Colombians throughout the country heard the voice of the indigenous Sikuani people courtesy of the 6th Brigade of the 4th Army Division, which helped produce the radio program “The Voice of the Sikuani.”
In cooperation with nine governors and several indigenous leaders, the Colombian Army helped produce a five-hour program in which Sikuanis spoke in theire native language and in Spanish. The Sikuanis spoke about the importance of cooperating with Colombian authorities to ensure public safety and fight organized crime and terrorism.
Protecting young people
The radio program is one of the ways Colombian security forces are combatting recruiting efforts by the terrorist group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
FARC operatives recruit minors by force in schools, at football fields, and even at parties. Sometimes the FARC and other organized crime groups try to entice juveniles to join their ranks by giving them electronic gadgets, such as cell phones, according to the Ministry of Defense. At other times, the FARC and other criminal groups recruit juveniles by intimidation and force.
In addition to working to prevent the recruitment of juveniles, the National Army has rescued dozens of teenagers who were forced to work for the FARC.
Army soldiers have transferred these teenagers to the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF) to protect, rehabilitate and prevent them from going back to the criminal organizations.
“Minors are recruited either out of their will or by force,” said Catalina Niño of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation in Colombia (FESCOL).
Voice of the Sikuani
The first edition of The Voice of the Sikuani was broadcast on June 22, 2013. Benjamín Hunda, ethnic affairs advisor to the mayor of Puerto Gaitán, played a key role in organizing the inaugural program.
The Fourth Division of the Army of Colombia and radion station Colombia Estéreo immediately supported the program.
The radio show is a way of reaching out to the indigenous population, Army authorities said.
“Since its inception, this important radio program has served as a bridge between indigenous communities in the region and the local government, who have listened attentively to the requests and deepest protests of these natives,” the Army of Colombia stated in a press release.
The program is broadcast every Sunday morning in the urban and rural areas of the municipality of Puerto Gaitán. Various indigenous people have appeared on the program, including shamans, masters, women, and youths. The radio show is a platform which allows the Sikuani to discuss their cultural traditions.
The program is broadcast on the 110 affiliate radio stations which are part of Colombia Estéreo 94.7 FM.
The Sikuani are also known as Guahibo or Guajibo or Jivi or Jiwi. The Sikuani are an indigenous people living in Los Llanos del Orinoco between the Guaviare, Meta and Arauca rivers in the Colombian departments of Vichada, Meta (Puerto Gaitán and Mapiripán), Arauca, Guaviare and Guainía. There are about 23,000 Sikuani people in Colombia.
Military and civilian leaders recently gathered to celebrate the first anniversary of the Voice of the Sikuani program.
On behalf of the Colombian Army, Lieutenant Colonel Jairo Granados, commander of BAEEV 15, spoke of the importance of cooperation and trust in working with indigenous communities to improve security.
Two Army sergeants, Ricardo Betancur and Nelson Gálvez, advisors in ethnic affairs for the Fourth Division and Seventh Brigade respectively, spoke about their mission, which involves working in indigenous communities.
Several civilian authorities helped celebrate the anniversary.
Among them was Ángela María Moreno, the mayor of Puerto Gaitán. The mayor has launched various local policies to improve the quality of life for indigenous communities.
Martha Hernández, spokeswoman for the Family Commissioner of Puerto Gaitan, spoke of the importance of helping indigenous communities and providing legal assistance when necessary.
Pedro Santiago Posada, Director of Indigenous Affairs and Minorities for the Ministry of Interior, explained the regulatory framework governing indigenous communities under Colombian law.
Civilians who participated in the anniversary celebration spoke primarily about the history and ancestry of indigenous communities, the rights and duties of indigenous peoples, and the role of women and children.
Authorities also gave 75 portable radios to leaders of the Sikuani community.
An important outreach effort
The radio program is an important part of the Army’s outreach to indigenous communities, which is part of a broad strategy of promoting cooperation with the community to fight terrorism and crime, according to Raúl Benítez Manaut, president of the Collective for the Analysis of Security with Democracy (CASEDE) in Mexico City.
“It’s a good idea the Colombian Army is making radio programs available to raise awareness among the indigenous population of the risk linked to criminal activities,” Benítez Manaut said. . “This type of program is filling a communication gap with rural populations, the participation of the Armed Forces in this regard is relevant.”
Cooperation between the civilian population and security forces is crucial in the fight against terrorism and crime, Benítez Manaut said.
“For years, the Armed Forces of Colombia have been carrying out civic activities on prevention, health and education throughout the country,” the security analyst said. “The Army is very good at this type of civic action. The Army continues to work on establishing direct ties with the population to work together on safety and prevention. Sending out messages warning people of recruitment by these terrorist groups is important; it is a tremendous communication campaign.”
The outreach program could be effective with other communities, the security analyst said.
“This type of program can be part of support activities for Army intelligence because the population can inform them of criminal activities in the most sensitive areas with criminal gangs, drug traffickers, arms dealers, and recruitment,” Benítez Manaut said.