COLOMBIA: National Strike participants seek recognition as full citizens


23 August 2013
COLOMBIA: National Strike participants seek recognition as full citizens

[Note: The following has been edited for length; for the
full article, “Stones and Precious Metals,” click here.]

On Sunday, 18 August, young men and
women from rural areas in the department of Antioquia took to the streets of Segovia
municipality to express their frustration at a system that has abandoned them
to live in desperate conditions.

This action is part of a larger
national protest.  All over
Colombia, small farmers, miners, the indigenous, truckers, teachers, and
healthcare workers are crying out that they are tired of the conditions the
Colombian government has asked them to endure in order to join the wider world

  Segovia Coliseum

On 17 August, Christian Peacemaker
Teams (CPT) arrived in Segovia to accompany 2000 small farmers, miners and
indigenous peoples joining the national strike set to start on the 19th.  Children, women, and men pitched their
tents inside the local coliseum determined, despite close quarters, to remain
there until the government agrees to negotiate with them.  CPT partner CAHUCOPANA and
organizer of the Segovia strike, declared the coliseum a Humanitarian Refuge—an area protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in which no
arms are allowed and which guarantees the protection of those residing within.  The organizers set up the Humanitarian
Refuge to prevent armed actors, particularly law enforcement, from laying siege
to the encampment in order to shut down the demonstrations.

CAHUCOPANA, who since 2004, has worked
in the rural communities of Segovia and Remedios, raising people’s awareness on
human rights and the communities’ rights to live on and work the land.  New laws that favor large agricultural
and mining projects are threatening these communities and their livelihoods.  The new 2010 mining code makes it
impossible for small-scale miners to fulfill all the requirements to legally register
their mines, which turns small-scale miners, often called artisanal miners,
into criminals.  This legal
maneuver makes way for large companies such as Gran Colombia Gold to mine all
of the gold and take all of the profits.

In the days leading up to the national
strike, the Colombian government stated they recognized the people’s right to
protest, and are willing to dialogue, but not under pressure of violence; by
“violence,” the government means it will not accept roadblocks or
confrontations.  These seem like
reasonable demands, unless they are looked at through the lens of history.  The communities ask: “when will the
state violence end?”  “When will
the agreements negotiated years ago be honored?”  Time and time again impoverished communities have demanded
their constitutional right to proper infrastructure (roads, electricity,
aqueducts), housing, healthcare, education, and the right to have their years
of working the land recognized through land ownership.  They claim their right as citizens not to
have their government, sometimes in collusion with illegal paramilitary groups,
displace them to make way for foreign companies who receive titles or
concessions to exploit the land and its resources.

News coverage of the strikes has
focused on the clashes that have broken out between the police and
demonstrators.  The government uses
this as an excuse to stigmatize them, claiming guerilla groups have infiltrated
them, to discredit their legitimate demands.  And for people who live outside of these contexts, in more
comfortable settings, images of masked people throwing stones from behind
burning barricades raise levels of fear, often a fear of having one’s
privileged lifestyle disrupted.  But
we must all ask ourselves: how often can people be pushed around and put down
before they rise up? The people of Segovia have seen too much gold leave their
community and they are saying, “Enough!  It is ours, and we deserve to benefit from it, not foreign

These impoverished miners and farmers are
not looking to overthrow the government; they would simply like to be
recognized as full citizens and see all of the rights accorded to them by the
constitution of the country they love realized.


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