“I’m here to get rid of the army,” she said, as she used a stick to push dirt into a foxhole. “We don’t want them here anymore because they make it more dangerous.”
An officer, who was not authorized to talk to the media, said his men couldn’t use force against the community but that they were not going to abandon the post. It was unclear how long the standoff will continue.
“We’re supposed to be here to protect them,” he said, as the crowd waved a green and red indigenous flag from the top of a barricade. “What can we do?”
At the FARC roadblocks, villagers shouted the guerrillas back into the jungle and seized five homemade mortars, called tatucos, similar to the one that injured the medics.
But even the most die-hard community organizers doubt the indigenous uprising will change the local dynamic.
Santos is being hammered by the opposition, who accuse him of being soft on guerrillas amid the perception that violence is on the rise in Colombia. While he pledged to plow more resources into Toribío, Santos said he would not be withdrawing troops.
“We’re also tired of the war,” he said, after crowds had jeered him around the plaza. “But we cannot demilitarize a single centimeter of our national territory.”
And indigenous leaders said that several FARC units, including the Jacobo Arenas and Gabriel Galvis mobile columns, have been congregating in the area.
The FARC have been engaging in hit-and-run operations all year throughout northern Cauca and Valle del Cauca, said Karina Terán, spokeswoman for Tierra de Paz, an organization that works with German-based Diakonie-Katastrophenhilfe to provide emergency services to beleaguered areas.
“The militarization of this region has been one of the factors generating violence, because the guerrillas have been responding,” she said. “And it’s the civilians who are caught in the middle.”
A year ago this month, a bomb-laden bus blew up near Toribío’s police station, killing three and wounding more than 120.
The town of Jambaló, about an hour from Toribío, has been incommunicado since the FARC toppled the mobile phone tower July 3. On Wednesday, the police inspector was shot outside the community clinic, presumably by a guerrilla sniper, just days after a mortar strike injured two children.
Near the town square, Mariano was doing brisk business Thursday at his convenience store as troops stood outside. He said Jambaló is so inured to violence that a bombing or a few gunshots aren’t enough to close business.
While he recognized that the military presence had made the town a target, he feared what would happen if they withdrew.
“The indigenous guard is about as powerful as you can get without having a weapon,” said Mariano, who feared giving his last name. “But you can’t go face the guerrillas with just a stick. Getting rid of the army right now would be madness.”
But for many in these communities, the government has already had its chance.
“The guerrillas will never seize power through force and the government will never get rid of all the guerrillas,” said Feliciano Valencia, an indigenous activist, who recounted a half-century of conflict in the region. “Let’s see how we can create our own peace.”