Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun