Colombian police attack protesters on Pan-American highway

Indigenous and peasant communities in the South-West of Colombia are mobilizing against government policies and demanding the State respect prior agreements

March 15, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
CRIC mobilizing on the Pan-American Highway between Cali and Pasto. Photo: CRIC

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) denounced that the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squad (ESMAD), a special unit of the National Police in Colombia, used disproportionate force and attacked peasant communities of the Cajibío municipality during a peaceful protest on the Pan-American highway. Videos and photos circulated across social media of the heavy repression against the protesters.

Their protest, which demanded the respect of agreements that the State has been violating with this social sector, was part of the “Minga for the defense of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace”. Minga is an indigenous tradition of cooperative and voluntary work for the common good, it can range from building a community center to mobilizing on the streets.

The CRIC also reported that on March 14, across the different points of concentration of the Minga there was heavy presence of the ESMAD who were carrying long-range firearms, mobilized in tanks and were using drones and intimidating and harassing those participating in mobilizations. In the El Pital town in Ancestral Sath Tama Kiwe territory, there were reports of artillery helicopters circling closely above the zone of concentration of the Minga.

They also denounced that the national mainstream media has been spreading false information, slandering, stigmatizing and putting the life and integrity of the different social processes that are participating in the Minga at risk.

The mobilization was called for after president Iván Duque refused to attend a meeting scheduled with the indigenous leaders of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Caldas regions of Colombia. In February, the CRIC had sent a formal letter inviting the president to attend a meeting with them on March 12 in the indigenous territory of Las Mercedes in the Caldono town. Despite the formal invitation, the president did not come and instead sent a delegation led by the interior minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez, who informed that “the president could not attend due to his schedule”.

The meeting with the president sought to deal with various issues, such as the situation of systematic violence that exists in the territories, the legislative agenda that goes against the territorial rights of the communities, the mining-energy model contrary to the communal rights, as well as the breach of agreements signed between the State and the indigenous, social and people’s organizations of Southwest Colombia.

On March 10, more than 13,000 members of different indigenous communities, peasant organizations, social movements and people’s processes of south-west Colombia began to arrive to the indigenous territory of Las Mercedes to attend the meeting with the president and to participate in the “Minga for the defense of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace”. When the president did not show, the organizations agreed to call for mass mobilizations across the Southwest of Colombia calling on other communities, social and people’s organizations to join them and demonstrate the strength of people’s unity.

Since March 12, in the evening, members of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), along with the thousands of people who arrived to Caldono to participate in the meeting with Ivan Duque, have been blocking the Pan-American highway from Cali to Pasto. They have intensified their demands that the president come to the territory to engage in an open debate on all of the issues that are affecting the peasants, city-dwellers, students, workers and indigenous communities. On March 14 at 7pm, a twitter campaign was launched with the hashtag “” (Duque Come to Cauca).

The protesters in the Minga are also demanding access to land, fair price for coffee, subsidies for coffee farmers, inclusion in the National Development Plan (PND) declared by the United Nation (UN) on peasant rights and activation of a peasants’ negotiation table in Cauca.

According to Giovani Yule, an associate of the CRIC, the national government promised to dedicate around 10 billion pesos to the PND to guarantee the rights of different indigenous populations that inhabit the country.

Congreso de los Pueblos (The People’s Congress), a national platform of diverse sectors and movements, released a statement declaring its solidarity with the Minga after the repression on March 14: “The organized communities of the Indigenous and peasant movement of the Southwest of the country continue the process of struggle and resistance by way of mobilization, they continue strong in the Social Minga for the defense of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace. Thousands of men and women demand solutions from the Colombian State for the guarantee of rights in the territories.

In response to the lack of political will of the Government of Iván Duque, the violation of established agreements, the absence of guarantees for life and the protection of the territories, the military treatment of the social protest, the terrible National Development Plan which furthers the model of death, displacement and pillaging; are the reasons that motivate this mobilization.”

Earlier this month, an indefinite regional strike of teachers and peasants in the Cauca department, which began on February 25 ended after 12 days on March 9. The teachers and peasants organizations decided to end the strike after signing an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior, who declared that the government agreed “to fulfill the commitments previously achieved in the sectors of agriculture, urban and rural housing, land, security guarantees, communication and technologies.”