The initial communique from the Northern Cauca indigenous councils on the kidnapping of Arquimedes Vitonas, the mayor of Toribio and activist in the indigenous movement, has been translated. I include it below. I will try to put something together soon on the kidnapping for the ZNet site this weekend. Below the communque are emails and phone numbers that you can use to pressure the government — and it is almost certainly the government that is responsible.
ASSOCIATION OF INDIGENOUS AUTHORITIES OF NORTHERN CAUCA, PROJECT NASA AND MUNICIPAL MAYOR’S OFFICE OF TORIBÍO CAUCA, COLOMBIA, COMMUNICATE TO PUBLIC OPINION:
The whereabouts of the indigenous authorities of the Municipality Toribío is currently unknown. On Saturday, August 22nd, 2004, they left from the Toribío Reserve located in the Municipality of Toribío Cauca, for the Department of Caquetá in the Municipality San Vicente del Caguan (former neutral zone of the FARC used for negotiations with the government, and now controlled by the Armed Forces) located in the Alta Mira Reserve, Veredes Laureles. The commission is composed of: Plinio Trochez, current governor of the Indigenous Authorities of the Toribío Reserve, Arquímedes Vitonas Noscue, current Mayor of the Municipality Toribío, Gilberto Muñoz Coronado, Coordinator of CECIDIC, former Mayor of Toribío, Rúben Darío Escue, Acting Governor of the Indigenous Authorities of San Francisco, and Erminson Velasco, driver of the vehicle in which they were traveling together. Since their departure, no news has been received in Toribío from the Commission.
On August 25th, 2004, the Municipal Representative if Toribío received a phone call in the afternoon from the Secretary of the Government Department of Cauca saying that it had been brought to his attention that the Mayor and his accompanying commission had been kidnapped. He gave no mention of who the possible perpetrators of this act could have been and spoke of an armed group of unknown identity. This information was received by the Government Secretary on the afternoon of August 24th; which for unknown reasons was only released today August 25th, 2004, at 4 pm.
The Commission was on its way to fulfill prior agreements that were made on behalf of the traditional authorities of both Reserves, who had invited to the Municipal Mayor, as well as the former Mayor, given his experience in development planning and advising for life (development) plans, an activity beneficial to the residents of the Alta Mira Reserve in the Department of Caquetá. This activity has been planned since the majority of the communal authorities of Alta Mira were former residents of the Toribío Reserve, but had been forced to leave due to land scarcity. Of the members of the Toribío Mayor’s Office, the last piece of news was received on Sund! ay, August 22nd, 2004 when Gilberto Muñoz Coronado made a phone call from his cell phone to his wife, at which time they were still located in Neiva City.
We, the indigenous communities of Cauca have publicly announced the decision to carry out a mobilization in mid-September to protest the aggressions committed against our people by armed groups. Moroever, the mobilization is aimed at rejecting the package of constitutional reforms that the central government is promoting and that affects the autonomy, security and rights of indigenous communities through the negotiations for Free Trade with the United States. It is within this context that these confusing and disturbing events have taken place.
In Toribio the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) was born, recognized internationally for advancing an exemplary process for the entire continent, of autonomy and land recuperation. The Paez (also knows as Nasa) people have struggled in resistance since the colonial period and have been recognized by prestigious entities with the Prize for the best Development Plan, the First Prize for the Ecuatorial Initiative 2004, among others. Mayor Vitonas is a prestigious figure in his community having been recognized at the national and international levels. He has been honoured by UNESCO as a Master of Wisdom and was President of the Departmental Assembly of Cauca.
The responsibility for the uncertainty in which we find ourselves consumed, lies with the government and Armed Forces, who generated the information about the said kidnapping. Moreover, it is unacceptable the attitude of the departmental government who gave the information in a backward and unofficial manner and since then has denied knowledge of the events. We demand that the national government and the Armed Forces clarify these facts immediately, to sustain their sources with credible evidence and give us clear information about the whereabouts of the commission.
We request that the national and international communities intercede with the Colombian government to demand that the information be immediately clarified, that an official report is made, that the security and well-being of the commission is guaranteed, and that the steps taken thus far by the Armed Forces and departmental government be clearly explained.
The association of Indigenous Authorities from Northern Cauca, NASA Project and the Mayor’s Office of Toribio Cauca, Colombia.
Toribio – Cauca, August 25, 2004
(0928) 49 8281 Mayor’s Office of Toribio.
(0928) 49 83 26 Nasa Project
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