Colombia: Locals Concerned Over Media's Slant on Cauca Conflict

Though the serious situation affecting the southwestern department of Cauca in the last few days is quite complex, the most notorious event was the removal of around 100 soldiers from a military base at the top of El Berlín mountain in Toribío on Tuesday, July 17. A close-up photo [es] of Army sergeant Rodrigo García, taken by photographer Luis Robayo of AFP, crying out of humiliation after been pushed by dozens of indigenous, prompted outrage on social media sites [es] and made the cover [es] of centre-left newspaper El Espectador on Wednesday, July 18.

Most Colombians learned about the incident through television [es], but the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) uploaded their own version [es]:

The Defence Ministry [es] and other indigenous groups, such as the OPIC [es] (Pluricultural Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Cauca), have accused the main local indigenous organisations, ACIN and CRIC (Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca), of being infiltrated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), despite the communities’ public rejection of FARC. The weekend before these accusations, some indigenous people and a crew from newscast Noticias Uno were caught in the crossfire [es] as indigenous youth tried to expel guerrilla fighters. Days before, sergeant García himself recorded with his mobile phone [es] and uploaded footage of the indigenous as they destroyed military trenches to his YouTube channel.

Furthermore, on Thursday, July 19, the Indigenous Guard caught 4 indigenous guerrilla members, which they sentenced to be lashed [es] and also exiled from their territory if they return to FARC [es]. A photo by Manuel Saldarriaga depicting armed indigenous people circulated on the web [es] and was published by economic daily La República on its front page [es] on Wednesday 18. Racist, anti-indigenous comments poured on social media, though there were also respectful tweets supporting the Army (all links lead to Spanish-language tweets).

On Atrabilioso, Adas Oz claims [es] that the Cauca department is controlled by FARC and criticizes the current government for its lack of action:

¿Por qué ponerle un ultimátum a las FFMM si son una fuerza legítima del Estado creada para brindar seguridad en todos los rincones del país y para defender la soberanía y el orden? ¿Por qué no ponerle más bien un único ultimátum a las FARC que son los que siembran el terror en la zona y en toda Colombia? ¿Por qué la supuesta guardia indígena no se alía con la verdadera fuerza legítima para combatir el flagelo del narcoterrorismo que azota al departamento del Cauca? La respuesta es muy sencilla: porque el CRIC no es más que otro frente de las FARC y porque no tienen ningún interés en dejar a un lado su actividad cocalera.

Why impose an ultimatum to the Military Forces if they're a legitimate State force created to give security all over the country and defend sovereignty and order? Why don't they rather issue an only ultimatum to FARC, which are the ones seeding terror in the area and all of Colombia? Why doesn't the alleged indigenous guard join the true legitimate force to fight the narcoterrorism slashing Cauca? The answer is very simple: because the CRIC is no more than another FARC front and because they have no interest in leaving aside their coca activity.

The CRIC has complained [es] about “the subjectivity and bias” showed by mainstream media and “the expressions of racism and resentment against the Cauca indigenous peoples.”

Carlos Cortés Castillo wrote two posts about the media coverage of this situation in his blog Subversión de los hechos. In the first post he mocks [es] the speeches delivered by hosts of the morning radio programmes on Caracol Radio (Darío Arizmendi and Gustavo Gómez Córdoba) and W Radio (Julio Sánchez Cristo):

El discurso nos dará bríos para enfrentar el futuro, afianzáremos los lazos familiares, llamaremos a esa tía que hace diez años olvidamos. Pondremos la Constitución en la mesa de la sala. Nada de esto lo verá el periodista, que recibirá abrazos de todos sus colegas, Había que decirlo, Well done. Poderosas tus palabras.

The speech will give us determination to face the future, we'll reinforce our family ties, we'll call that aunt we forgot 10 years ago. We'll put the Constitution on the living room table. Nothing of this will be seen by the journalist, who will be hugged by all his colleagues, “it had to be said, Well done. Your words are powerful.”

In the second one, Cortés writes tongue-in-cheek [es] about a harsh interview [es] by Luis Carlos Vélez, a former CNN journalist and now director of Noticias Caracol newscast, with two indigenous leaders: Luis Évelis Andrade, head of CRIC, and Marcos Avirama, an indigenous senator (he also posted the interview with some of his own notes [es] with what Vélez would ‘actually’ do and say):

[Vélez] aprendió el oficio en dos escuelas similares, idénticas para los observadores más agudos: la Doctrina de la Guerra Preventiva, de Estados Unidos, donde acumuló horas de vuelo, y el Análisis Futbolístico Estrambótico, que lleva en la sangre.

[Vélez] learnt his job at two similar schools, identical for the most acute observers: the United States’ Preventive War Doctrine, where he accumulated flight hours, and the Outlandish Football Analysis, which he carries within his blood [referring to Vélez's father, sports commentator Carlos Antonio Vélez].

In a comment in this post, Hermes Trimegistro says [es]:

creo que los indígenas se equivocan y que han extralimitado el margen de autonomía que les da la constitución. Sin embargo ese es un debate aún abierto y que merece mayor sosiego y crítica objetiva. Los medios no han hecho más que suscribir ciegamente la posición gobiernista, con la despreciable mirada racista y dogmática propia de las dictaduras.

I think the indigenous are wrong and have overstepped the autonomy given by the constitution. Nevertheless that's still an open debate which deserves more calm and objective analysis. The media hasn't done anything else than blindly support the government's position, with the despicable racist, dogmatic view typical of dictatorships.

Álvaro Duque carries out an exercise [es] with this interview: using a strategy he claims is used by Japanese companies, he switches the questions around, as if the indigenous leaders where interviewing Vélez.

Finally, artist Lucas Ospina assesses [es] both the interview by Vélez and another one (in the same confrontational tone) by veteran newscaster Yamid Amat with Giovani Yule, a spokesperson of CRIC.

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