Just got back from a fascinating trip to Toribío, Colombia, where I was writing this story.
In short, we got to see the the town’s Indigenous Guard tear apart an army base and chase away FARC roadblocks without a single drop of blood. That may seem unremarkable, but this is Colombia, where even casual confrontations seem to generate a body count.
Quite frankly, I didn’t know too much about the Indigenous Guard before I arrived in the beleaguered village, but the more I learned the more impressed I am. The guard was formed 11 years ago by the indigenous Nasa as an all-volunteer force that controls and patrols the territory.
They’re easy to recognize because they wear green and red bandanas and carry tasseled sticks. The sticks, they claim, are only used defensively, but they’ve managed to pull off some impressive feats with them.
In 2004, when Toribío Mayor Arquimedes Vitonas was kidnapped, some 400 members of the Indigenous Guard marched two days into the jungle to retrieve him from the FARC. Again, it was a bloodless operation and they had him back within 20 days; this in a country where hostages often spend years in the jungle and government rescue operations often include casualties.
The Indigenous Guard want both the army and the FARC to clear the area so they can exercise control.But it's unclear how this is going to shake out. It would be political suicide for President Santos to concede any ground, and the FARC aren't going to retreat from one of their historic strongholds.
Above: A solider gathers his belongings after villagers from Toribio, led by the Indigenous Guard, marched almost three hours uphill to dismantle the base.
Below: The regional head of the Indigenous Guard Luis Alberto Mensa, with his staff and green and red bandana.