Dora Muñoz

Indigenous Peoples’s Rights. Environmental Rights.
Colombia
Group of indigenous communicators “We’jxia Kaa’ senxi”

Dora Muñoz (Corinth, Cauca region, Colombia, 1977) is an indigenous communicator belonging to the Nasa People of the Cauca region, in Colombia. For more than twenty years she has been working on the production of indigenous communicative content to denounce and give visibility to the various problems and rights violations faced by this ancestral people; among them the persecution, the forced recruitment of young people by different armed groups and the killing of indigenous leaders. The activist, who is part of the group of indigenous communicators “We’jxia Kaa’ senxi” and has been part of the Association of Indigenous Chapters of the North of Cauca and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, also works in the formation of processes community At the time of writing these lines, Dora Muñoz has been living in Barcelona for a couple of months, hosted by the Catalan Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The arrival occurred because in March 2022, her husband, an indigenous leader and defender of human rights, was assassinated. He had a representative position of a traditional authority in Cauca,being part of the “‘Association of Indigenous Leaders of North Cauca.” After the murder of her husband, she made the decision to leave, next to her son, who was studying at the university. “We didn’t leave immediately, but we gave ourselves some time to stabilize emotionally after what happened. Now we want to take advantage of the space to make known what happened”. Dora Muñoz explains that the justice regarding the murder of her partner has not progressed, and that the case is in the hands of the Colombian prosecutor’s office. In the meantime, she and her entourage seek support from institutions and organizations related to justice, peace and human rights. Because as she herself points out, “you can’t talk about peace without justice”.

A life dedicated to communication

Dora Muñoz’s is a life dedicated to communication and the formation of community processes to empower and strengthen a territory historically hit by war. The activist started her work as a communicator in 2002 at Ràdio Pa’yumat, of the Association of Indigenous Chapters of Northern Cauca, and since then she has been part of different initiatives. She understands communication as both a political and a spiritual activity and in her speech she always emphasizes the importance of an indigenous communication in which the demands of the communities can be voiced and the different violences they experience can be denounced In the cosmovision of the original peoples, spirituality is a fundamental element; and communication is a first-order tool in this spirituality. “It is through communication that we can transmit our knowledge and life practices. One of the spaces where communication becomes more important is in community assemblies, which is where the most important decisions are made. These assemblies are a fundamental element of communication, like community minga (community work). Then we can talk about the instrumental communication that we carry out through different tools, such as radio, which is one of the strongest and most practical media and has been in the communities for more than thirty years.”

For the Nasa People, it is essential to be able to have their own communication, since the generalist media do not usually collect the point of view and the complaints of the original peoples and, sometimes, they misrepresent the information or do not give enough context to make it comprehensible to the rest of the population. Regarding this, the communicator emphasizes that: “Strategies must be sought so that it is not others who speak for us, but that we, from the towns and the territory, are the ones who make visible, denounce and share our processes and collective dreams schools; our feeling, our thinking, our art, our music”. For this, Poble Nasa has around 20 indigenous community radios. And it is these stations that give voice to the different communities, circulate information, report situations and from where ancestral knowledge is transmitted.

In these moments and after the murder of her partner, Dora Muñoz thinks of putting herself back together, and also of returning to the land that saw her born. In the not too distant future she sees herself back home, with her community, accompanying it and walking alongside it in community processes. She is particularly interested in continuing her work as a trainer, as she considers it very important. “I think training is key: a training from own knowledge, from the organizational dynamics of the territories”.

The Nasa People, communities in the crossfire

The Nasa People are spread throughout the Colombian territory, but the vast majority of them live in the department of Cauca. About 250,000 people live there. It is the second original town with the most individuals. The Cauca region has been immersed in a situation of war and crossfire between different groups for years. In recent years and despite the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016, the territory has seen an increase in threats against human rights defenders, including indigenous leaders who defend the territory and their rights.

Currently, the Poble Nasa del Cauca faces different threats: confrontations between different groups – dissidents from armed groups, paramilitaries, public forces -, forced recruitment of young people or the forced displacement of people and families due to violence in the territory. As Dora Muñoz explains in the first person: “For some we are friends, for others, we are not.” They put us between a rock and a hard place. We never know what to say or if there will be any consequences. Confusion is generated in the community and threats from each other are permanent. For example, in the Peace Agreement, the replacement programs [dels cultius d’ús il·lícit] weren’t practical, and in the territory, few families took advantage of the programs, because there were no real guarantees. This generated problems because many people in the communities were involved in the issue of cultivation, controlled by armed groups. Imbalances and problems in families occurred and continue to occur here.” Another serious problem that the Nasa communities have to deal with is the forced recruitment of young people, whom the various armed groups put in charge to act as shields.

Faced with this scenario, indigenous organizations try to maintain their strength and support the communities to strengthen the families’ life plans and prevent them from succumbing to the conflict. Dora Muñoz is clear: “we cannot normalize death and conflict. Peace will be possible when justice is guaranteed.” According to Indepaz,, so far in 2023, 100 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed, of which 25 belong to the original peoples. In the aforementioned period, 24 ex-combatants of the FARC have also been killed, all of them signatories of the Peace Agreement. If you look back, the figure takes on a greater dimension: between November 2016 and July 31, 2023, 1,513 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed.

Interview with Dora Muñoz

Poble Nasa is the second most populous in Colombia. It is also one of the villages that has suffered the most from the war.

We are the second largest indigenous people; the first is the Wayú,[que representa el 20% de la població indígena a Colòmbia], who lives on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. The largest concentration of indigenous Nasa people is in Cauca, but there are also ten other departments. These are communities that had to migrate from the territory due to violence, the economic situation or the lack of land, among others. We are organized in our own structures. For years now, our territory has been immersed in different conflicts, and those who have suffered the most from the consequences of this situation have been the civilian population. That is why we have always bet very strongly on the peace process; and we did it with hope.

