Indigenous leaders in Colombia's Cauca department last month exchanged letters with FARC commander Rodrigo Londono AKA "Timochenko" AKA "Timoleón Jiménez" to discuss a face-to-face dialogue over guerilla aggression against native peoples. "Timochenko" wrote to indigenous leaders on May 13, appealing to them "to reach understandings that will allow us satisfactorily to advance towards our mutual goals of peace and social justice." He denied recent accusations by native leaders that the FARC is complicit in the "genocide of the indigenous" of Cauca, and broached a personal meeting. The indigenous leaders reponded on May 16 with an open letter accepting the invitation to direct dialogue, but adding: "However, our communities want to see the dialogue does represent changes to our conditions; that you stop killing, accusing and dividing us." The letter protested the FARC's accusation that the indigenous leadership are a "counterinsurgency force."
Negotiators from Colombia's government and the FARC rebels on May 26 signed an agreement on agrarian reform, the first and reportedly the hardest of three issues that must be tackled before a final deal to end nearly 50 years of civil war. In a joint press conference, the two negotiating teams said they had reached full agreement on points including "access and use of land," "non-productive lands," "formalization of property," and the "agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones." Accords were also announced on technical assistance and credit for poor farmers. The pact calls for creation of a "Lands for Peace Fund" into which millions of illegally held or underused hectares will be placed for eventual redistribution to landless peasants and displaced populations. The negotiators said the deal will lead to "radical transformations of Colombia's rural and agrarian reality with equality and democracy." The remaining two issues are political participation and drug trafficking. (Colombia Reports, LAT, El Colombiano, Colprensa, May 26)
"Pablo Catatumbo," commander of the FARC guerillas' feared Western Bloc, was picked up by a Red Cross helicopter in Colombia's southwestern town of Palmira April 6 to join fellow guerrilla leaders who are in Cuba meeting with the government to negotiate peace, according to local media. Neither the government nor the FARC have either confirmed or denied Catatumbo's trip. With the arrival of Catatumbo, the FARC delegation in Havana now includes three of the guerillas' seven-man secretariat. To allow the safe arrival of Catatumbo and five other rebel leaders in Palmira, the army temporarily suspended military operations in the department of Valle de Cauca, military intelligence sources told Caracol Radio. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, April 7; Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, April 6)
The Andean Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) on March 15 jointly presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) warning that 65 the 102 indigenous ethnicities in Colombia are now at risk of cultural or physical "extinction." The report noted that Colombia's Constitutional Court has ordered special protection for these 65 peoples, but asserted that risks posed by the armed conflict and lawless resource extraction on their lands have not abated. The report charged that violations of indigenous rights are not merely "collateral damage" in the ongoing civil conflict, but often an actual aim of armed actors.
After tense negotiations, the Red Cross transported to safety Feb. 15 two Colombian National Police agents being held by the FARC guerillas since Jan. 25. The release had been delayed due to large groups of journalists in the vicinity of the drop-off point according to leader of Colombians for Peace (CCP), Piedad Cordoba, who helped broker the negotiations. The armed forces had ceased military activity around Miranda in the southwest Cauca department to provide safe passage for the Red Cross. The humanitarian mission will next fly to Pasto to secure the release of a soldier captured by the FARC on Jan. 31 during clashes in southern Nariño department. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 14)
Charging a "Plan of Extermination" by all actors in Colombia's armed conflict, traditional indigenous authorities in southwest Cauca region on Jan. 22 protested the "assassination" two days earlier of Nasa indigenous leader Rafael Mauricio Girón Ulchur at the village of Jámbalo. The statement said Girón had been ambushed while riding his motorcycle, and that the gunmen were FARC guerillas who fled into the bush after the slaying. The statement charged that he had been targeted for advocating a "Plan of Life" based on indigenous territorial rights, self-determination and protection of natural resources as an alternative to the peace plan being worked out by FARC and government negotiators in Havana, Cuba. It noted that the assassination came the same day that the FARC officially declared an end to the unilateral ceasefire instated for the Havana talks. (ACIN, Jan. 22)
Colombia's FARC rebels on Jan. 20 announced the immediate end of a two-month unilateral ceasefire and renewed their call for a bilateral truce to hold peace talks with the government "in a tranquil environment." The FARC had offered to extend the truce if the Colombian government signed a bilateral ceasefire, but President Juan Manuel Santos rejected that idea from the start. Speaking to press in Havana, the leader of the FARC's negotiating team, "Ivan Márquez," said that "with pain in our hearts we must admit that we return to the time of military warfare that nobody wants." Santos responded at a public event in Padilla, a village in southwestern Cauca department hard hit by fighting: "The armed forces, like our army, air force, navy and police, know exactly what to do come tomorrow."
An open letter from the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) Nov. 22 outlined an "Indigenous and Popular Peace Proposal" that they are demanding be taken up at the talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels now underway in Havana. The proposal stresses issues not on the agenda at Havana, including the territorial autonomy and traditional authority of Colombia's indigenous peoples. Indigenous leaders will convene a meeting next month to advance the proposal and press demands for openinig the peace process to popular participation. The meeting will be held at the village of La María de Piendamó, Cauca department, which has been declared a "territory of peace and dialogue."