Indigenous Rights Defenders from Colombia Visit Canada

TORONTO – Amnesty International Canada concluded a successful visit of two indigenous rights defenders from Colombia, María Patricia Tobón Yagarí and Federico Guzmán Duque, with a standing-room-only event held this past Friday February 7th, in Toronto. Attendees were treated to live poetry and music from Mexican singer QuiQue Escamilla and Colombian composer Ruben Esguerra.

These two rights defenders were in Canada for a week long visit in support of Amnesty’s “Make it Visible” campaign that concerns the situation of indigenous people in Colombia, where more than a third of indigenous people are facing “extermination” as a result of incursions into their territories and the subsequent forced displacement. María Particia and Federico met with MPs, Senators, and representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and worked to have people understand the severity of the crisis.

The Two Row Times spoke with Cathy Price, a campaigner for Amnesty International, “The reality is that the emergency situation for indigenous peoples [in Colombia] is invisible.” The goal of Amnesty’s campaign is to increase the visibility of the situation facing Colombia’s indigenous people and Price felt the visit by the two rights defenders had gone a long way in accomplishing that. “We are making headway in making the crisis visible, in finding new allies who are prepared to take this situation forward.”

Presenters at the event spoke about the economic interests of transnational corporations that are driving the displacement of indigenous people. “In Colombia you have communities being bombed and then the people flee for their lives, and then in moves the mining company,” said Price. The Canadian government and mining companies based here are under higher scrutiny as Canada signed a free-trade agreement with Colombia in 2011 and since then the situation of indigenous peoples in that country have only worsened. “The Canadian government has some pretty powerful economic interests in Colombia… And in fact there are many concerns about the role Canada is playing in Colombia,” said Price.

Event organizers also drew parallels between the situation facing indigenous people in Colombia and indigenous people here in Canada. Price put it bluntly, “In Canada and in Colombia and in many other parts of the world, the rights of indigenous peoples to make those decisions are being assaulted. And why? Because on indigenous lands are natural resources that third parties want to exploit for money.”

She also made it clear that the solution both here and abroad is the same, “Indigenous peoples everywhere have the right to make decisions about what will happen in their territory.”

Price concluded by inviting people to get involved, “We reach out to First Nations in Canada to join with us, as we join with First Nations in defending their rights here in Canada, to build a movement to support our brothers and sister in Colombia… Together we are stronger, together we absolutely can make a difference.”

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By Lucho Granados Ceja

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