“The time came to liberate the land,” said one activist. “The mining, petroleum and monocrops…are businesses that benefit a few people. And it must be liberated because the Earth has one purpose, which is to generate life and not death.”
The Nasa are one of 102 Indigenous peoples of Colombia who were pushed up into the mountains by European conquest in the 16th century, and later by massive sugarcane plantations. Since 2015, they have been carrying out direct actions in which they cut down cane fields, plant organic crops in their place, and allow the native vegetation to cover additional areas within the same reclaimed lands. They call this action “the liberation of Mother Earth,” an initiative that has cost them at least eight lives and approximately 600 evictions by Colombian state security forces trained by the U.S. Southern Command, according to people interviewed.
“The goal of this action is to let the land return to nature, because that’s how diversity will return, the birds will return, the microorganisms and the plants that were considered [the cane planters’] enemies. The trees will return,” José explained.
“They arrive as if they were going to war, with armed state forces,” a member of the Liberation of Mother Earth Movement (Movimiento de Liberación de la Madre Tierra), who asked to remain anonymous for their safety, told Truthout. “They’ve killed eight of our comrades. They have repressed us heavily.”
One part of the Nasa people’s ancestral territory is located in the north of Cauca, a department (the Colombian equivalent of a state) in southern Colombia. This region is covered by 250,000 hectares (approximately 617,000 acres) of sugarcane, destined primarily for ethanol production. Bioethanol production in Colombia has increased exponentially from 100,000 liters per day in 2006 to more than 200,000 liters per day in 2017. This giant operation is fed by more than 25,000 water sources that come from the mountains and 2,000 wells that were drilled in the surrounding areas. It consumes 25 million liters (6.6 million gallons) of water per second. This ecological travesty has pushed the Nasa to recover their ancestral lands.
In addition to reclaiming their ancestral lands, they are also regaining their food sovereignty. They have carried out another direct action with the planted and harvested crops: freely giving out food in the poorest neighborhoods of the cities of Cali, Medellín, Manizales and Bogotá. They call this initiative the “Food March,” whose goal, they say, is “a meeting of the dispossessed.” Since the march, dozens of youth collectives and working-class neighborhoods have decided to break up the cement ground and start growing food.
“What we’re living through is a crisis of civilization,” said Nadia Humaña, from the Dialogue Commission of Southern Bolívar, Central and Southern Cesar (Comisión de Interlocución del Sur de Bolívar, Centro y Sur del Cesar). “It’s not just economic or just social or just environmental. Everything is connected. Our challenge,” said Humaña, “is to think about these problems in an integrated way, confront them, and come up with strategies that take aim at the central points of this system. It’s also necessary to rethink the role of the state and to consider if it’s possible to reverse this destruction.”
The Nasa and the Liberators of Mother Earth believe that with these development policies, Indigenous people will continue to remain repressed. “The new government says that they’re not going to buy even one more meter of land for Indigenous peoples and they will neither create nor recognize more collective territories for Indigenous peoples,” said José. “On the contrary, the government says that these lands have to join in the development of capitalism. We don’t want to join; we want to liberate the land and live simply.”
Diana, a young Indigenous woman explained, “We’re on maximum emergency alert because they’re killing us, and it’s so painful that this is happening in the north of Cauca,” she told Truthout. “Their development policies — and the planting of illicit crops that the government supports — are destroying our way of life...we’re taking the chains off of the land, but also from our hearts and minds. We’re building autonomy and rebuilding life. We’re harvesting dignity.””