This October, we were invited to participate in a workshop given by the Colombian organization Colnodo, which is part of the project “Connecting the Unconnected” from APC. The workshop took place in Popayan, the capital of the Cauca department. Popayan, also called la ciudad blanca , is a small town in the center of the Cauca region. It’s colonial style is well known and the catholic religion is very popular among the population.
Moreover, the Cauca is also the region with most Indigenous population in Colombia. It comprises around 20% of the population. Additionally, this region is one of the long-neglected areas where the drug trade has fueled political conflict. Not only was Cauca, for many years, a major coca producer, the province also has rich natural resources like gold, which have long been mined informally.
The province’s Afro-descendant and indigenous communities together make up more than 50% of the electorate and in some territories have achieved historical levels of autonomy and self-governance. These communities have suffered disproportionately in the conflict between the FARC and ELN against the state, and from drug traffickers.
Colnodo’s workshop intended to bring together people from the Red INC, which is a recently created Community Network, located in the municipality of Buenos Aires, Cauca. The “INC” states for Indígenas, Negros y Campesinos. This is the main characteristic of the network: that it is comprised by different groups of people. They themselves recognize that there are racial differences between them and it is the network what unites them and gives them an identity within their territory. Red INC started operating this last August and right now has up to 50 users. The network currently offers mobile telephony and internet services at low costs. It’s growing step by step.
The objective of the workshop was for them to get to know the experiences of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. This trip was part of the peer exchanges from the “Connecting the Unconnected” project. These exchanges are done in order to strengthen the community networks movement through peer learning and capacity building. The international participants of this workshop were:
- Santiago Piccinini, Jesica Giuduce, German Saretti, Luciana Lanzetti and Nicolas Pace from AlterMundi, Argentina and Nicolas also representing APC through his movement building coordination role
- Thiago Paixao and Carla Jancz from Instituto Bem Estar, Brazil
- Hiure Queiroz from CooLab, Brazil
- Roberto De la Cruz from Telecomunicaciones Indigenas Comunitarias (TIC AC), Mexico
- Bonifacio Iturbide from Unión de Cooperativas Tosepan, Mexico
- Adrian Lopez and Karla Velasco from Redes por la Diversidad, Equidad y Sustentabilidad AC (REDES AC), Mexico
- Cynthia El Khoury, Gender and women’s engagement coordinator, community networks project from APC
During the workshop, the participants got to know the context of the Red INC; why it was created and their current problems and needs. REDES AC shared their methodology for the selection of technologies, Bonifacio from Tosepan shared the history of cooperativism in his community, Roberto shared TIC AC’s experience, AlterMundi gave a workshop on the LibreRouter, Hiure from CooLab presented some examples of community intranets and Thiago and Carla from Instituto Bem Estar talked about Fuxico and their community network experiences in Brazil.
Overall, it was a huge and rich exchange of knowledge, experiences, technologies, successes and mistakes. At the end of the workshop, which lasted three days, most of the international participants did a one-day visit to the community, which is 3 hours away from Popayan.
Once the encounter ended, we prepared for our next destination: Pueblo Nuevo in Caldono, Cauca. A few months before, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) invited us to hold the first module of the Techio Comunitario diploma, “Community communication”. The CRIC is an association of indigenous authorities to which 90% of the indigenous councils and communities of the department of Cauca, Colombia belong. It was founded in Toribío on February 24, 1971, as a federation of just seven cabildos. At present it is constituted by one hundred and fifteen councils and eleven associations of councils of the Nasa, Guambiano, Totoroez, Polindara, Guanaco, Kokonuko, Kisgo, Yanacona, Inga and Eperara villages, grouped into nine zones.
The CRIC is one of the strongest examples of a collective effort to achieve indigenous autonomy within Latin America. Therefore, we were really excited to participate in this experience. We also invited our colleagues who had participated in Popayan and some of them decided to join us.
The experience with the Nasa community of Pueblo Nuevo was wonderful. During the module, we were able to get to know their context and their means of communication; their culture and traditions. We also had a unique and rich exchange of experiences with colleagues that were present, from different countries.
From this experience we can say that this was a key meeting point for the processes of technological autonomy in the region. While the Red INC is developing, little by little, very close from them there are other communities that seek the goal of having their own technologies and self-management. Not only as a means of communication, but also as their own channels, where they can reflect their processes and serve to strengthen ties within their communities.
 Term for “white city” in Spanish.
 Number obtained from https://www.cric-colombia.org/portal/estructura-organizativa/ubicacion-geografica/
 For a visual explanation of the network you can watch the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BP_omDqWGw&t=5s.