On February 28, several protesting citizens, including teachers, peasants and members of different social organizations, met with brutal police repression in the Popayan town in the Cauca department of Colombia.
As a part of the indefinite regional strike, the protesters blocked the Pan-American Highway between Popayan and Pasto with trucks for around six hours. In order to clear the highway, the officials of the Mobile Anti-disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), a special national police unit, used forceful measures and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Several protesters suffered injuries and four were arrested. A peasant from the National Association of Peasants of Colombia (ANUC), was injured in face and immediately taken to a healthcare center.
In the evening, dozens of people demonstrated outside the Attorney General’s office to demand the release of the arrested protesters and to reject the repressive measures used against the peacefully protesting people.
More than 16,000 teachers and 6,000 peasants of Cauca began the indefinite strike on February 25. They marched to the Caldos Park, situated in the center of the city, demanding that the national government comply with the agreements to guarantee basic rights such as health, education and housing for all. They also demanded the protection of social and peasant leaders who are repeatedly being targeted and killed by paramilitary forces in the department.
The strike was called by the Human Rights Board for the Defense of Life and Territory, an umbrella organization comprising of the ANUC, the Association of Educational Institutes and Workers of Cauca (ASOINCA) and other social movements, such as the Congreso de los Pueblos and the Hogar Digno Hogar association.
Nilson Liz, president of the ANUC, indicated that the strike will continue until clear answers are received from the government.
The incident demonstrates that the right-wing government of Democratic Center, led by president Iván Duque, has once again failed to maintain peace in the country.