Washington D.C.—On October 29, Senator Feliciano Valencia, a Nasa Indigenous land rights advocate, suffered an assassination attempt in Tacueyó, Cauca department, in southwest Colombia. A leader of the Indigenous collective peaceful protest action known as the minga, Valencia ran for senator after his release from jail in 2017, after he was the target of a trumped-up legal charge meant to silence the Indigenous communities’ land rights advocacy efforts.
Senator Valencia was headed to a memorial for the 2019 massacre of Indigenous governor Cristina Bautista and four other community members when gunmen in a van shot at the cars transporting Valencia and his security detail. Luckily, Senator Valencia was not harmed. This attack occurred just days after some 9,000 Indigenous, Afro-Colombians, and Campesinos organized the minga, meant to call attention to community demands around peace and democracy. On October 14, the minga convened in Cali. When President Duque shunned an invitation to dialogue, the minga proceeded to walk to Bogotá, demanding that the government implement the 2016 peace accord, guarantee the lives of social leaders, and effectively protect rural communities.
The Duque government’s reluctance to advance key aspects of the peace accord, designed to dismantle illegal armed groups and protect social leaders and ethnic minorities’ rights, is generating a crisis for Indigenous and other communities experiencing record rates of violence. The Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN) reported in September that in 2020, in the Cauca department alone, 47 Indigenous persons have been murdered. The Colombian think tank INDEPAZ reported in October that the country has experienced 68 massacres so far this year, with nine taking place in Cauca.
“If this can happen to someone who is a senator and Duque responds with a timid pronouncement, then ordinary Indigenous persons can’t expect that the government will stop them from killing us,” an Indigenous leader noted to WOLA. “Militarization will not address the security crisis facing Indigenous persons, only putting in place the peace [accord] and the Ethnic Chapter will,” she added.
Rather than implementing the Ethnic Chapter and other provisions favorable to protecting the rights of Indigenous communities, the Duque administration is simulating peace implementation by prioritizing policies and programs that go against the spirit of the agreement. A recent report by the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) found that not only is the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter underwhelming, but that authorities have taken actions that go against its intent.
The Duque administration needs to send a strong message that this violence cannot take place without consequences. Authorities must carry out a swift, impartial investigation to identify and convict those who perpetrated and those who ordered the attack. The international community must intensify pressure on the Colombian government to promptly and fully implement the 2016 peace accord, including the Ethnic Chapter.