BOGOTA – Colombia’s Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera traveled on Saturday to Cauca, a region in the southwestern region of the country that has been paralyzed for six days by an indigenous protest.
The unrest has already left 60 people injured, including civilians and policemen, and a dialogue has been convened to advance the fulfillment of agreements demanded by the natives.
“As of today, I will join the national government team that has been carrying out talks with indigenous spokespeople in the municipality of Caldono, in the department of Cauca for a couple of days,” the minister told reporters.
As part of the protest, called “National Minga,” indigenous groups have since Oct. 30 paralyzed key roads in the country such as the Pan American Way as it passes through Cauca, a region where native communities are relatively influential and populous.
In the demonstrations, 17 police officers were detained on Nov. 1 by indigenous people in the municipality of Pueblo Rico, in the department of Risaralda, and released a day later.
The authorities of Risaralda, Cauca, Quindio and Choco agreed on Saturday to leave the dialogue table if the aboriginals refuse to hand over the weapons of the members of the public force who were detained.
The Secretary of Government of Risaralda, Julio Cesar Londono, assured the media that “once the weapons are handed over, the representatives of the departments will reconvene with these communities.”
On the other hand, four uniformed officers who were part of the security team of the Minister of Agriculture, Juan Guillermo Zuluaga, were detained on Friday in Cauca and later handed over to a UN commission.
The situation on the roads, mainly in Cauca, is critical because the barricades erected by the natives impede the normal transit of private vehicles, public transport buses and trucks with food.
According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), there are 102 native groups in the country, of which 62.7% are at risk of physical and cultural extinction.
Between November 2016 and July 31 of this year, 30 indigenous people have been killed, six disappeared, 115 threatened and 3,490 remain in displacement, the group reported.
Likewise, the ONIC said that since 1996, 1,392 agreements have been signed with the national government, most of which have not been honored.
On Saturday afternoon, the Interior Minister made a call “to the representatives and/or delegates of the other organizations that are mobilized in the rest of the country, within the framework of the Indigenous Minga, to install from Nov. 5 of 2017 a space at the national level and advance towards the fulfillment of the agreements.”
According to the senior official, the dialogue “will be integrated by the Ministers of the Interior, Health, Education, Agriculture, and the Directors of the National Land Agency, and the Agency of Rural development.”