Indigenous groups demand meeting with Colombia’s president

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (AP) — Thousands of Indigenous protesters marched through Colombia’s capital on Monday to demand a public meeting with President Ivan Duque and call for reforms they say are crucial for their survival.

The group of about 5,000 protesters has been travelling for more than a week in brightly coloured buses and pickup trucks in a procession known as the minga — an Indigenous term for joint community work or action.

The Indigenous groups, most from the country’s southwest, are complaining about mining concessions and growing violence that has accompanied setbacks in implementation of a 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group.

The accord called for improved infrastructure and aid for rural areas, including Indigenous territories. But protesters said many of those promises have not been kept and they want to stage a public debate with Duque over social and economic policies that affect their territories.

“We will be here until he shows up, because we want dialogue. We have not come here to fight,” said Richard Flores, an Indigenous leader from Cauca state who joined the demonstration with a ceremonial baton and a machete strapped across his chest.

Duque has refused to hold an open meeting with the protesters, with his advisers saying debates about public policy should be held in Congress.

The president, who has suggested meeting with a small group of Indigenous leaders, urged the protesters to handle their grievances through standard channels and expressed fears that this week’s protest would boost infections.