIC. Some
leaders have gone on to create other organizations with positions that
contradict those of the CRIC and the communities – such as the
Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (Spanish acronym, OPIC)
and the Nietos de Quitín Lame. These newly formed groups have
destabilized the CRIC by engaging in various forms of irresponsible
defamation that have generated serious conflicts. The contradictions of
these parallel organizations have allowed the Colombian government to
use indigenous communities for its own ends, destabilizing a
long-standing process of struggle.

Thus it becomes necessary to point out the political contradictions that
have come about during past forty years. In many occasions, some leaders
have deployed discourses that are in tune with the thinking of the
community only to end up putting into practice something completely
different. Facing these situations, we have come to understand that the
political games played by our own leaders give pretexts for these more
contradictory organizations to continue planting divisions within the

It is important to recognize that, in spite of the uncertainties, the
CRIC has demonstrated to the country and the world that unity is a
fundamental pillar in enforcing the constitutional rights of the people.
Unity is not granted through the Colombian government’s own goodwill; it
is achieved through the long and difficult work of raising community
consciousness, guided by the authority of the community assemblies and

This is why the celebration of 40 years of the CRIC ought to be a space
where we evaluate our achievements and difficulties and, in consequence,
put forward new short-, medium-, and long-term policies aimed at keeping
alive the indigenous movement in alliance with other social sectors in
the country.

It is the current task of the new leadership to globalize resistance, to
defend against the models of colonization implemented by governments for
the exploitation of natural resources and the militarization of
indigenous territories. These lands are where the indigenous movement
has worked for five hundred years, where the Life Plans have come to
foment increasingly conscious and organized communities. For this
reason, we consider it the greatest necessity to unite the struggles of
indigenous peoples with those of other social sectors across the
continent, because we know that the neoliberal project affects not only
indigenous peoples but also entire countries and peoples.

This call is for all social organizations to continue the resistance
projects confronting the great economic Death Project that destroys all
life. We know that struggles are only successful if we come together:
peoples, organizations, unions, students, indigenous peoples,
Afro-descendents, campesinos, and all others who believe, as we do, in a
future for all, and not just a future for a greedy few, who in the name
of ‘development,’ enslave and murder us.

For now, the CRIC must continue to unify the communities that are now
being torn apart. It must put forward new political ideals founded upon
the social wellbeing of communities and the environment. It is the
responsibility of all of us to contribute to the strengthening of the
CRIC, supporting it with our ideas and participating in making
collective decisions. However, we must also demand that these decisions
be respected and acted upon. That way, the essence that gave rise to the
CRIC forty years ago – that community-based process – can be sustained
into the future, inspiring the struggles of those of us working to build
a just world.

La Chiva is a collective of people working in solidarity with Colombian and Canadian social movements and communities.