Colombia: Organization of the Indigenous Towns of the Colombian Amazonia (Organización de los Pueblos Indigenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, OPIAC)



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According to the census conducted in 2005, over 1,380,000 people – so approximately 3.4% of the Colombia’s total population – belong to one of the various indigenous communities. They live in 27 federal states and 228 communities that are scattered across the country. The majority live in La Guajira (278,250), Cauca (247,980) Nariño (154,766 0) Córdoba (151,060) or Sucre (81,920). The largest groups are the Páez (138,500), Guajiro (100,000), Emberá (49,600) and Zenú (34,500).

The existence of approximately 85 indigenous peoples was officially recognised in the country’s constitution in 1991. Colombia’s indigenous peoples have successfully gained territorial and cultural recognition like barely any other Latin American country. Realisation of the rights guaranteed in the constitution for the unity of indigenous territories, acceptable exploitation of raw materials, recognition of the indigenous languages as official ones, and specific jurisdiction still require a great deal of political work though. Steps backwards are invariably to be expected. In particular, Colombia’s indigenous peoples suffered the consequences of the civil war between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army, and of the repeated flare-ups of violence. Further problems are caused by the displacement of village communities through mining and settlers, as well as by the spread of coca cultivation and the criminality associated with this.

The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) established in 1982 affords over 40 local and regional member organisations, and represents around 90% of the country’s indigenous population. The organisations of the Colombian Amazon region have joined forces within the Organization of the Indigenous Towns of the Colombian Amazonia (Organización de los Pueblos Indigenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, OPIAC). OPIAC’s specific goals are to support the influence of indigenous organisations, and to defend and recognise indigenous territories, their self-determination and respect for indigenous rights.

Text updated: Maryhen Jiménez (April 2010)