Rural unrest in Colombia, despite peace process

Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. In the first week of 2017, peasants, local transport operators and small merchants blocked roads in the northern Urabá region to protest the imposition of new highway tolls. Although the strike called by the Urabá Citizen Initiative was avowedly nonviolent, some protesters apparently set the new toll-booths on fire. Two were killed when the riot police intervened. The municipalities of Chigorodó, Turbo, Carepa and Apartadó were affetced by the civil strike, called to oppose the decision by the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) to install three new toll-booths in the region. (TeleSur, Jan. 6; El Colombiano, Jan. 3)

November saw a wave of peasant strikes across several regions of the country to demand a voice in the peace process for campesino and indigenous communities, and attention to their demands on land restitution and rural development. The National Minga for Life, Territory and Peace, initiated Oct. 30, was repeatedly attacked by the security forces. Two protesters were gravely wounded when the feared anti-riot squad ESMAD broke up a blockade at the community of La Delfina on the road between Buenaventura and Cali, in Valle del Cauca department. On Nov, 16, Arhuaco indigenous protesters in the city of Valledupar, Cesar department, were likewise set upon by ESMAD troops who used tear-gas to clear a rally at the departmental government headquarters. (ONIC, Nov. 16;  Contagio Radio, Nov. 2)

The mobilization was suspended by degrees, as regional bodies reached agreements with the national government. In the restive Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, protests were suspended Nov. 5, when the government agreed to reactive the moribund Interlocution and Agreement Table (MIA), a body established to bring civil society voices to the peace process. Roadblocks were relaxed in Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño on Nov. 10. The Arhuaco and other indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the north of country continued their protests through the end of November, when Sen. Jorge Enrique Robledo (Polo Democrático Alternativo) arrived in Valledupar to meet with their leaders. (RPT, Nov. 24; El Espectador, Nov. 5; El Tiempo, Nov. 10)

Photo: El Orejiverde