In a defiant act to pressure the Colombian Congress in approving the National Development Plan and Health Reform of the government of President Gustavo Petro, some 400 members of the Indigenous Guard are occupying the steps of the Capitol. The Guard entered Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolivar just days after Petro gave a balcony speech – balconazo – in which he warned that should his reforms be restricted by lawmakers, there “could be revolution.” Petro’s warning, and subsequent occupation of the historic square by members of the Nasa, Inga, Embera communities has raised fears among Colombians that the Guard is in Bogotá to sabotage the democratic process.
Armed with their ancestral sticks to resist invaders on their territories, the Indigenous Guard entered Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar in military formation, the majority of its members, including women and children, hiding their faces behind neckerchiefs and sunglasses. The ominous presence of a well-organized force at the heart of the Colombian capital while the National Development Plan was being debated comes two months after a group related to the indigenous guard, the so-called Peasant Guard, violently attacked the facilities of the Emerald Energy oil company, in San Vicente del Caguan, Caquetá.
During the siege of the Chinese exploration company, the Guardia Campesina kidnapped 79 members of the National Police and, in the middle of the conflict, a member of the Anti-Riot Squad – ESMAD – was murdered with a machete.
A more recent incident with the Indigenous Guard took place in the southwestern department of Cauca in April, when 17 soldiers who were carrying out an operation against the FARC dissidents were detained by this organization.
According to Colombia’s 1991 Constitution, the Indigenous Guard can only exercise authority within their territorial jurisdictions. Should the 3.000-strong Guard leave their territories with elements to coerce other populations they are committing an illegal act. When videos surfaced on social media of the Guard parading in rank-and-file, opposition leaders were quick to condemn the presence of an armed force at the entrance of the Capitol. Videos show that many of the ancestral sticks have been adapted to hide poison darts. President Petro refuted claims on Twitter by several news outlets that the sticks are weapons, stating that they are “symbols of peace.”