Colombia, as we know from media coverage, is a land riven by almost fifty
years of civil war. Torn apart by guerrilla violence and paramilitary terror
fueled by money from the sale of illicit drugs, Colombians are heirs to a feeble
state, one of whose few e√ective institutions is an armed forces with deep links
to ultra-rightist paramilitary forces. Colombian citizens, particularly those
living in rural areas, do not always benefit from the basic services that a state is
supposed to provide; in some regions there is virtually no state presence and
the territory is occupied by leftist guerrilla organizations that, though not as
bloodthirsty as the paramilitary, are guilty of numerous abuses of human
rights and of local sovereignty.∞ In this complex mix, only 2 percent of the 42
million Colombians identify themselves as indigenous or live in a resguardo,
the communal territories designated for native peoples and administered by
cabildos, or traditional indigenous authorities. So why, then, write a book on
native-inspired intercultural utopias, when Colombia is only marginally in-
digenous and is hardly a place known for its utopian dreams?
Indigenous People and the Colombian State
Despite its small aboriginal population, slightly more than a quarter of the
Colombian national territory is in indigenous hands, constituting more than a
million square kilometers of communally owned resguardo lands. Eighty per-
cent of Colombia’s mineral resources are to be found in these territories.
Indigenous lands are also home to some of the most intense conflicts in
modern Colombia, which many times revolve around competition for re-
sources and for agricultural land (Valbuena 2003, 14). Therefore, although
Colombia is not similar to Bolivia or to Guatemala in terms of the statistical
weight of its indigenous population, the distribution of native peoples across
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