However, not everything is going as planned in the Agreements.

We knew that the Peace Agreement had many gaps: it did not take into account all the demands, nor did it take into account the views and needs of the civilian population. However, we experience it as a very positive step and with a lot of hope. For a few months, there was even an atmosphere of peace: no explosions or bombings were heard, the presence of armed groups was barely visible, one could walk in peace, etc. In short, an atmosphere of harmony and tranquility was perceived. This did not last long and soon other violence began to emerge: selective killings and the increase in the presence of strange people in the territories related to drug trafficking. Disharmony began to arise in the communities, we began to see the emergence of criminal gangs and to see uniformed groups with different badges. Then it started to be said that the Peace Agreement was not being fulfilled, because the conditions were not respected and there were no minimum guarantees for people to develop activities related to the Process. In addition, due to the breach of the conditions, some dissident group of the FARC took up arms again. Disputes over the territory arose again and we were once again occupied, not only by the FARC, but by many other groups, such as the public forces. The threats signed by different groups reappeared, including the paramilitaries; also the pamphlets signed by the drug cartels. One is not sure who they are. In some parts of the territory there were guards of the army, the dissidence of the FARC, of the ELN. A lot of violence.

After the victory, in June 2022, of Gustavo Petro, ex-mayor of Bogota, ex-senator and ex-guerrilla of the M-19 and França Márquez, Afro-descendant and environmental activist, a new stage begins in Colombia. How did the Nasa People experience this change?

From the indigenous communities we lived it with great hope and strongly advocated for this change. We understand that not everything is changed by the government, but having people who understand, are more empathetic and know the dynamics of the processes is undoubtedly favorable. There was hope and strength on the polls, but also on the proposal to change political structures and laws. In the communities there is a lot of desire to generate these structural changes. We have also experienced it with fear: it is not easy, because the conservative right, which has been in power for many years, is not satisfied and does not resign. Use all possible strategies, lies and tricks to delegitimize and prevent all these changes and proposals from moving forward. We are aware of all this and we are also aware that changes are not only generated by governments. The important thing is to keep talking about peace. Although I personally believe that there is still a long way to go for total peace; but it is a bet in which we must all walk together. The good thing is that the current government is willing to listen and approach the territories.

For you, what is communication?

Communicating goes beyond informing, showing or telling a story or a fact. Communication must seek to raise awareness and mobilize; transform the realities we don’t like and generate actions that transform, both from the staff and from the collective. This is the role of communication.

How important are community radios in the territory?

The radio, in our territory, is a very important element, because it has a lot of power and a very large mobilization capacity. All information, calls and complaints are given through the radio. In Cauca we have about 20 indigenous community radios and they are the voice of the community. It is through the radio that the community finds out, informs itself and most importantly: it sends us its information. It is the space that comes closest to the community. The idea, in addition to getting people to the radio; is for radio to reach people.

And how do they use social networks?

Social media is a very useful and affordable tool. As in all places, they are used more by young people than by older people.

What is the focus of the communication that is carried out from these radios?

One of the things we have committed to is the strengthening of our own language, nasa yuwe. We invite the people of the communities, those who are leading the processes and the elders. The good thing about radio is that it allows us to give a voice to many people, and that is its magic. We have also committed to the production of audiovisual content and training. Regarding the latter, we have created tulip schools of communication, or something that is the same: communication spaces in which we train young people and colleagues. They are taught technical knowledge, how to work with content, how to write, how to make a radio program, etc. We focus on what is to be communicated and how; what is the message you want to give. Beyond learning how to handle the tools, the political sense of communication in relation to its contexts is taught. This is key: to be able to understand communication as a strategic tool for truth and life, you need to have political training. Because if we don’t explain our version of the story, the official media never will. Our perspective will never emerge.

On some occasions you have said that some generalist Colombian media have contributed to the conflict and that on many occasions the information is given without the appropriate context. Why is it so important to have your own communication? You talk about indigenous communication. What does this consist of?

It consists of understanding and communicating nature’s messages. For us, as Nasa beings and people of the earth, nature is a living being that speaks to us at all times. We focus on communication beyond technological means, beyond narrating or explaining, we do communication from the territory and from Mother Earth. We are talking about a spiritual communication, which is what we, as indigenous people, handle. Nature speaks to us; and it does so in different ways. It shows us through the rain, the thunder, the rainbow. It gives us many messages and shows us the changes.

How does the Nasa People see everything that is happening to the planet?

Our spiritual elders tell us that Mother Earth is sick and is asking us to respect and care for her. We talk about these messages from nature, the so-called natural ones. The communication that Mother Earth is sending us, beyond an audio, a photograph, a text, is a message. Understanding and experiencing this type of communications is both a spiritual and a political strategy; because we are putting a certain knowledge on the table. This is why we say that indigenous communication goes beyond the technological or the instrumental. It is the communication that we have rooted in our territory.

Among the new generations, is there interest in this knowledge and in continuing with the traditions?

It is precisely the youth that is driving many of the processes within the organization. For example, the Youth Movement is historic and has been a breeding ground for leaders. My partner, who was recently killed, cultivated his leadership in values from this movement. I think that it is the youth who are taking over certain spaces and dynamics and that is precisely why they are the ones in the spotlight. They are the most attacked, the most recruited and the most murdered. It is also true that there are many young people disinterested in the process, who see no alternatives and who have distanced themselves from the community. But there is hope that the youth can continue to champion these actions and these dynamics.

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