The Indigenous and Popular Minga Takes Over Colombia’s Capital

ImageIt’s been a busy series of days in Bogotá as the MINGA Popular continues to expand and flourish. From the streets in the center of the city, to the Plaza del Ché at the National University where an international forum was held on Saturday, from the media centers of the indigenous movement to the dozens of meetings taking place around the city where "Mingueros" are discussing the five point agenda with all the sectors that are interested to listen, the enthusiasm and energy of the popular movement can be felt.

After Friday’s massive march through Bogotá that started at the campus of the National University, one that brought together over 20,000 people into the Plaza Bolivar for a spirited rally under a consistent rain, Saturday was a day focused more on concrete work that needs to be carried out to continue the organizing of the people. The highest profile meeting was held at la SENA, where government ministers and the indigenous leadership met for several hours in a tense session to discuss the government’s failure to fulfill its obligations to the communities under previous accords, and the ongoing violence being carried out by the state security forces against indigenous people.

ImageSimultaneous to that high-level encounter, representatives of the many different regional organizations participating in the MINGA got together in commissions, and scattered around throughout the city, meeting with student groups, local community councils, rank and file workers, and many other sectors to promote the message of the Minga. These are what the community refers to as "barridos," or "sweeps," designed to open up the dialogue with the people even further, and begin an ongoing discussion based on the conclusion of Friday’s historic rally.

At the rally, Feliciano Valencia, a member of the council of chiefs of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, reminded the crowd that "the Minga is a long-term process that does not conclude with a rally where we hear some strong speeches and then go home."

He emphasized the need to continue to build on the momentum started on October 11th, in La Maria, Piendamó, in Cauca, where the Minga began over five weeks ago. In essence, Valencia and other speakers were talking about the construction of a broad-based popular movement in opposition to the neoliberal, militarist model that is represented faithfully by the current regime. They are very well aware that the work will not be easy, given the many different sectors they are calling together and the diverging interests that they could come to represent. However, what is clear from the events of the last several weeks, and in particular the unity expressed this weekend here in the nation’s capital, is that there is a commitment to joint mobilization, as well as to continue working together for the long-term.

ImageOne of the highlights of Friday’s rally was the public pact made between the leadership of the Central Workers Union, CUT and the indigenous movement to work together from now on in coalition to confront the government of President Alvaro Uribe. Tarsicio Mora Godoy, the President of CUT, made a rousing speech and shook the hand of Feliciano Valencia, committing the resources and the sweat equity of the rank and file to join forces in the Minga in its struggle for social transformation.

"The CUT will march together with you so that all the violent actions against the civilian population cease and so that the state guarantees the respect for the human rights of the people and that impunity is broken. So that they guarantee all the victims of this violence the right to the truth, justice, reparation and that it will not happen again," said Godoy.

He emphasized,"We cannot continue fighting our struggles alone."

This point was reiterated by Ezequiel Vitonás, a Nasa leader from Toribio, and chief council of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, who summarized the work agenda towards the end of the rally.

Image"The minga does not end here, the minga continues with its call, waking up the conscience of the people and uniting forces, sharing pains, walking the word without looking at borders nor limits. Because the hope for life transcends these physical spaces, and each and every one of us is responsible for taking care of and watching grow this little child that today is being born," he said.

There have been a number of other big stories making headlines in Colombia the last several days, pushing the coverage of the Minga to a second, third and even fourth tier in terms of the commercial news agenda. The ongoing crisis caused by the financial schemes known as "Pyramids" continues to generate the most attention, followed since Friday morning by the natural disaster unfolding as a result of the eruption of the Nevado del Huila volcano. Latest reports say that at least ten people were killed and another 150 remain trapped as of Sunday morning as a result of the avalanche and mudslide caused by the melting of the snow after the eruption. The departments affected by the eruption include Huila, Tolima and Cauca, in particular the indigenous territory of Tierradentro.

Yet despite the limited commercial media coverage of the important events related to the protests and meetings this weekend, it is quite apparent that the Minga has developed a life of its own, and is not dependent anymore on getting the attention of these corporate information channels. The representation of the Minga on the major news channels has been problematic from the start. The evidence is clear: The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, has been documenting every news piece that has come out on just about every media outlet since October 11th, so anybody interested can check for themselves. The public, unfortunately, remains extremely uninformed about the historic developments that are unfolding before them.

ImageToday, there are many alternatives! The massive presence of independent media at all these events – video cameras documenting the marches and rallies, photographers clicking away at the dramatic militance of the protesters, community radio producers gathering natural sound, speeches, and interviews for their respective outlets – are presenting a comprehensive alternative narrative – the people’s narrative – that undoubtedly is having an impact on how the Minga is playing out with public opinion. It has resulted in tremendous solidarity from abroad, and unprecedented collaboration and participation from ordinary people here in Colombia since the Minga began.

Despite the false accusations of the government, despite the racist underpinnings of the media coverage, and the almost deliberate mis-information that has accompanied it, the people have come out in small towns and large cities to welcome the mingueros, and join with them in solidarity. No doubt there is still profound opposition to the Minga from a certain, very powerful and intolerant sector of Colombian society. I am not naive to think that the indigenous movement has reached everybody with equal amounts of empathy and solidarity. If you read the comments section on the websites of El Tiempo and El Espectador, for example, the vitriolic hate speech comes across loud and clear. But undoubtedly there is widespread support from a broad cross section of the Colombian population who have simply had enough of the Uribe propaganda machine.

For me, one of the most impressive images of Friday’s march was seeing dozens of men and women in business suits, the heart of Colombia’s business class on their lunch breaks, lining the famous Avenida Septima in downtown Bogotá, applauding enthusiastically and raising their fists in the air as the thousands of protesters marched by. One elegant man shouted out "No more lies of this tyrannical President! Que viva la Minga!" It was wonderful.

The next steps are still being hammered out by the leadership and the base. One clear target date is October 12, 2009, where the movement will hold a national people’s congress to move the Minga forward. But there is a lot to do in the coming days and weeks.

On Sunday, more events are planned throughout the city. There might even be another debate with the President, although this has yet to be hammered out.

To hear some of the sounds of Friday’s rally, check out the ACIN’s website and scroll down a bit to the audio links. There you will hear the voices of Valencia, Vitonás and Mora, as well as the many other speakers at the Plaza Simón Bolivar.

Mario A. Murillo is associate professor of Communication at Hofstra University in New York, and the author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization. He is currently living in Colombia, finishing a book about the indigenous movement and its uses of community media.