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Indigenous groups against the FTA

LatinAmerica Press, Peru

Indigenous groups against the FTA

Actualidad Étnica. Mar 24, 2005

On March 6, six indigenous communities in the Cauca valley in southwest Colombia voted in a referendum to reject the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.

According to the Association of Indigenous Councils of the Northern Cauca (ACIN), which includes the municipalities of Inza, Paez, Silvia, Caldoma, Jambalo and Toribio, "51,330 people voted out of a total of 68,448 registered voters. Of these, 98 percent said ‘No’ to the FTA and 691 voted ‘Yes.’"

The vote was supervised by national and international observers as well as representatives of churches, political parties, non-governmental organizations, social movements and legislators.

The indigenous groups have argued that the FTA - which is being negotiated by the Colombian government with Ecuador and Peru- would affect their rights to land, autonomy and culture. In addition, it would legalize the presence of economic megaprojects in their territories and intensify the presence of armed groups. This in turn, they say, would lead to an increase in violence and spark the mass exodus of various communities.

The indigenous people of the Cauca valley said they hoped the rest of the social forces in the country would use the intitiative as an example, making clear that most of Colombia’s citizens oppose the signing of the FTA.

"We hope that the rest of Colombians and social organizations take the cue and repeat this democratic exercise," the ACIN said.