Indigenous activist

Aida Quilcué is an indigenous candidate for Colombia's senate. She is one of the founders of the Minga ('Community Action'), an indigenous movement that has organised mass protests against multinationals and free trade. Aida's husband was murdered last year, her daughter narrowly escaped a gun attack and Aida continues to suffer threats of violence. Interview by Grace Livingstone

February 8, 2010
4 min read

Why did you become an activist?

I was born on a reservation. My family is from the Tierra Adentro reservation in Cauca, southern Colombia. I have been involved in community organising for 15 years. I became an activist because I was born indigenous; my parents were community leaders, so I suppose it’s in my genes. For me, the most important thing is to work with the community – work together, walk together – and this has led me to defend our indigenous territories.

Can you describe the resguardos?

The reservations are an indigenous territory and hold a collective land title. They have their own election authorities, run their own schools, have their own teachers, health workers, a whole system run by the community. Each family lives on their own plot of land, where they have their little house; they cultivate maize, onions and yucca and other food crops. These are mainly subsistence crops and very little is sold. It’s an autonomy we depend on. We fear that as soon as the multinationals arrive on our territory that will be the end of our collective system.

Why do the multinationals pose a risk?

Many indigenous lands are at risk from multinationals. For example, Anglo Gold Ashanti has made numerous applications for mining concessions. The multinationals want minerals, gold and precious stones, so the risk is that when they start mining they will destroy nature and our sacred sites.

There are also multinationals that want to explore for oil. There are those involved in privatising water, not just in Colombia but across the world. And there are companies that want to patent our ancestral knowledge of plants, seeds or even our own genes.

What is the Minga?

The Minga was formed to mobilise civil protest and demand respect against the multinational invasion. It has five demands:

1) Respect for human rights. The Colombian government’s policy of ‘democratic security’ is not a strategy for combating terrorism and drugs-trafficking but to militarise the country and give free passage to the multinationals.

2) We want the government to adopt the UN declaration of indigenous peoples’ rights.

3) We oppose changing our laws to favour multinationals, such as through free trade treaties. The free trade agreement [with the US, which the US congress has so far refused to sign, citing human rights concerns] will allow companies to exploit the biodiversity that exists in Colombia, most of which is in indigenous territories.

4) We want the government to honour the accords on education, health and other public policies signed with indigenous peoples and other social movements 20 years ago.

5) We call on all the different groups in Colombia to unite to defend our rights.

The government has said that the Minga is run by the FARC [left-wing guerrillas], but we have shown that we are not terrorists. We are indigenous peoples engaged in civil resistance and we are demanding respect. The indigenous community has suffered attacks from both FARC guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries.

Can you tell me about your husband, Edwin, who was murdered last year?

They killed him because they wanted to attack the leaders of the Minga – not just me, all the leaders. An order was given to a squadron of 37 soldiers operating in Cauca. They knew that I travelled in a red van, but that day, 16 December 2008, my husband was in the van alone; he was on his way to pick me up. The Colombian army fired 106 bullets at the van.

Despite being injured, my husband managed to drive eight kilometres, which saved him from becoming a ‘false positive’ – which is when the army dress their victims in guerrilla uniforms or leave weapons and say the person they have assassinated was a terrorist. When the soldiers were detained, they were found to have three additional guns, uniforms and all the things they use for ‘false positives’.

Your 12-year-old daughter was also attacked, wasn’t she?

After the murder of Edwin, an intense campaign of persecution against me began. My daughter was attacked in our own house on 11 May 2009. A car with four armed men drove by. One of the men shot at her. Luckily she was not hit.

How can you live with this level of danger?

The Colombian government offered me protection but I didn’t accept it because I suspect that the security service and police bodyguards appointed would be the same people responsible for the assassination of my husband. The indigenous authorities give me protection and I carry out a type of self-protection. The active support of the indigenous communities makes it possible for us leaders to remain in the region.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry