To defend a hard-won guarantee that allows Colombia's indigenous territories to remain neutral in the country's bloody civil war, the Nasa people have shown solidarity and organization on par with that of the warring factions. And they've done it without weapons: In 2001, the Nasa created the Indigenous Guard to peacefully patrol their territory, carrying decorative staffs instead of guns.
The group has earned international accolades not only for their practical successes but also for the message they've sent to the world of the power of nonviolence and communal action. In a piece for NACLA News, Teo Ballv? highlights another positive impact of the Guard: the elevation of women in the Nasa community. As Ballv? reports, women have emerged as a strong force in the Guard, overcoming community hostility to indigenous women in leadership roles by showing incredible bravery while patrolling -- unarmed -- for hostile groups and drug traffickers. What's more, they've earned this respect while balancing the traditional responsibilities of Nasa women, such as maintaining the household. Ballv? notes that women like Celia Eumesa, who was recruited by the governor of her region to help form a branch of the Guard, have risen to top positions both in the Guard and in their communities.
But as the Nasa mark such successes, they also face new challenges. Though the Nasa have fought hard to maintain neutrality, it is this very neutrality that has brought suspicion upon them. In the Colombia Journal Online, Mario A. Murillo reports that the country's Gen. Hernando Perez Molina has accused the Nasa and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the primary opposition group) of using European Union resources to help guerilla forces. The Nasa unequivocally maintain that they have never cooperated with any party in the war, and fear that by linking them with guerrilla forces, Molina has paved the way for government actions against the group.
Despite such predicaments, the Guard is maintaining its commitment to nonviolent resistance. As Ballv? notes, the Nasa use the word proceso -- process -- to describe nearly all of their community activities. This view -- that change is effected gradually -- may be what gives the Nasa patience in their resistance.
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