Brayan Montoya Explains the “Guardia Indigena” Community Justice Model Employed in Colombia’s Indigenous Communities
Colombia’s armed conflicts are well known. The previous century included the political violence of the Liberal and Conservative parties; the infamous Bogotázo and the political assassination that set it off; the leftist rebel insurgencies and right-wing counterinsurgencies; and more recent drug- and extortion-fueled violence.
There are, however, success stories. On a grand scale, there is the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) negotiated by former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016. On a smaller scale, there are successes that are too often overlooked by media, NGOs, or big city residents.
Finance Colombia’s Loren Moss traveled to the historic city of San Basilio de Palenque, about 90 minutes outside of Cartagena, where a symposium was taking place between Colombia’s many indigenous and unarmed community policing corps that work to keep the peace in many rural areas — the areas that never make the news, for the good reason that many villages and rural areas in Colombia have returned to a harmonious lifestyle, free of major violence or organized crime.
Indigenous leader Brayan Montoya took time out of the event to explain the concept of the Guardia Indigena and the goals of the symposium to Finance Colombia.
Finance Colombia: Can you tell us who you are and what you are working to accomplish?
Brayan Montoya: Good afternoon. My name is Brian Montoya, legal representative of the foundation Savia Cultural, and also the Guardia Indígena and Guardia Cimarrona adviser of Chocó and San Basilio de Palenque. At this moment, we are in the second national inter-ethnic meeting of Native and Maroon Guards. On this occasion, we are in San Basilio de Palenque. Our first meeting was in the village of La Peña in Chocó.
What is our aim with these meetings?
First, to strengthen our Guardias in terms of everything needed throughout the territory: human rights Law 70 [of 1993], international humanitarian law, indigenous law, measures regarding protection and self protection, and uncovering evidence along with public prosecutors.
Our second objective is to show the national government — and the world — that we, the Guardia Indígena and Cimarrona, are not a part of any armed groups. We strongly call on the national government to understand and embrace us with a helping hand to advocate for peace in these territories and to defend for life and defend for the territories that are hard to reach and that have endured so much violence throughout history.
That’s the main goal of this meeting: Build a path focused on defending life, defending human rights, defending territories, and the coordination between afro-descendent and indigenous communities.
Finance Colombia: In what important way could the government help the guards?
Brayan Montoya: I believe the primary assistance the government can provide is to recognize us, in a legal way, as potential members of the government.
We were speaking to the representative, and she said, who better than us since we know the territories fully, to become the stewards during this search for peace, which is being carried out according to the law. Who better than us to occupy those spaces that they are going to vacate?
We don’t want to repeat what has happened historically within the country: groups outside the law leave, the territory is left vacant, and another group arrives.
Finance Colombia: Here, in San Basilio de Palenque, it is very peaceful — but we don’t see the police or military. For those who don’t understand how the Guardia Indigena system works here in Colombia, can please explain the concept? Because it’s something only seen in Colombia.
Montoya: It is. Here in San Basilio, there is self-government headed by our Mayor Segundo Cáceres, whose functions are similar to that of a police officer, a judge, and a mediator — all put together.
That’s the way we correct, direct, and solve issues here. Everything is handled by a group of mayors to determine appropriate sanctions, so to speak, for any crimes committed. The house at San Basilio de Palenque has its own jail cells, too ,where they carry out necessary measures, but I think, in this part, there would be a better person to speak about this, our Mayor Segundo Cáceres.
Finance Colombia: Here, the Guardia aren’t armed. There aren’t any rifles or guns. Please, explain this concept.
Brayan Montoya: This concept was brought by Benkos Biohó, someone well-known here in Colombia. He was the first Guardia Libertador (liberating guard) of San Basilio de Palenque. We are in the first free territory of Latin American thanks to Benkos Biohó.
Our weapon is the “baston del mando,” [a staff], known as “el perreo” in San Basilio. Symbolically, it’s what gives us status and power to oversee and lead these places. That’s the idea.
Finance Colombia: What can people learn from this system of Guardia Indigena in terms of combatting violence in places like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali? What lessons or messages can be learned by the armed forces, the police, and the citizens of urban area from the fact that this system is successful here?
Brayan Montoya: Well, I believe San Basilio is the perfect place to show what you are saying. I think this system of talking first and this system of carrying out corrections is a little more flexible — but it’s also forceful because of the jail cells as well as in native communities with the stocks. It generates a trauma in the brain, or leaves a direct message, so that those who were in the stocks will never commit the same crime, because they internalize all those hours spent there with little water under the sun.
The success here is about understanding that most issues — if not all — are solved, first and foremost, by talking. When we sit with the victim and the offender we make much better improvements, and we notice that the offender has also suffered.
Finance Colombia: Thank you for your time. Is there a website for those who want to learn about you or support you? Maybe some kind of contact method, a website, or social media.