Colombia: army fires on indigenous protesters

A national summit of indigenous and campesino organizations is meeting at the Guambiano indigenous reserve of La Maria Piendam贸, along the Pan-American Highway in Cauca, southern Colombia, and has just been attacked by the security forces. At least one death is reported. From the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), via Colombia Indymedia, May 16 (our translation):

Four helicopters have attacked the summit, launching tear gas. One person is dead, more than 50 injured, 36 persons under arrest and more than 10 disappeared following the assualt by the National Army, the [National] Police and the ESMAD [elite riot squad], against the indigenous, campesinos and Afro-descendants in La Mar铆a Piendam贸, vereda [hamlet] El Rosal-Mondomo, in Cauca.

The indigenous authorities report: 鈥淭he army and the Police are shooting directly to the Indigenous Guard, registering the first death by bullet on the part of the military authorities; the indigenous respond only with their humble voice, demanding respect for their rights; we have only our bastones de mando [ceremonial staffs] of command and our words to defend our lives.”

While the name of the assassinated indigenous is still not known, the civil population is being 鈥渁ttacked with tear gas and bullets from four helicopters that fire indiscriminately, without regard to the presence of children, elderly and pregnant women.”

Confronted with the situation on the Pan-American Highwayw at Maria Piendam贸, Cauca, the president of the ONIC, Luis Evelis Andrade Casama, said he rejects the utilization of the weapons of the State against defenseless peasants, indigenous and Afro-descendents.

We are issuing a call for accompaniment for the indigenous and campesinos, who are today holding the second day of the peaceful summit. These are some of the names of those wounded in the repression:

JULIAN S

  1. Amnesty’s account
    From Amnesty International, May 17:

    Colombia: Allegations of excessive use of force

    Amnesty International is concerned that the security forces may have used disproportionate and excessive force on 16 May 2006 against indigenous, peasant-farmer and afro-descendent people during a demonstration on the Panamerican Highway, in several areas of Cauca department.

    On the morning of 16 May, at least 15,000 people reportedly occupied the Panamerican Highway around the area of La Mar铆a, in the municipality of Piendam贸, in the department of Cauca. Allegedly, they gathered to protest against economic and agrarian policies, as well as other policies which might have an impact on human rights, such as the protection of impunity in many human rights abuses cases.

    In clearing the highway of demonstrators, the security forces reportedly shot at and used tear gas on demonstrators, and allegedly three army helicopters also took part in this action. Demonstrators are said to have thrown stones at security forces.

    Amnesty International is concerned that at least one person was reportedly killed, Pedro Coscu茅, a member of an indigenous community living in the area, apparently by gunshots.

    According to information received, at least 50 people were injured during the action, including several members of the security forces and a twelve-year-old child.

    Of the injured, at least three people have suffered fire-arm wounds after reportedly being shot at by security forces, in the area of El Pital, in the municipality of Caldono. Amnesty International is seriously concerned that ambulances and medical staff are alleged to have been prevented from entering the area to treat these three people for at least several hours. There are also reports which indicate that there are several people are missing.

    There are reports that at least three members of the security forces were being held, allegedly by demonstrators. At the moment, Amnesty International does not have information as to whether they are still being held. The organization recognizes that the security forces have a duty to guarantee the safety of their colleagues, but is concerned that excessive use of force may be used to secure the release of these three members of the security forces.

    Amnesty International calls on the Colombian authorities to immediately investigate the circumstances surrounding the killing and those demonstrators who are missing. Also, Amnesty International urges the authorities to ensure that the security forces refrain from excessive and disproportionate force in responding to the demonstrations. The organization is aware that reports indicate that several members of the security forces were injured on 16 May, but is concerned that these injuries should not be used as an excuse to ignore international standards on the use of force by the security forces in line with UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

    Amnesty International also calls on the community leaders to ensure that the three members of the security forces who were being held are released immediately and unharmed, unless they have already been released.

    Background Information

    On 16 May 2006, there were demonstrations held in at least 14 departments throughout the country, as part of the National Itinerant Summit of Social Organizations (Cumbre Nacional Itinerante de Organizaciones Sociales). Social and human rights activists, indigenous, peasant, trade unionists, afro-descendent, and political opposition groups participated in these demonstrations.

    According to press reports, the governor of Cauca has stated that the demonstrations are organized and supported by guerrilla forces. In the past, those accused of collaborating with the guerrilla forces have been the victim of serious human rights violations committed by the security forces and their paramilitary allies. Members of the National Indigenous Organization (ONIC) have stated that this is not true. These accusation raise serious concern for the safety of the demonstration organizers.

  2. AP’s account
    Not a word about the violence in the next day’s New York Times, but this AP account ran in the Houston Chronicle. Note cynical claim that the FARC are behind the protesters:

    Protester Killed During Colombia Protests

    BOGOTA 鈥 Farmers and members of indigenous tribes clashed on Tuesday with police during protests against a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and the re-election of President Alvaro Uribe, and protest leaders said an Indian farmer was killed.

    Some 30 more were injured, five of them seriously, in the violence in the village of Piendamo, 210 miles southwest of the capital of Bogota.

    Protesters complained of police brutality, while authorities accused leftist rebels of organizing the demonstrations to disrupt May 28 presidential elections.

    “It’s serious here, the security forces keep hurting the people,” said Vicente Otero, a spokesman for a regional indigenous council.

    Otero said Pedro Poscue, a farmer, was shot to death by police who fired from a helicopter to disband the protest, which he said involved 15,000 people. Authorities estimated the number of protesters at 6,000.

    Cauca Gov. Jose Chaux, alleged that the protests were “financed, organized and sponsored by terrorism,” referring to the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

    Protest organizers denied any link to the FARC rebels.

    The free-trade talks with Washington have been hotly debated in this South American country. Uribe _ who currently leads his closest opponent by 40 points in polls _ has touted the economic benefits of increased trade with the world’s largest economy.

    Farmers’ groups, however, say their members will be unable to compete with heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural exports.

  3. Protest in Bogota
    A protest occupaiton reported today at the offices of the Defensoria del Pueblo, Colombia’s official human rights ombudsman. From the anti-militarist group Red Juvenil (our translation):

    HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS PEACEFULLY OCCUPY DEFENSORIA DEL PUEBLO OFFICE IN BOGOTA

    Bogot谩, May 17. More than 100 people, including human rights organizations, students, unionists, campesinos and indigenous, are at this moment carrying out a Peaceful Occupation of the offices of the Defensor铆a del Pueblo in the city of Bogot谩.

    This Occupation has three fundamental purposes: first, to protest the police brutality against the mobilizations in Cauca, Valle, Nari帽o,
    Antioquia, among others; secondly, to demand a pronouncement from the Defensor del Pueblo; and third to publicly denounce the threats that have been made against more than 20 social organizations.

    […]

    In Cauca at this moment there is a tense calm, as the arrival is impatiently awaited of a Government Commission which has been dispatched to Piendamo.