Guardia Indigena March in Bogotá

Indigenous groups have been arriving in the capital in recent days and are participating in the third national strike.

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The Guardia Indígena arrives at the Plaza Bolívar in the centre of Bogotá to continue the protest. Photo: Lukas Kaldenhoff

“We don’t want war. It’s always the same story. Those who want and start the wars are the higher social classes, whilst those who are out there fighting and risking their lives are the lower social classes. We’re just being used like cannon fodder.”

Fabian

On the afternoon Sunday 1st December, crowds gathered at Parkway to take part in a march with indigenous leaders. Around one hour in, despite the wiphala flags, posters, and banging of pots and pans, there seemed to be no sign of a march, or indigenous leaders, when all of a sudden, marching south down the road we saw a crowd of people cheering and chanting, with a red and green flag being held up at the front of the multitude. The atmosphere magnified by ten, as everyone in the park made their way to the street to take photos and integrate into the march, joining in with the chanting. It was so busy that it was slightly disorientating, but the energy that could be felt all up and down Parkway was incredible.

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The indigenous march made quite the impact in Parkway. Photos: Steve Hide

Towards the end of the march, my friend Steve nabbed the Guardia Indígena leader Robert’s number, and we later met with the indigenous organisations, namely the CRIHU (Consejo Regional Indígena de Huila), and the CRIC (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca). Walking through the Universidad Nacional campus on the way to our meeting, there were a handful of workshops and activities taking place, ranging from indigenous hand-made jewellery being sold on the University steps, to a dance performance in the main square, watched by dozens of students. Once we caught up with the Guardia Indigena we spoke to one member Fabian about why they have chosen to travel so far from home to take part in the marches here in Bogotá.

Fabian told us that they had arrived no earlier than the previous day, after 12 hours of travelling by Chiva (we didn’t ask them if it came with music included, but we did get offered some chicha from a bottle that one of the men pulled out of his pocket so we can imagine that helped the long journey), and that we can expect around 2,000 people from indigenous communities marching in the next couple of days.

After the long route, Fabian assured us that they have been made to feel very welcome here in Bogotá so far. The only thing they haven’t been too keen on, he tells us, is the cold weather. Understandable. This sentiment was later echoed by Robert, leader of the Guardia Indigena who arrived on Thursday and told us that not only has the reception in the city been great, but that it has also given everyone, regardless of background or social class, an opportunity to “come together as brothers and share our cultures, our words, our stories, our roots, where we’re from and where we’re heading.”

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Robert, leader of the Guardia Indígena

Fabian and Robert come from the Nasa community, which we were told has a population of around 247,000 who speak the language of Nasawe (‘we’ meaning language). Interestingly, we were also told that it is mainly only the men who also speak Spanish; many of the women in these communities do not. You might imagine that for these people who have spent their lives in Colombia’s rural settings, coming to a huge metropolis like the city’s capital city would seem daunting, but most of the people we spoke here in Bogotá are on their second, third, and even fourth visit.

Fabian also pointed out that despite the huge disparity of lifestyles, the protests have shown that indigenous communities and those from the city share more in common than they may have previously considered; that “[they] are all demanding a change, that [they] all want an end to corruption, to exploitation, that [they] want changes from the government and [they] are all united together to make this happen: students, teachers, indigenous and afro-colombians. [They] want to be heard and want changes to take place.”

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Luz who has travelled to Bogotá from Caquetá

We also asked Fabian and Robert, who are from Huila and Cauca respectively, about what protests looked like back home. We were told that student protests are still taking place, especially in Neiva and Popayán, and that another action of protest has been blocking off the Panamerican highway, a major national and international route. Robert told us that both lanes have been blocked off, and that this was done with the aim of putting pressure on the government.

We were also told that there have been some confrontations between indigenous communities and the ESMAD (ie. the riot police), whereby bengalas, or flares, have been thrown into neighbourhoods, causing serious damage. Fabian told us that the reason they are here in Bogotá is because they are fed up with the killing of inidigenous leaders and farmers. He told us that what they want is control of their lands, to be able to look after and protect these lands, and defend them from not just armed groups but also multinationals who want to exploit the areas and extract their resources.

Whilst discussing the confrontations, Fabian assured us that their communities aren’t afraid. He said “For me, it is those who show up with big guns and shoot from afar who are scared, not us. All we have are our batons, which are special to us because they’re symbolic and sacred; they provide us with a direct connection to Mother Nature.”

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Members of the CRIHU and the CRIC

During our chat, two older women came by to ask where they could drop off their food donations, and were directed to the University’s stadium, which from what we could peak, was filled with dozens of camping tents. We asked Robert about these donations, and he told us that people have dropped by to donate food and clothes, and that these donations can be made directly at the Universidad Nacional or in ‘la casa del CRIC’ which is located in La Candelaria. Fabian and Robert tell us that they’re not sure how long they’ll be in Bogotá for, but that they are prepared to stay until they begin to see some positive changes.

Published in The Bogotá Post
https://thebogotapost.com/

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