ALONG THE WAY

An assembly of 115 traditional indigenous leaders, presided over by local Guambiana council member Ayda Quilcué, was held in Santander de Quilichao in Cauca province, 60 km from Cali, Colombia, to organize food and water supplies for the roughly 30,000 men and women now taking part in the Minga.

The protesters took the assembly’s advice to rest up and regain their strength, under improvised tents in the midday heat, and amidst smoke from cooking fires and the aroma of food.

They were also waiting for the arrival of another 6,000 to 7,000 members of the Awá, Pasto, Pijao, Embera-Katío, Embera-Dovida, Embera-Chamí, Zenú, Kankuamo, Wayúu, U’wa, Barí, Mokaza, Quillacinga, Kamentzá, Tule, Muisca, Sikuani, Coreguaje, Sáliba and Inga native ethnic groups from 20 of Colombia’s 32 departments (provinces).

Although entire family groups are taking part — grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins — children, who did participate in a similar Minga march to Cali four years ago, are noticeably absent this time around.

Four leaders of the cane harvesters’ strike have been arrested, as well as two well-known advisers of leftwing Senator Alexander López, who is chairman of the Senate human rights commission.

A column of indigenous women taking part in the Minga was joined before reaching Villa Rica by two women’s peace groups, the Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres (Women’s Peace Route) and the Organización Femenina Popular (Popular Women’s Organisation, OFP).

The Minga participants are listening to local residents at every village and town along the way, and explaining what they are demanding of the Uribe administration, such as respect for the “territorial integrity and collective and human rights of indigenous people,” which they say are violated because their natural resource-rich lands are coveted by transnational corporations, landowners and other economic interests, and are fought over by the armed groups in the country’s decades-long civil war.

They are also calling for the repeal of constitutional reforms and laws that they say infringe on their rights, like the rural statute, the mining code, water laws and the forestry law.

The Minga has now added to its demands a public clearing of their name by the president, who has called them “terrorists” and has urged that their leaders be arrested and brought to trial.

Uribe’s acknowledgement that the police had opened fire on the demonstrators was prompted by the video broadcast around the world. But why did he agree to the protesters’ demand for talks?

Public employees and other sectors took part in a 24-hour strike called by the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) central workers union. And truckers, whose work stoppage in August caused severe economic problems, joined the Minga Wednesday and announced that they would also take part in Thursday’s strike.

Uribe has also been receiving thousands of emails calling on him to engage in “Dialogue, Not Violence!” — an Internet campaign by Avaaz.org, an international global online advocacy network.

He also received strongly-worded letters Wednesday from Argentine Nobel Peace Prize-winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and 32 members of the European Parliament (MEPs), at a time when the Colombian government is hoping for a free trade agreement with the European Union.

“We urge the Colombian government to order the police and army to immediately stop the repression against the indigenous peoples’ and workers’ movement,” said the MEPs, who also condemned “the permanent use of the pretext of fighting against terrorism to repress the social movement in Colombia.”