From July 22 to 28, the Nasa indigenous people of Northern Cauca,Colombia, led a national mobilization to propose a transformation in thecountry’s politics. Their proposals included national economicdevelopment instead of the U.S.-Free Trade Agreement, a negotiated,political solution to the armed conflict instead of President Uribe’swar policy, and a humanitarian agreement instead of impunity for theparamilitaries.

This interview with Manuel Rozental provides some of the character of the mobilization aswell as some reflections on the implications of Prime MinisterStephen Harper’s visit to Bogotá the week previous. Audio of both interviewsas well as a transcription of the interview with Manuel are available at

Maria: We have with us on the line Manuel [Rozental] and going to talkwith us about what is going on in Colombia and specifically in theNorth of the Valle of Cauca with the Nasa community marching [to]Bogota.

Maria: Hola buenos dias Manuel.

Manuel: Buenos dias.

Maria: [Would you like to introduce yourself] to the audience here[of] Far Too Canadian?

Manuel: Thank you, it’s nice to be here. My name is Manuel Rozentaland I’m part of what we call and what you know well the Tejido deComunicadores or the Communication Network of the Association ofIndigenous Councils of Northern Cauca. This is the communicationsgroup that is part of the indigenous community and part of theseefforts to tell people throughout Colombia and elsewhere of a caravanthat has been moving since the 23rd of July from SouthwesternColombia, from the city of Santander de Quilichao to the city ofBogota where they arrived yesterday.

Maria: Would you tell us what is the motive for this mobilization?

Manuel: The essential motives and objectives are two. One is thatColombia has become a country with owners and without people; acountry owned by a few and the people are absent; the projects of thepeople, their own desires, aims and feelings of the people are ignoredby those who own the country for the purpose of profit accumulationand exploitation of its people and resources. So the decision has beenmade to convene, to invite people, to weave a new country from thepain that everyone has been feeling [and] from the dignity that isrequired weave a country into a new one. A new country that has noowners. And once it happens, once it becomes what it should be, it’sactually a country that belongs to peoples and to life. So the caravanand the motive and the visit is to invite everybody from all sectors,from different paths and walks of life to join together in weavingthis new country from where it is now.

Maria: Are they planning on meeting with President Uribe to dialoguein particular about matters affecting the aboriginal community butalso to talk about the objectives that they have for this march?

Manuel: I guess the easiest answer to that question is no. But theexplanation is this. Indigenous peoples and most people in Colombiahave been insisting on dialogue with the government and witheverybody. And the current administration and the Colombian regime hasbeen insisting on war, bullets and no dialogue.

I guess the best image to give people who are listening here is todaythe front page of El Tiempo, the largest newspaper in Colombia had two[pieces of] news that contrast each other and which will give you theimage. On the one hand it is President Uribe, the Colombian President,making a statement where he is going to try and get the support of theColombian people to transform the death squads or the paramilitariesand have them recognized as political representatives; to give them apolitical status. This means that you get the worst assassins andterrorists who kill people and who continue to kill people for profitthroughout the country you transform them into recognized politicians.

On the other hand there is the image of the native people in thecaravan together with Professor Moncayo a man who has been walkingmore than a 1000 km from Southern Colombia to try to obtain ahumanitarian agreement between the government and the FARC so that hisson and others can be released and this man with the indigenouscommunity is saying we want peace, we want a new country with socialjustice for everybody. So while the government wants an agreement toprovide status to assassins and terrorists, people want terrorism togo and for peace and justice to happen.

[At] this time there will be no attempt to talk with an illegitimategovernment that has lost its credibility that is immersed incorruption and terrorism that is dealing in the drug trade and that iscommitting horrendous crimes. [At] this time people are meetingamongst themselves to build the new country that is different from theone that we have in a peaceful way.

Maria: Recently, about a week ago, [Canadian] Prime Minister Harperwas in Colombia talking with Uribe about a free trade agreement andthat he wanted to cooperate with the country. Can you give us aperspective on this visit by Harper to Colombia or perhaps even morebroadly in Latin America, what is the impact of this visit over there?

Manuel: Yes, I think that’s a fantastic question. I think it’simportant for people to reflect on this visit.

When we talk about Colombia and the mobilization taking place now andwhat is happening there, people seem to look at or listen to what isgoing on as if it’s taking place âeoeover thereâe or âeoesomewhere far awayâe that has nothing to do with Canada. In fact there’s some complacencyor a sense of charity in listening to this, when in fact what peoplein Colombia are calling for is something very pertinent to Canadians!What they’re saying is either people have their own projects for theirown dignity or people are being manipulated by a few who do have theirprojects for-profit and are using them and their country. Now thisapplies entirely to Canada and to Prime Minister Harper’s visit toColombia and to other countries in Latin America. But most emblematicof all is his visit of all to Colombia.

