Colombia: campesinos mobilize for land, water

Indigenous campesinos in Colombia's Valle del Cauca department launched an occupation of the central square in Florida municipality Dec. 23 to protest a potable water project overseen by the privatized regional utility Acuavalle. The protesters charge that the project wll deliver water only to neighboring Candelaria municipality, violating Acuavalle's legal responsibility to provide their resguardo, Triunfo Cristal Paez, which lies within Florida. The Valle del Cauca Regional Indigenous Organization (ORIVAC) estabished an encampement in Florida's central square—in defiance of a curfew declared by municipal authorities in response to protests earlier this month. (El Pais, Cali, Dec. 23; El Pais, Dec. 4)

In Bolívar department, the Alta Montaña del Carmen Pacifist Movement on Dec. 9 marked three months of the imprisonment of their coordinator general Jorge Luís Montes Hernández, under "false accusations" of collaborating the FARC rebels' 35th Front. He was first arrested on the charge in 2006—just a month after Montes had been elected to the municipal council of Carmen de Bolívar. He had to drop his council seat, but was freed for lack of evidence after two months. The Pacifist Movement says his re-arrest on the same charge was a response the campaign he was leading to demand recovery of campesino lands usurped by paramilitary forces, with a cross-country march held last August on Carmen's municipal seat from the outlying corregimientos (unincorporated communities) of Macayepo and Alta Montaña.

Other leaders face death threats, but the Pacifist Movement cotinues its process of negotiation with the national government's Victims' Unit, brokered by the Bolívar departmental government, demanding its rights under the Law of Victims and Land Restitution, or Law 1448.  (Las 2 Orillas, Dec. 11)

In 2008, the US-based Fellowship of Reconciliation bestowed its Pfeffer Peace Award to another leader of the Alta Montaña del Carmen Pacifist Movement, Ricardo Esquivia, who was then receiving death threats from the paramilitary group Los Urabeños. (FOR, Sept. 19) Local leaders in campesino communities across Colombia have been prosecuted on spurious charges of guerilla collaboration in a supposed "FARC-politics" scandal.

Even as the usurped demand the return of their communal properties, lands continue to be illegally expropriated in Colombia. Human rights campaigner Iván Cepeda is pressing the demands of campesinos in Córdoba and Antioquia departments for redistribution of state lands that have been annexed to big haciendas in violation of Law 160 of 1994. This law empowered the Colombian Agrarian Reform Institute (INCORA) to set side zones of the country for small-holders and campesinos, but the policy has never been effectively implemented in many areas. (Las 2 Orillas, Dec. 5)

  1. Water riots in Colombia

    A small protest in a neighborhood of Colombia Pacific coastal city Buenaventura turned violent the night of Jan. 14 after residents went four days without access to tap water. More than 70 residents of the La Inmaculada neighborhood took over a roadway for at least three hours, claiming that the neighborhood had experienced problems with the water service since Dec. 8. When police attempted police to clear the road, protesters reportedly began throwing stones, which led the authorities to respond with tear gas.

    The water service utility company, Hidropacífico, said the lack of water was due to broken valve that affected 70% of the sector. They pleded to attempt to distribute water to residents via truck with the help of the authorities. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 15)