The struggle against militarism and the commodification of the territory in Colombia
State projects, state actions and state positions centred on the commercialization and extractive industries of the territory have been historically consolidated as the preferred scenario for the militarization of these industries. In the face of this, community struggle over access to land and the guarantee of human rights is legitimate. These forms of resistance foresee positive ways forward in the face of a government that perpetuates a vision of territory from a mercantilist perspective and that - in one way or another – uses a warlike logic.
Since 2011, there have been efforts to combat forced eradication and glyphosate aerial spraying of illicit crops (coca leaf), as well as enabling the return of victims of forced displacement to their land. One of the alternatives to forced eradication are crop substitution projects, through productive projects that improve the structural conditions of poverty in these communities. However, the position of the current government, alongside pressure from the United States, has meant the development of such strategies has dropped significantly. In addition, the return of forced eradication has been prioritized, which is once again consolidated as a repressive measure without guarantees and which leaves a high cost in terms of human rights.
Furthermore, irregularities in this process are constant, given that the absence of institutions, which by law must verify and confirm the actions of the Armed Forces in the territories, is extensive and is being justified by the current pandemic .
Considering all this, communities, being threatened constantly, are demanding the guarantee of their rights. One example is the agricultural workers of southern Córdoba (Social Agricultural Workers Organization, defenders of human rights and the peace agreements) who have mobilized against forced eradication "in order not to allow further progress in what appears to be a government policy that does not recognize and does not effectively implement the peace agreements with the FARC-EP, as signed in November 2016.
The publication of the Observatory for the Restitution and Regulation of Agrarian Property Rights shows that in 2020 there were 51 confrontations between agricultural workers and the Armed Forces; in 20% of these firearms were used by the Army. In Guaviare and Meta, where communities have mobilized to demand their rights, those actions have been criminalized, stigmatized, and the state response has disproportionately used military operations that have threatened people's lives. In Cúcuta, ASCAMCAT (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, Catatumbo Growers Association) and COCCAM (Coordinadora de Cultivadores de Coca, Marihuana y Amapola, Coordination of Coca, Marijuana and Poppy Growers) have denounced the launch of forced eradication works and demanded the monitoring of human rights violations. Thus, the government militarization strategies to control territories has led to the violation of human rights, ignoring the peace agreements and attempting silence resistance.
Under this same logic, glyphosate aerial spraying, suspended since 2015, is returning as a crop eradication strategy, which accentuates the government's clear inability to create alternative productive strategies for illicit crop reduction. It is important to understand that returning to this practice is a decision that goes against scientific evidence which has focused on demonstrating the impacts glyphosate has on health and the little effectiveness it has shown to reduce illicit crops. Thus, the government's approach regarding the use of glyphosate is to determine whether the life and health of the communities that inhabit these territories are of state interest and, consequently, whether it corresponds to the constitutional mandate to safeguard people's lives.
Glyphosate resistance struggles have always been constituted by hundreds of agricultural workers. On the national scene, it is important to recognise leaders such as Nidia Quintero, spokesperson for COCCAM and member of Fensuagro, who, along with other agricultural workers leaders, succeeded in making Putumayo the first department to sign agreements around collective illicit crop substitution projects. However, with the arrival of Iván Duque’s government, the program was halted, and the violence and presence of armed groups began to increase. Arnobis Zapata, a leader recognized for his resistance strategies to the eradication plans, managed to stop an eradication commission for the first time in 2015. His work and struggle led him to the launch of COCCAM along with some 800 agricultural workers, Afro-Colombians and indigenous people who sought to pressure Santos government to implement point 4 of the peace agreements .
After facing the refusal to implement the peace agreements and the intention to reactivate eradication of illicit crops, Juan Pablo Salazar, together with other leaders formed Asocordillera (Suarez Rural Farmers’ Organization Cauca) in 2016. Since that moment, resistance strategies have been maintained, seeking to reactivate substitution of illicit crops and to stop the entry of dissidents from FARC and drug trafficking groups to the territories. This year Ascocordillera managed to get Cauca’s Administrative Tribunal to back their battle focused on the implementation of the peace agreement, achieving the suspension of illicit crop eradication and glyphosate aerial spraying in the municipalities of Caloto, Cajibio and Piamonte in Cauca.
