This morning, at about 4:00am, on the road between Inza, Tierradentro, and Totora, on indigenous territory, the official car of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, was shot at 19 times by a column of the Third Division of the Army, fatally wounding the driver, Edwin Legarda Vazquez, Quilcua's husband. Quilcua is the Chief Counsel of CRIC, and one of the most visible leaders of the recent Indigenous and Popular Minga that began on October 11th, culminating in a massive march and rally in downtown Bogota¡ on November 21st.
Three bullets penetrated Legarda, who did not survive the emergency surgery he was given after being rushed to San Jose Hospital in Popayan, the departmental capital.
But most people close to CRIC believe the bullets were really meant for his wife, who apparently was just returning from Geneva where she had been participating in the United Nations Human Rights Commission sessions on Colombia. She was not in the car when the attack occurred.
Ernesto Parafan, the lawyer for CRIC, believes it was a deliberate act committed against the organization, and specifically an attempt on Quilcua's life by the government's security apparatus. According to the indigenous leadership, Quilcua, along with other prominent leaders, has received numerous death threats in recent months, especially during the six weeks of mobilization and protests that captured the attention of both national and international public opinion.....
Silencing the Truth in Northern Cauca The senseless tragedy befalling Quilcua, her family, CRIC and the entire indigenous community of Colombia is currently being reported peripherally by the corporate national news media such as El Tiempo, Caracol Radio and other sources. However, one media outlet where it is not currently being reported is on the community radio station of the Nasa people of northern cauca, Radio Payumat, licensed to the ACIN.Over the weekend, the station's transmitter equipment, and antenna were severely damaged in an act of sabotage by as of yet unnamed actors, although the community refers to the perpetrators as the same forces of terror that continue to try to silence the indigenous movement with acts of violence. ACIN has denounced the latest assault on their primary communication vehicle on its website, stating that it is part of an ongoing process of intimidation and fear:
"Not coincidentally, these prior acts of sabotage have occurred at the precise time that our communities were initiating major mobilizations and important actions against the armed actors that constantly provoke war in our territories. Therefore, the assault against our community radio station is not an isolated incident, but is part of a deliberate strategy of silencing the indigenous movement of northern Cauca, because the radio station is the most important medium within the community. It allows us to listen to one another, to discuss important issues, reflect on them, make decisions in the interest of the community, and take actions collectively in defense of life and of our territory."This is a photo, taken in 2007 of Mario Murillo and the staff of Radio Payumat, whose transmitter was destroyed in the recent violence.
It is understood by most observers that the indigenous communities that have been most successful over the years at confronting the myriad threats to their autonomy throughout the country, are those with the strongest organizational structures, legitimized by being in a constant dialogue with the base. These are the same communities that continue to play the role of interlocutor with other, non-indigenous actors, be they state institutions, different social sectors like the peasant or trade union movements, and international solidarity organizations.
And not surprisingly, many of these communities, like the cabildos that make up ACIN, maintain their own, independent media channels as essential components of their collective resistance. These community media channels spring from a long tradition of grassroots, independent, citizens' media projects that have emerged throughout Colombia over the past 35 years, and that coalesced alongside broad based social movements with the rewriting of the Constitution in 1991. Naturally, these community-based media are only as effective as their organizations capacity to successfully confront the destructive, militarist, and undemocratic models that surround them. In the long run, strong organizational bases make them more secure and protect them from the inevitable, reactionary backlash, given the high levels of violence that has always been directed towards independent voices in Colombia. But sometimes that high level of organizing is not enough to prevent the kind of sabotage that occurred over the weekend.
"Those who carried out this act of sabotage knew what they were doing," said Dora MuÃ±oz, Coordinator of the Radio station. She added â€œall of this points to a systematic wave of terror. I'm afraid we're only just beginning to see what may come in the coming days and weeks, directed against us."
The Nasa communities of Cauca, with their long trajectory of mobilization spearheaded by CRIC and ACIN, in the spirit of constructing sustainable, democratic alternatives, are working alongside truly revolutionary, transformative practices in communication. Radio Payumat happens to be one of the national models of these transformative communication practices, rooted in indigenous traditions of bottom-up consultation and community reflection. However, it is not supported in any way by state institutions.
If there were some state communication policies that were in defense of the rights of the people, the immediate reaction of the government would have been to repudiate these acts of sabotage and provide some resources to support the radio station's efforts, efforts that we depend on for our security and well being while we are under constant attack," said Ezequiel Vitonas, a member of the council of chiefs of ACIN.
Today, December 16th, 2008, on the 17th anniversary of the massacre of 20 Nasa on the Nilo estate, on the same day that the husband of CRIC's chief spokesperson was killed by a fusillade of Army bullets, ACIN's radio station remains off the air due to ruthless acts of sabotage.