8 May 2014
COLOMBIA: Five-thousand small-scale farmers arrive in Aguachica
On Tuesday, 6 May 2014, a thousand riot police and military personnel arrived
in the small town of Norian, just north of Aguachica, and surrounded five
thousand small-scale farmers who had begun to gather there since 1 May. This display of force and the restriction of movement
has been a part of the government’s strategy to clamp down on the growing Agrarian Strike.
Earlier on Wednesday, police detained 300
farmers traveling to Medellin on the pretext that they would be a threat to the residents of
Medellin, since the public forces did not have enough personnel.
Our partner, FEDEAGROMISBOL (Southern Bolivar
Agricultural-Mining Federation), organizers of the
strike in the region reported that on 4 May, just west of Norian, in the
river town of Gamarra, police confiscated 101 large sacks of food and
medication, as well as 200 pounds of beef, ostensibly for not having receipts
and because the beef might be unsafe for consumption. On the same day, the Colombian navy
intercepted two boats transporting 300 people traveling from Cerro Burgos to
Gamarra, circling one of the boats and cause large waves that threatened the
safety of those on board.
The police have taken to imposing legal
technicalities they do not normally enforce, and the creation of public safety
measures to harass and prevent the mobilization of people. They refused to allow trucks
transporting people to board ferries, since none of the passengers had life
jackets, and detained other trucks because their tires did not have sufficient
Eight people sustained injuries when
police fired rubber bullets at people traveling to the camp on motorcycles,
hitting one person in the eye. These
acts of police brutality are far from the image that the Ministry of Defence is presenting (See above photo),
but consistent with the use of excessive force during last year’s agrarian strikes.
There currently are signs of movement in dialogue between the
parties. Two important questions
the government make offers to the people that would make them willing to end
the strike? Last year, the
government used a “divide and conquer” strategy to break the protest; some farmers
returned home after reaching an agreement, while others maintained the strike
for over forty days. The unity between sectors is what distinguishes this year’s strike from last
the government fulfill its agreements? The principal reason for the strike this year was the
government’s failure to implement its part of the bargain struck at the end of
last year’s strike. With the
presidential elections at the end of the month, a reshuffle of the congress and senate in the March
elections, and a surprise rise in the popularity of ex-president Alvaro Uribe, can
President Santos now meet the commitments that he did not meet last year?
Back in Norian the farmers have pitched
their tents on either side of the Ruta
del Sol, a four-lane highway that cuts through the heart of the central
Colombia. They are not fighting
merely for their right to protest, but to prevent their livelihoods from being
trucked to the coast and shipped abroad.