Peaceful Warriors

Institute History


Peaceful Warriors takes the viewer through a fly-on-the-wall style journey into the Nasa community in southern Colombia as the indigenous group seeks to achieve autonomy and preserve its way of living. In a country suffering from a long and relentless civil conflict involving guerrillas, death squads and Colombia’s security forces , the Nasa have won fame for employing non-violent civil resistance to ensure peace.

We follow leaders into their homes and attend their internal meetings. We accompany this largely agricultural community—that feels itself land-deprived—into takeovers of large farm estates (haciendas) as they peacefully confront the violent groups that threaten the Nasa community.

Our protagonist is Lucho, 35, the tall and commanding chief of the Indigenous Guard, a civil body of 5,000 men and women who carry tasseled batons as they exert their authority over the armed groups that invade their territory. With long, flowing hair and oozing charisma, Lucho encourages his people to bravely confront the community’s adversaries and advocate for the reclamation of land the Nasa claim was stolen from them.

Lucho directed actions to take back haciendas the Nasa claim are theirs or “liberate mother earth”—as the Nasa call it,—on a policy that has become highly controversial in Colombia. The takeovers have given some members of the Nasa community land they never had before, yet many remain landless. They are searching for a way to obtain land in a region where farms are at a premium and sugarcane plantations are expanding to meet the demands of bio-diesel.

Lucho wants to aggressively assert the community’s autonomy. “We are trying to achieve self-determination and that does not play well with either the government or the guerrillas,” he concludes. In the past, he was quick to set limits, avoiding an escalation of tensions that could lead to violence. When the Nasa took over the Pan-American Highway last year, South America’s most important artery, the government deployed 1,000 anti-riot policemen. In the ensuing confrontation, a young Nasa was killed. The Nasa responded by trapping two policemen. The mob wanted to lynch them. Lucho stopped his people, and ordered that the policemen be turned over to their superiors. “We are not like them,” Lucho told the crowd.

In November, we followed Lucho as he and nearly one hundred other Nasa took over a large hacienda, La Emperatriz. Shortly after dawn, they crossed a wooden fence and took over the farm, sowing the land. The police soon arrived. A group of young Nasa, affiliated with the guerrillas, responded by throwing homemade explosives at the police. One officer was killed. For the first time the Indigenous Movement had killed someone.

The violent action touched off a debate within the Nasa community about its general conviction about non-involvement with armed groups and its principle of non-violence. The result is that Lucho resigned and is being investigated by an indigenous tribunal. All the other leaders reaffirmed the Nasa’s commitment to the community’s principle of non-violence.

The Nasa are caught in the vise-grip of a violent country, facing the difficulties of preserving their ancient lifestyle in a capitalist world. The stakes are high: the community is fighting for its very survival.

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