The struggles of agricultural workers and indigenous communities have made progress from a legal point of view and are the ones that - amidst state abandonment and militarization of their territories - continue to demand crop substitution, alternative production strategies and guarantees of their rights.
Resistance across Colombia
Cauca department has been one of the places in Colombia most affected by the violence of the armed conflict, the fight against drugs and the constant arrival of extractive projects that generate an environmental impact in indigenous territories. It is important to emphasize the fight against the eradication of illicit crops, as well as glyphosate fumigation, has begun to move to departments such as Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Catatumbo. Likewise, the permanent persecution and murder of social leaders generates a panorama which accentuates the problem and directly affects communities of agricultural workers, indigenous and Afro-Colombians, as well as defenders of land and natural resources.
However, since the late 1990s, the indigenous communities of Cauca have organized themselves in defence their territories, rejecting the systematic violence and militarization of their lands. The Armed Forces, through the war on drugs, constantly destroys their territories. The Indigenous Guard was formed in 2001, and has become a resistance that has begun to amplify indigenous voices and actions in their territories, through actions recognized nationally and internationally. Additionally, in recent months, the Indigenous Guard decided to mobilize from their territories and travel to Bogotá, raising their voices, asking to be protected and to be left to live in peace in their territories. They demanded the demilitarisation of their lands, but above all, that the government listen and stop ignoring them because they are being murdered in their territories. The Indigenous Guard is an example of community organization and territory defence without the need of the Armed Forces it is based on love for our indigenous roots, and respect for our lands, for nature and for life.
On the other hand, since the times of the Colony and Benkos Biohó in the late 16th and 17th centuries, in the territories of Northern Cauca and San Basilio de Palenque, the Maroon Guard has been organized and strengthened. This resistance has provided a space for the Afro-Colombian people to demand their rights, exercise their autonomy, protect their territories, their ancestry and identity, as well as protecting themselves. The territories where this resistance is exercised currently face vital challenges, such as structural racism, environmental damage to their territories, violence by armed actors, and the pandemic. The pandemic has served to accentuate other problems, as well as making visible the government's abandonment of one of the ethnic communities that are part of our country, in accordance with Colombia’s historical racism.
It is also important to recognize that, in San Basilio de Palenque, the Maroon Guard plays a fundamental role in guaranteeing security. According to reflections made by the Observatory of Ethnic and Agricultural Workers Territories, these places maintain the position of not receiving permanent support from the State This means that the Maroon Guard has more responsibility for monitoring and controlling protected areas, and preventing, investigating and combating crime in the territory. For this reason, It is important to understand and reflect on the experiences of the Maroon Guard in finding alternatives to militarisation.
At the same time, the territories where the Maroon Guard operates are already facing the consequences of climate change, putting these territories on the verge of collapse. This is caused by rivers drying up, as well as the scarce of rain season directly affecting crops. This situation not only damages the population but also, according to the Black Communities Process, is "an opportunity for those who have always sought to appropriate their agricultural reserves”. Finally, the state's abandonment has increased environmental, health and food emergencies that were already occurring in these communities. Nevertheless, we should recognise the resistance of these groups who, facing government abandonment, are organising themselves, demanding their rights and finding alternatives to a government that has discriminated and forgotten them throughout Colombia’s history.
Resistance is a daily act and is our duty to face the growing climate change effects and resist governments who reinforce territory exploitation. These experiences should inspire us to continue to resist and fight for a better world for all the living beings that are part of it, as well as to return to the connection with our ancestral roots where respect and love for nature are a vital part of living. It is these struggles that mark the path and have achieved progress at the legal and social levels and are therefore the ones that we must accompany and support as a fundamental part of our daily resistance.
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 Benkos Biohó escaped from the enslavement carried out by the Spanish crown in Cartagena and, together with a group of former enslaved people, set out on an expedition to Montes de María, there they settled and founded San Basilio de Palenque, a symbol of independence from the slaves who escaped from the chains of the Spanish crown and maroons are considered the first free people of America. Later, they launched campaigns in other places to gather resources and free maroons.
Enrique Marquez. (N/A). Observatory of Ethnic and Agricultural Workers Territories (Observatorio de T Territorios Étnicos y Campesinos) (Blog). Retrieved from: https://www.etnoterritorios.org/Caribe.shtml?apc=g-xx-1-&x=18
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