Racial inequality, the legacy of enslavement and colonialism, flourished in the intensity of the armed conflict and has become even more stark with the pandemic. Afro-Colombians who were forced to move from rural areas to large cities suffer discrimination and social ill-treatment. As traditional politics seems incapable of overcoming the conflict, the national strike is offering a space in which to express their indignation.
Indigenous peoples in Colombia
The indigenous population in Colombia is estimated at 1,500,000 inhabitants. Along with many campesinos and Afro-Colombian, many indigenous peoples in the country continue to struggle with forced displacement and landlessness as a result of the long-term armed conflict in Colombia.
The Government of Colombia adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. The Political Constitution of 1991 recognised the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169.
At the national level, indigenous peoples are represented by two main organizations: the "Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia" (ONIC) and "Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia" (AICO).
President Santos signed a decree in 2014 that created a special regime to put into operation the administration of indigenous peoples' own systems in their territories until Congress issues the Organic Law of Territorial Management that will define the relations and coordination between the Indigenous Territorial Entities and the Municipalities and Departments.
Indigenous peoples in Colombia
According to official data, indigenous peoples’ population in Colombia is currently estimated at 1,500,000 people, which represents the 3.4% of the national population.
According to the indigenous population register in 2005, 796,916 inhabited reserves (57.2 % of the indigenous population). On a bigger picture, figures show that 78.6% of the indigenous population is concentrated in rural zones and 21.4% in urban zones. Growth in the indigenous population in recent years is notable since in the year 1993 the indigenous population represented a mere 1.6% of the national total.
There are 65 Amerindian languages spoken in the country. Of this 65, 5 have no capacity for revitalization and another 19 are in serious danger of disappearing.
Main challenges for Colombia’s indigenous peoples
Data from the Victims Unit show that 192,638 indigenous people and 794,703 Afro-Colombians were affected by the war experienced in recent years. The guerrilla made life impossible for several indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, and massacres such as that of the Awá in Nariño and Afro-Colombians in Bojayá, mined collective territories, communities stripped of their territories and young people and children recruited are some examples of the FARC's violent acts carried out against ethnic peoples.
Almost a third of the national territory is categorised as indigenous reserves, and most of them have to face serious environmental conflicts and land grabbing due to extractive activities in the zone.
The young Indigenous governor of Cauca was murdered for her decision to expel legal and illegal armed actors from the territory and put an end to illicit crops. After her murder, the “Minga indígena hacia adentro” organized collective action in a demonstration of their autonomy and governance. Meanwhile, the Indigenous authorities denounced the fact that the national government was not taking any action to enforce the Peace Accords.
The struggle against climate change can be neutralized by the circumstances and conditions under which the clean energy transition is carried out. The behaviour of wind-energy companies in La Guajira, the territory of the Wayuu indigenous people, serves as an illustrative example.
Peaceful and anonymous protests have broken out simultaneously in hundreds of cities and towns around Colombia. The main protagonists are young people of different origins and backgrounds who have decided to form the mouthpiece for the widespread malaise of a country ravaged by an immutable government that has distanced itself from democracy and created an unprecedented social, economic and political crisis. Although people initially took to the streets in reaction to a regressive tax reform, they have ended up identifying with the collective outcry regardless of their profession, class or ethnicity, demanding an end to violence, corruption, inequality, and a poverty that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Faced with the magnitude of this mobilization of bodies and minds, it did not take the Colombian government long to demonstrate its authoritarian and repressive nature and, with particular viciousness, it attacked the young people of Cali, in Valle del Cauca department.
In Colombia, both Indigenous Peoples and traditional black, Raizal and Palenquero communities are recognised as ethnically, historically and culturally differentiated groups, with human and territorial rights of a collective nature. According to the 2018 Census, the Colombian Indigenous population numbers some 1,905,617 individuals who, in turn, belong to 115 different native peoples. Approximately 58.3% of this population lives in 717 collectively-owned resguardos (reserves).
The same census counted 4,671,160 people (9.34% of the national total) who self-identify as black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal or Palenquero. Around 7.3% of this population lives in 178 collectively-owned territories, organised around Community Councils.
Demonstration of Indigenous Peoples in Colombia. Photo: Archivo Semana.
The Peace Agreement signed in 2016 between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) raised hopes among the Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant populations and peasant communities that they might henceforward be able to live in peace on their territories. However, Iván Duque’s new government has not fulfilled its side of the agreement and, far from incorporating areas abandoned by the guerrilla into the institutional life of the country, the end result is that these areas have been left to their own devices. Paramilitary groups are now free to compete for control of the territory and to murder social leaders as a way of subjugating rural populations. In addition to anti-personnel mines and forced confinements, massacres became an added mechanism for exerting this pressure in 2020.