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Cablegate: Colombia's National Indigenous Groups Congress

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #8697/01 3651512
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 311512Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0712
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 7966
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 9715
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC LIMA 5751
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 1018
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6456
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL 4243
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 008697

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL ECON SOCI CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA'S NATIONAL INDIGENOUS GROUPS CONGRESS
FORGES UNITY, OUTLINES CONCERNS

1. Summary: The National Organization for the Indigenous in
Colombia (ONIC) held its Seventh Congress December 9-14,
declaring unity among all indigenous groups in South America
and calling for protection of indigenous communities and
their way of life. Complaints ran high against private
investment, free trade agreements and aerial spraying.
Delegates demanded territorial land rights and government
assistance in security, education and health programs. The
group also denounced violence against the indigenous, as well
as displacement, stigmatization and discrimination.
Indigenous groups account for 1.4 million, or less than 2%,
of Colombia's population. End Summary.

-------------------------------------
Self-governance and Indigenous Rights
-------------------------------------

2. The National Organization for the Indigenous in Colombia
(ONIC) held its Seventh Congress in Ibague, Tolima December
9-14. Nearly 3000 participants met in an outdoor pavilion at
the University of Tolima to discuss land rights, health and
education projects, and human rights issues. Amid chantings
by medicine men, communal cooking and handicraft displays,
speakers called for indigenous unity and empowerment through
self-governance. ONIC president Luis Evelis Andrade Casama
said self-governance and the fight for the indigenous way of
life are threatened by commercialization, globalization and
government indifference. In a series of resolutions, ONIC
voiced support for indigenous throughout South America,
particularly for its "brother," Bolivian President Evo
Morales. Resolutions also criticized Colombia's forestry
law, rural development law and free trade as "grave risks" to
indigenous groups because they allegedly undermine indigenous
rights to determine the use of territory and resources.

---------------------------------------------
Rally Against Private Investment and Spraying
---------------------------------------------

3. Joanne Washington, an ONIC coordinator, voiced
disappointment over the lack of media interest in the event
and absence of high level officials invited to the
conference. ONIC's president publicly recognized the USG
alongside the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights
(UNHCHR) and the European Commission for attending the
conference. In private conversations, attendees told us they
were surprised at the USG presence, especially in light of
strong criticisms of aerial spraying and free trade, but said
they appreciated the willingness to listen to their concerns.
We highlighted USG assistance for indigenous through USAID's
projects on alternative development, infrastructure, food
security, justice and governance programs. The USG has
committed to invest over $6 million between 2005-2008 through
USAID's alternative development program for indigenous
projects. Assistance to these communities focuses on
strengthening indigenous governing councils, inter-cultural
exchanges among indigenous groups, cultural preservation,
building social infrastructure, and promoting environmental
awareness.

4. Andrew Miller of U.S.-based Amazon Watch told us land
rights and opposition to private development were a hot topic
at this year's Congress. Ecopetrol, Colombia's state oil
company, is viewed as a threat to the livelihood of U'wa
groups in Norte de Santander, Boyaca and Arauca departments.
Many speakers criticized President Uribe's Democratic
Security policy, which they said leads to increased violence
against the indigenous. Dario Mejia, ONIC's Education and
Intercultural Coordinator, said aerial spraying has caused
illness and displacement among the indigenous. He cited an
ONIC study that concluded 47 indigenous people are displaced
daily (9% of total). Members of the Senu tribe in Cauca said
they recognized GOC's efforts to improve security in general,
but complained of being ignored by the government. Lack of
basic needs, including housing, food and health, remains a
serious problem. They preferred manual eradication to aerial
spraying.

----------------------------------------
Violence and Displacement Among Concerns
----------------------------------------

5. ONIC officials expressed concern over arbitrary

detention, physical threats, forced displacement, armed
violence and criminal recruitment. ONIC also defines as human
rights "violations" the negative impacts of multinational
projects, spraying, stigmatization and discrimination,
occurring mostly in Cauca, Putumayo and Guajira departments.
Reports of increased violence against indigenous women were
also highlighted. ONIC claimed that for all "violations" that
occurred between 1998-2007, the GOC is responsible for 61%,
paramilitary for 20%, and guerrillas for 7%. During that ten
year period, 67,749 indigenous were displaced, 1897 leaders
killed, 434 disappeared and 242 kidnapped, according to ONIC
data. Indigenous groups account for 1.4 million, or less
than 2%, of Colombia's total population. The GOC has granted
over 30% of its national territory to protected indigenous
communities (resguardos).
Nichols

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