Indigenous occupation of Bogotá’s National Park ends

Parque Nacional / Secretaria de Gobierno

After almost eight months in which some 1,200 indigenous peoples from 15 different ethnic groups across Colombia occupied the National Park in central Bogotá, the district administration reached a deal with indigenous representatives to abandon the historic landmark, and city’s largest public park. The occupation, that began on September 29, 2021, was part of a protest by indigenous groups over the killings of social leaders and human rights defenders.

The tent city that housed the families of the Embera, Katío, Kansa, Nasa, and Wayúu peoples, among others, generated a sanitation and security problem for the residents of the adjacent La Merced and Macarena neighborhoods, as well as accidents involving children and motorists given the camp’s proximity to one of the city’s main road – Carrera Séptima.

An accident involving an Embera woman on April 6, who was hit by a taxi and required hospitalization, sparked the anger of the indigenous guard in charge of  protecting the compound, and resulted in a violent confrontation between the  guard and district authorities. As of Sunday, 475 persons had boarded buses, with their few possessions, to be taken to a district-run shelter in the locality of Engativá.

“The district has put all the interest in order for this transfer to take place, with the safest conditions and necessary food assistance until the families are transferred back to their ancestral territories by the National Unit for Victims,” assured Daniel Camacho, undersecretary of Governance of Bogotá.

Secretaría de Gobierno

According to Jairo Montañez, a representative of the Bacatá indigenous authority, “the agreements reached with the national and district governments not only benefits the members of the 15 indigenous peoples, but the entire citizenry.” Included in the agreements reached between the national and local government is participation of indigenous peoples in public policy, as well as commitment by the government of President Iván Duque to finance rural development projects in their territories and build alternative housing in accordance with the group’s socio-cultural traditions.

Secretaría de Gobierno

The compound that was protected by metal barricades and counted with a medical post run by several nurses and first responders remained vulnerable, however, to indigenous women and children given the park’s lack of lighting and proximity to food outlets. Families were forced to collect water for bathing and cooking from one tap. Heavy rains, electrical storms and cold nights in Bogotá also worsened the squalid living conditions of the indigenous peoples, and posed an ongoing health threat to authorities given a rise in respiratory illnesses among the most vulnerable, as well as increase in cases of malnutrition.