Henry Caballero
Peace Counselor for the Department of Cauca
(Cabinet position under Governor Floro Tunubala)

Peace Counselor Henry Caballero

Governor Floro Tunubala and social organizations have put together an alternate movement, and for the first time have inserted social organizations into government.

Total of 32 departments in country, with Cauca being one. Colombia is structured politically on three levels: 1. national, 2. departmental (each having a governor), and 3. municipal -- there are 41 municipalities in the Department of Cauca, which includes the Pacific coast, the Andes, and the Amazon.

There is a lack of transportation between many of these municipalities.They are multi-ethnic: 30% Black, 20% indigenous, and 50% mestizo. Among the indigenous, there are many groups, each with different languages, cultures, worldviews.

In the whole era of the Republic (i.e., since 1819), Cauca has been controlled and managed by whites (1% of population), who consider themselves direct descendants of the Conquistadors. This has resulted in Cauca's extensive poverty -- it is one of the poorest departments. The majority of Caucans live below the critical poverty level; there is no social structure to address needs; lands have been owned by the small minority who also control the politics and economy. Lately there has been some re-taking of lands. Despite the lack of an economic base, the people of Cauca have developed economic and social modes of survival and organizing. Indigenous communities throughout 19th and 20th centuries have moved to mountaintops and have developed a precarious subsistence living. But they also have begun to reclaim lower lands. Indigenous groups have developed forms of government, inc. the Indigenous Regional Council and the Association of Indigenous Authorities, which can manage lands and are respected by the national government.

Makes a distinction between the campesinos (who are the majority and mestizos) and the indigenous. Colombian population: Caballero stated that campesinos make up 60% (but in debriefing Ryan said he was sure C. meant mestizos = 60 %); indigenous = 3%. [We were told in other meetings that Afro-Colombians make up 25% of the population, so these total 88%. If someone can clarify who the remaining 12% are, that would be helpful !]

Campesinos have also participated in struggles in Cauca, although not so much about re-taking land as land reform. The National Association of Campesino Users (ANUC-UR) is one example. There are many campesino groups in different areas. Campesino movements have achieved results via mobilizations, inc. taking over the Pan-Am Hwy (15,000-20,000 people). The overall level of organizing is very high relative to the rest of the country. Social orgs have been persecuted and some leaders killed. Due to general impunity, no one has been held accountable. The rural sector has been hit hard (inc. 80% of the Cauca population); this has led to forced displacement and fear at the hands of all armed actors. Rural economy hard hit by fumigations which have been indiscriminate and hitting food crops. There has been no resolution for this excaerbated situation, which has led to further cultivation of coca.

Current departmental government has risen out of social organizations and has suggested an alternate Plan Colombia and an alternate economy. The national governmentt has been in dialogue with us re. our alternate plan, but the national government has not put this into a good proposal -- only continues to fumigate. The US Embassy has not been receptive either. In July 2001, US Amb. Anne Patterson met with Cauca group at the Canadian Embassy. Patterson said that social investment was dependent on fumigation -- but there has been no investment in Cauca, only fumigation. The people of Cauca have concluded that departmental policy cannot prevail at the national level, and so there is talk of another mobilization. We've continued with our alternate plan, but realize that the social investment piece is handled by offices that are more interested in promoting agribusiness and export crops which do not sustain the population. We have been speaking to the European Union about getting support for our alternate plan -- the growing of organic crops and sustainable agriculture -- which is undermined by fumigation. These are some of the major difficulties we face in Cauca, and they are similar to problems in other southern departments.

We are developing a proposal for a country made up of regions. Now the governmentt is overly centralized and departments do not have sufficient control over their economies. It is not coincidental that these departments are the ones most threatened by fumigation and the war as facilitated by Plan Colombia. Southern governors are proposing the necessity of finding a negotiated end to the conflict. We are living through very difficult times since the end of the Peace Process, and since the election of Uribe. This is further exacerbated by applying Plan Colombia funds to the expended war against terrorism.

The war has intensified in these regions, and now this is worsened by the arrival of the AUC. Local authorities are afraid to speak out against the AUC -- some have already gone into exile. Also, since the end of the Peace Process, the FARC has threatened all the mayors and their families, the human rights ombudsman, the atty's general, and all govt officials. So most of the mayors' offices in Cauca are closed with signs saying "Closed by Order of the FARC." The mayors operate either from Popayan or clandestinely.

The departmental government believes that if this pressure continues, then only those municipalities along the Pan-Am Hwy will continue to function, and remaining communities will move closer to cities. This would coincide with the wishes of the national government, which has stated it no longer wants to invest in smaller municipalities. The IMF has made recommendations to disperse smaller municipalities as well. This would put our democratic process back about 100 years. And so the departmental government has proposed that the municipalities should form regional councils independent of functioning municipal governments, so that local democracy can continue to deepen.

The civic mobilizations are proposing broader democracy and a new economic model, and opposing the war. But they are being characterized as partisan in the armed conflict. Certainly in Cauca and southern Colombia our opposition to the war is going to come into conflict with the general support for the war. We are not for or against any armed actor -- state-sanctioned or irregular. We continue to be optimistic that we can lead a national movement against the war; we have strong organization and can speak in contrast to the general opinion which supports the war.

The Government Building in Cauca had been added onto by building a new building partially inside the courtyard of the old. Our groups reflection in the new while on a balcony of the old. (click here or image above for a big view)

In summary:
1. We are able to speak boldly to all the armed actors.
2. We have strong initiatives.
3. We've seen that US public opinion can influence policy and we value your presence here and your accompaniment.

Q. re. the extent of threats:
HC: All mayors throughout the country are threatened, inc. Popayan's mayor. Gov. Tunubala has not been specifically threatened, but there has been a blanket threat against all municipal and dept. officials.

Q. re. solidarity needs.
HC: Would like to get support for individual projects and to get political support. We need more permanent communication.

Q. re. oil exploration.
HC: So far there seems to be petrol interest in the boot of Cauca only, and there are other resources along the Pacific Coast. Implementation of the FTAA requires countering the land rights of the indigenous peoples and the Afro-Colombians.

Q. Are there other indigenous officials in addition to Governor Tunubala?
HC: We are surprised to have an indigenous governor ourselves, as we have the most entrenched aristocracy in Cauca. We don't ourselves understand how it has come to pass. There have been other indigenous governors -- who have sold out. We live under structural adjustment programs (SAP's) that have led to a lack of social investment. All of department's money goes into paying previous workers' pensions and bank debts. In 1990, Cauca had 1200 employees. In 2002, there are 120 employees -- the majority of these have administrative careers by appointment. We have been unable to put our people in. But the Governor has been able to name his own team of secretaries, of which there are seven. In Tunubala's cabinet, the people come from the social organizations, but only the governor and his personal sec'y are indigenous.

Q. What keeps HC going?
HC: People under 50 years old have always lived in war -- following the assassination of Gaitan in 1948. But along with the war, we have always had much to grow from, including:
1. the process of organizing;
2. different communities have their different cultures;
3. Planes de Vida (Plans for Life); and
4. we have a vision for building the country.

It's true that since January people have come to feel more threatened by the FARC, as they now threaten public officials. And there have been mobilizations to refuse to allow officials to resign. Perhaps the people feel more offended than fearful;, because their local democracy has been attacked.

The national government has put forward guns and training, armored cars, some body guards, and vests. But a bulletproof vest in an area controlled by the FARC will not do it. The representative from the US Embassy met with mayors to try to speed up delivery of the vests. Departmental govt has offered some office space.

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