Recognizing and expanding the territories of original peoples in Colombia is critical for the peace process

Recognizing and expanding the territories of original peoples in Colombia is critical for the peace process

Press Note for the Global call to action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights

In Colombia, over 30% of the national territory has been officially titled to Indigenous Peoples, with some 6 million hectares of collective lands recognized for Afro-Descendant Communities. Nonetheless, in practice these territories are not recognized in the State’s actions, with mining, oil and gas, logging and other concessions issued unilaterally without upholding Indigenous or Afro-Descendant Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent.

Territorial pressure increases markedly also by groups operating outside of the law who continue to invade ancestral territories to undertake activities such as illegal mining, leaving behind a legacy of environmental and social disaster, violating the territorial rights of the Original Peoples. Ironically, the peace process augments this territorial pressure, in that the FARC and the State are agreeing to actions in these territories without involving Colombia’s Indigenous and Black Communities in decision making.

“With the peace process about to conclude with an Accord in Habana at the end of March, the Original Peoples of Colombia fear that our territories will be cut back rather than expanded,” states a member of the Palenke Alto Cauca-PCN, a regional government of Black Communities nationally represented by the Process of Black Communities (Proceso de Comunidades Negras-PCN). “This cutback to enable the reintegration into our territories of ex-combatants of the armed conflict, to implement agreements negotiated around Reserves for the Campesinos (Peasants), foreign investment in megaprojects and climate change mitigation schemes. They are speculating with our territories in a process where we aren’t even at the negotiations table!”

While there is fear that the territorial needs of Colombia’s Original Peoples will not be considered in the negotiation or implementation of the Peace Agreements, those territories that should already be recognized by the State are left unprotected.

“The State totally ignores the territory we have as a Resguardo (Reservation) of colonial origins,” declares Carlos Gómez Restrepo, Chief Governor of the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta (Riosucio, Supía – Caldas), whose territory is criss-crossed with mining concessions issued or requested without the consent of the Cabildo, the Indigenous Authority. “But if the State not fulfilling its obligation to recognize and protect the little amount of territory that we have weren’t serious enough, even more grave is that this little bit of land left to us as a result of the process of dispossession that has taken place since the arrival of the Spaniards, is far from sufficient to sustain the Embera Chamí population that live here.”

In effect, Cañamomo Lomaprieta has a population of 24,315 inhabitants and a total of 8,268 families, living in 4,826 hectares. According to the State Agency INCODER, this population should have some 82,680 hectares if it is to meet with the criterion that each family have a minimum of 10 hectares of ‘Agricultural Family Unit’.

“In other words, our territory has a deficit of 94.16% hectares,” the Chief Governor emphasizes. “And that’s following the State’s logic, and not our own logic where we know that ancestrally our territory covered far more than that.”

In northern Cauca, Afro-Descendant Community Councils are assaulted by armed conflict, as well as a massive invasion of illegal/criminal mining, and sugarcane mono-culture for the production of bio-fuel. Community Councils in this area have some 1000 hectares of titled lands (Zanjón de Garrapatero, Cuenca Cauca, La Toma, Pureto, Aires de Garrapatero y Bodega Guali), and aspire to multiply this by 100, to achieve recognition of 100,000 hectares.

With this alarming context and current crossroads in Colombia, “the global call for the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples and Communities has come at a critical time for us,” said Armando Caracas of the Palenke Alto Cauca-PCN. “We have much hope that this campaign will not only help peoples globally reach the goal of duplicating our officially recognized territories by 2020; but that in the meantime, we continue joining our efforts and weaving our strategies so that our territorial rights are respected in practice, even if we do not have state recognition. For us, territory is everything; without territory, we are nothing.” 

For more information, please contact:

Viviane Weitzner
Forest Peoples Programme
Tel: +1 (819) 664-6089

Héctor Jaime Vinasco
Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta
Tel: +57 3183972770

Cesar Harvey Perlaza Rodriguez
Palenke Alto Cauca-PCN
Tel: +57 3166939674