[With regard to] Colombia, even in the U.S. Congress and many people inhigher levels of political power in the U.S. which has been the greatestsupport for Uribe’s administration and that administration is theclosest ally that the U.S. has in Latin America, even the U.S. at themoment is refusing to provide any further support to the Uribe regimebecause of its links to death squads because of its human rightsabuses because free trade is tied to the assassination of unionleaders because the hands of this regime are covered with blood, it isthis regime that Prime Minister Harper chooses to visit in LatinAmerica. And he goes there and says openly that he will provide everysupport possible to this regime as he visits President Uribe. So whathe’s actually doing is endorsing one of the worst regimes if not theworst regime [on] the continent, the bloodiest regime on thiscontinent and one that is questioned even within the Bushadministration today and Harper goes there to support it.

The reason is simple: profit. Harper represents corporate interestswithin Canada and without Canada. I mean without Canada in bothsenses. Not paying attention to Canada and Canadians and going outsideof Canada. What Prime Minister Harper has done in his visit toColombia and is planning to do is establishing links with Colombia’selite through multinational corporations, Canadian and U.S., andestablish mechanisms to extract resources and wealth from the countryat the expense of Colombian people.

So this is the Harper throughout Latin America. It’s linked totransnational interests elsewhere and that is why Canada is also inAfghanistan and elsewhere. And so my question, if I could ask PrimeMinister Harper here, came from somebody else that I heard recently, aprofessor at the University of Toronto said if he wants to helpdemocracy in Colombia as he said why isn’t he supporting themobilization of people today and providing funds for people who wantto mobilize and transform a regime of oppression and exclusion into ademocracy for life and freedom? I guess the answer is easy, becausethe Harper agenda is the Bush agenda and it’s a transnationalcorporate agenda.

The sad thing is that Canadian people don’t seem to react to this andHarper wouldn’t even dare to behave the way that he’s behaving and goto this regime if there was any political reaction from the majorityof Canadian people, but there isn’t. And this ties into themobilization of native peoples and others in Colombia. The dignity ofthe people there, they have called for people to mobilize and toconstruct a country without owners for the people. Isn’t thatapplicable entirely to Canada [where people] have allowed some ownersto run their country and their foreign affairs for them at the expenseof our lives and our freedom.

Maria: Manuel I think that people are probably wondering in which waysthey can help and what they can do to not allow this government tointervene in [the affairs] of other countries. What are the practicalways in which people can help and by which people can do things.

Manuel: Well one of them is happening right now right here and that isallowing different voices and different words to be heard that is anextremely practical way. Let the message get through, find places andspaces where people can talk about the other Canada, the otherColombia, the reality of what’s taking place and engage in these kindsof activities. Like what you’re doing today through the radio.

But other practical things that I would suggest [take place] is toinvite people to find out about the mobilization in Colombia. Perhapsyou can provide the website later on, there’s a section in Englishwhat is happening and why and how it can be supported. It’ Now there are some ideas there of what might happen.

My suggestion in Canada is that it’s urgently needed for Canadians toput a mirror [up to] what is happening in their government. Gatheringsand meetings with people throughout the country are urgently needed tolook into Harper’s foreign policy and to study [it] and to makeconscious decisions about this.

I would suggest, there are good pieces of information around, forexample, Linda McQuaig’s recent book Holding the Bully’s Coat. I haveseen very few that show what has happened so clearly and with so muchevidence to Canadian policy with regard to US and corporate interests.For example reading something like that, that book, and sittingtogether to discuss it. Opening spaces for Canadians to look at theirown lives and their own society and their country and their place inthe world consciously which is something that hasn’t really happened.

But I will say, with all respect and humbly, one thing that should notbe done is to do charity is to think that âeoewe are going to help them.âe In fact, they are helping us already. The people that are mobilizingfor a new country to weave [together] people, to transform societies,to [develop] popular projects are far ahead I’m afraid and sad to sayof most Canadians who have been pushed into ignoring decisions,political decisions and the lives of their neighbours in their owncountry as well as the lives of others outside. So renewing Canada,transforming passive, selfish Canadians into conscious people who areinterested and committed to people in the planet; so it’s a longproject, but we’re late already in starting.

Maria: Thank you very much Manuel for all of the background about whatis happening. We will definitely keep updating on what is going on inthis regard.

Audio can also be downloaded from the NCRA Program Exchange or Radio4All.The final report from the Association of Indigenous Councils ofNorthern Cauca, Colombia with regard to their mobilization can befound here in English.