Colombia Indigenous leader rejects appointment to keep control of his tribe

The conservationist president of Colombia’s largest indigenous group is locked in a battle with the chief government official in charge of protecting his community after stepping down from a post he says he could no longer live up to.

In July 2017, the head of the Cácerres family took up the post as director of the National Indigenous Organization (ONN), based in Canoas. Within days he had urged then president Juan Manuel Santos to listen to indigenous concerns and negotiate a peace deal. On 9 June he declared his resignation, saying he could no longer keep working with a government that does not value his people.

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“The government is occupying indigenous territories through illegal extractive operations, internal violence and false demobilisation,” he said. “With this government it is impossible to continue as director of ONN because it does not care about indigenous people.”

Now the government is trying to replace him with its own candidate, José Luis Escobar Chiarito, a former minister for women’s rights and a member of the Patriotic Union party – founded in 1985 to fight neoliberal reforms backed by President Álvaro Uribe. That party ended up fighting the government after it was set up to provide electoral cover for Uribe, who was defeated in the 2002 presidential election. The current government is under international pressure to protect indigenous people against abusive paramilitary groups and national armed forces.

On Friday, the Colombian indigenous federation COMARA took up the matter in parliament, saying Escobar Chiarito is beholden to the former president and would not be in a position to defend their interests. It said members of Congress who opposed the selection were guilty of “damage to human rights and dignity”.

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