Following two weeks of escalating protests by local campesinos, two were killed as National Police troops opened fire June 23 at Ocaña in Colombia’s Norte de Santander department. There were reports of injuries on both sides in similar clashes in recent days. At least 10,000 from the Catatumbo Valley have joined the protests that erupted on June 10, demanding the government declare the area an autonomous “campesino reserve zone,” and halt the eradication of coca crops. Protesters claim that cocaleros have not been offered alternatives to provide for their families. Juan Carlos Quintero, vice president of the Catatumbo Campesino Association, said “we directly blame President Juan Manuel Santos” in the deaths, accusing him of having ordered the repression. Authorities said that protesters had set fire to the municipal building and the local prosecuter’s office in Tibu, and also charged the FARC is involved in the campaign. The FARC, whose leader “Timochenko” is believed to be operating from the Catatumbo area, issued a statement calling on authorities to lower the level of violence. (Colombia Reports, AP, June 23)
The National Association of Campesino Reserve Zones (ANZORC) together with the Observatory of Ethnic and Campeisino Territories at Colombia’s Javeriana Pontifical University held a meeting in Bogotá April 26 bringing together campesino, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders from across the country to discuss expanding the country’s Campesino Reserve Zones, or ZRCs, where the size of land-holdings is limited by law. The gathering also aired demands for broadening the ZRCs’ powers, making them self-governing entities. (Prensa Rural, April 26)
The proposals come as the campesino and indigenous movements are demanding a role in peace talks with the FARC, where a new agrarian reform program has topped the agenda. Nearly a decade ago, a network of campesino organizations across Colombia declared their local autonomy from the government.