The Colombian organisation which my collective is working with has just brought out the first issue of a publication called 'La Ruta de la Libertad'. They call it a 'bitacora de caminantes', which translates as 'walker's binnacle' - highly original.
Apparently a binnacle is a case or box on the deck of a ship containing navigational instruments. They explain this in their editorial by saying that it is 'more than a report of the organisation's activities, but a vision of those who have walked some of our country's regions, examining, working, but above all learning from those belonging to communities along our path. Our paths have led us through the state of Casanare, the foothills of Casanare and Boyaca states and the district of Ciudad Bolivar in Bogota'. Ciudad Bolivar is a poor slum area within the municiple boundary of Bogota home to many displaced people.
This 'binnacle' of 20 pages contains articles on the geography, nature and recent history of these areas. For more background on Casanare click here. Below is a translation of a tribute to an indigenous leader murdered last year. To mark the anniversary there was a memorial event this April. Unfortunately I couldn't attend as I was doing accompaniment in Sur de Bolivar, but a friend went and reported that it was a personally moving as well as worthwhile solidarity experience.
'Without doubt, the first history lessons we receive in school or which adults tell us, concern the arrival of the Spanish in Colombia in 1492, who with violence and repression murdered and displaced our indigenous peoples, the first inhabitants of this rich land, and what's more, robbed a lot of the gold they came across, leaving only misery, disease, hatred and an irrational ambition for power.
Today, more than 500 years later, history hasn't changed, our farmland is occupied by multinationals representing savage capital, which is used to finance a dirty war, with the permission and support of our governments. Daily we have to witness millions of displaced people, remember thousands of disappeared people, cross rivers of blood spilt by the poor, by indigenous farmers and by all those who try to resist to defend what is most sacred: life and territory.
This time they don't come for gold, but for some time they have been robbing us of the oil, the water, the forests, freedom, knowledge, and finally, the land. All that's left is to take from us the right to breathe.
What we now want to make known, and which is part of our own history, is that there are still indigenous communities resisting despite the war declared against them, and that they will continue their just struggle for the basic rights to exist, for land, autonomy, freedom of thought and peaceful coexistence, maintaining harmony between mother earth and humans, not with humans as masters of nature, as is the attitude of the invadors and exploiters of our country.
Now we have to pay homage and remember the indigenous chief Alvaro Salon Archila, leader of the Uwa community of Chaparral Barronegro, located on the border of Casanare and Arauca, between the municipalities of Sacame, Atocorozal and Tame, who gave his life to defend his territory, to teach his community to resist and struggle for dignity and social justice. Alvaro fulfilled the dream of his father, the chief Antonio Salon Archila, whose dying words were, 'my son has to be the leader and fighter of tomorrow, the defender of our territory', which is what he became, at the age of 20 assuming his father's legacy. He always stood up to the interests of individualists and others who threatened his community. He survived the massacre of La Cabuya, carried out on the border of Sacama Casanare and Tame Arauca, on the night of 19-20 November 1998, where five people were killed, including a seven-month pregnant woman.
According to the Attorney General those responsible were members of the Counterinsurgency Battalion No25, part of the 16th Brigade based in Yopal, Casanare. Some officials have already been convicted.
Only his physical existence ended on the afternoon of 23rd April 2007, at the age of 42, when he was crossing a path together with his wife, in the township of San Gregorio in Tame province. An explosion in circumstances which remain unclear, took his life. Fortunately his wife Marleny Camargo survived - in this country very few witnesses survive. The army in a press release reported his death as the result of an anti-personnel mine placed by the insurgency, but his community claims that it was a deliberate act in a region with a large army presence as part of the 'democratic security' policy of President Uribe. It is a mystery that the mule on which the chief was travelling didn't suffer any harm. Will the right to justice, truth and reparation be respected in this case? Or will this add to the long list of murders with impunity in this country?
Alvaro Salon Archila, as the more than 400 indigenous of the Chaparral Barronegro territory believe, is more alive than ever in their hearts; he will always be their son, leader, defender and fighter.'