More than 1,300 indigenous people, mostly minors, subsist in a precarious camp in the center of Bogotá, the Colombian capital. They arrived there more than three weeks ago to claim their basic rights, as well as guarantees to be able to return to their territories. Now they expect an imminent eviction by the authorities.
Barefoot – many in diapers – the children play, oblivious to the circumstances, with donated sticks and toys, some are learning to take their first steps. The grandmothers cook potatoes and rice over a wood fire, for some their only meal of the day. Inside the makeshift tents, some nursing mothers and pregnant women weave their handicrafts. “Guard, Guard, Strength, Strength!” The younger men train with their wooden sticks, under the gaze of the adult leaders.
This is the postcard of the last three weeks in the central Bogotá National Park. About 1,200 indigenous people from 13 displaced communities and peoples from all over Colombian territory await an imminent eviction there, while they wait, as a protest, in the precarious camp. “We are tired, but we demand minimum rights and guarantees for return, both to the District and to the national government, but they have not sat down with us to talk,” complains Rafael Arbeláez, indigenous spokesman for the Kubeo people, from the southeastern part of the country. .
Some of the families, mostly indigenous Emberas, arrived in the city years ago, others did so during the pandemic or just a couple of months ago. Violence in their territories for control of the land, the Colombian armed conflict, persecution, drug trafficking, mining or hunger are some of the reasons why they were forced to abandon their shelters.
Victims of armed conflict and now victims of discrimination
“The issue of the armed conflict has intensified in the territories. There, they do not kill us for an issue of illegal mining, for an issue of armed conflict, micro-trafficking, illicit crops … we went out to take care of life in the cities and here they also kill us in another way: culturally, physically, they revictimize us, They discriminate against us, they segregate us ”, denounces the indigenous Nasa leader, Violet Medina.
In makeshift black plastic tents, with cardboard as a mattress and hardly any blankets, families survive thanks to citizen donations that indigenous leaders are responsible for distributing. Many mothers who carry their babies tied behind their back complain that the help is not enough: “we have nothing, today they did not give us breakfast,” they repeat.
Jessica Restrepo, eight months pregnant, lives in one of the tents -built with just three plastics- along with her three sisters, seven children under the age of five and her elderly parents, all of them from the Embera reservation of Pueblo Rico, Risaralda, in the center of the country. “My land is very dangerous,” explains the young woman, “they threatened my brother because they said he was a guerrilla,” she adds.
45,000 forcibly displaced in Colombia during the first half of 2021
In the first six months of 2021, almost 45,000 people suffered internal forced displacement due to the armed conflict in Colombia, according to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A problem that affects thousands of indigenous people, such as the Restrepo family, who survive in the territories and rural areas of the country. “Due to the conflict, we came here two months ago, but the government has not helped us, it has not complied. If the Government gives us guarantees we will return to the land, if it does not give us guarantees we will not return ”, he says.
His mother, Ernestina, in her sixties, explains that they worked the land there, growing bananas, yucca and corn. “Everything was lost, with whom did I leave the animals, the chicken, the puppy, the crops? All abandoned ”, he enumerates, mixing words in Spanish with his native language. Their request to return is that the Government and the Victims Unit grant them economic and security guarantees to return.
Women giving birth in the camp and hospitalized children
Among the hanging clothes, the little ones scamper with dirty faces, signs of colds and other viral illnesses due to sleeping in the open under the heavy rains of recent days, which have aggravated the sanitary conditions of the settlement.
The indigenous authorities denounce that at least a dozen minors have been transferred to the hospital, more than six in critical condition. 60% of the members of the camp are small children, nursing mothers and pregnant women, some have given birth to their babies in the same park, but the health authorities did not show up until this Saturday, October 24.
“We don’t have medicine and many children are sick. Anyone who does not have diarrhea has a cough or fever ”, says Bertilde, an Embera indigenous person. Three years ago he mobilized to the displaced capital of Chocó – one of the regions with the greatest violence in Colombia, by the different armed groups, paramilitaries, dissidents and drug traffickers that control the region – after “men in masks” murdered on his farm. two members of his family. Until now, she survived in the capital thanks to financial aid from the District and the sale of handicrafts that she weaves herself.
At his side, his 15-year-old daughter Ana Patricia claims to be able to go back to school: “I miss studying, before we lived in an apartment and could go to school.” “The children must be studying, not here, right?” He asks in a calm voice.
Days go by without solutions from local or national authorities
These communities landed in the popular park after the subsidies for housing and food provided by the District were suspended, when, according to the Mayor’s Office, the deadlines were met: a term of one year (…) By law, aid cannot be extended, ”said the Secretary of Government of Bogotá, Luis Ernesto Gómez.
The mayor, Claudia López, threw balls out, pointing out that her local government has given more than 400,000 euros (about $ 465,700) in aid since last March 2020 and appealed to the role of the national government for the solution of the conflict with the indigenous of the settlement. While the Executive of Iván Duque has not ruled on the matter.
Without these monetary aid, the vast majority were expelled from their homes, located in the popular neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital, due to the impossibility of paying the rent. In this way they walked for hours until they reached the National Park. “We no longer want to continue on the streets, we want a decent life, a house, a dwelling and to be able to find a way to work,” asks Arbeláez, a member of the Bakatá Indigenous Authority, which includes 13 native peoples present.
Last Saturday afternoon, the 48-hour period given by the Mayor’s Office to carry out a characterization and verification of the communities by public entities was fulfilled. After three unsuccessful hearings, the Police announced the eviction order. “They did not come up with good proposals, they criminalized us. We are not armed, we only have the sticks to resist, ”says Rosmira, an Embera indigenous person.
“Where are we going to go if we have nothing?”
Now, in a climate of uncertainty and fear, communities are preparing to be evicted by the Police and fear the excessive use of force. “We would say that it is an act against humanity if that happens, but here in Colombia everything happens”, criticizes Medina, recalling how the night the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) arrived at the park they “gassed” them to prevent their settlement.
Medina and other indigenous people who stand guard in the vicinity claim to be “prepared for whatever happens to us, here we have said that if we have to die here then we will die, where are we going to go if we have nothing?” That same questioning abounds among those present. However, the emergency call continues to be neglected by the authorities, who have reacted to the indigenous protest as a threat to public space and not as a manifestation of rejection of the problems suffered by the original peoples of Colombia.
“We came here through public order, through the mining companies. There in Chocó everything exists, day and night. Many threats come to the leaders who do not want it (the territory) to let it explode and they (the companies) want to pollute our environment, nature, they consume all our crops. They threaten mining, companies, public order, collecting vaccines, entering and taking the towns to the cities to displace them. That is why we come here and it is time to resist. This Minga is permanent ”, concludes Leonival Campo, Embera-Chamí leader.
Colombian indigenous communities suffer all the violence in the country. Since the signing of the Peace Accords, in 2016, between the Colombian Government and the extinct FARC guerrilla, at least 242 indigenous leaders have been assassinated, according to figures from the Institute for Development and Peace Studies, Indepaz, figures they could even be older. The 60-year-old Ana, originally from Chocó, sums up resigned: “they kill us Indians.”
Meanwhile, in the heart of the main Colombian city, the camp continues to go unnoticed by a large majority of the population, used even to seeing misery expressed in its starkest reality. From the authorities, now many of the members of these communities do not expect more than a new forced exit, from a territory that is no longer even theirs.