My Summer in COLOMBIA – Mi verano en colombia
This past summer I traveled to Colombia during a time in which the country was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for human rights leaders.
I returned to my home city in order to shadow Dario Tote Yace, the former governor of my family’s Indigenous reservation. As a political
science major interested in Indigenous law,
I had the hope of learning more about criminal law on the reservation. I naïvely believed that I would be able to do so while avoiding the worsening social situation in the country and especially my state, Cauca.
Over the course of my time in Colombia this proved not to be the case.
I accompanied Tote to some community meetings in which Indigenous leaders from all over Cauca would gather in halls filled with murals
celebrating the earth, water, and sun, juxtaposed by portraits of community members who were killed in recent years fighting to protect these
very resources. I learned that since the signing of the 2016 peace treaty with the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a disturbing trend has arisen: a human rights defender had been killed every three days. When I was in Colombia, it felt like way more – it felt like death and mourning surrounded us everywhere we went.
During my time in Cauca, I also observed a disconnect between people living in cities and people living in rural areas. For instance, Cauca is
currently considered the most dangerous state in all of Colombia. The vast majority of social leaders killed in Colombia are from Cauca, and it is
no coincidence that this region is predominantly inhabited by Black and Indigenous Colombians.
When I walked around the city, I would hear people complaining about Indigenous people’s protests: how they scared off tourists, were bad for
the economy, and just all around an annoyance.
I found these reactions to be utterly bizarre; people lacked empathy and were clearly in denial of their own Black and Indigenous roots. Internalized racism made them take the side of the oppressor and fail to empathize with the situation our community was facing.
Unfortunately, this kind of mindset does not result from one especially violent year, rather, it is historically ingrained in our people.
The government has always disregarded the welfare of Black and Indigenous Colombians. For example, in Cauca, the Black population is concentrated around the Pacific coast and there are no roads to these towns. This makes it extremely difficult for the people in this region, which is amongst the poorest regions in Colombia, to access vital resources.
Throughout the summer I realized that oppressed communities were facing two battlefronts: the state and society. Both of which
resisted change tremendously, but this did not stop Indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders 6 from raising their voices against inequality.
Theyrefused to be silenced.
After returning from summer break in August,all my friends asked about my time in Colombia. I could tell they were expecting crazy party and
drinking stories, but I had none of these to offer.
The things I experienced seemed too heavy to casually mention in conversation, so I stayed rather quiet. Nevertheless, when I reminisce about
all the inspiring leaders I met in Colombia, I become increasingly motivated to talk about global issues with the people around me – if not solely to raise awareness, then to also express the pride I feel in coming from an Indigenous community that has resisted and fought against oppression for centuries, despite having death threats at their doorstep every step of the way.