Organizers said the general goal of the march was to seek a solution to the armed conflict that has plagued the department since the 1960s.
The protesters demanded the attention of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon in order to find a solution to the department’s ongoing violence.
“We are tired of being the forgotten corner of the country for the government. It is time Colombia knows what we are living through. Every day the war gets worse and the only parts of the state we see are the Armed Forces,” said one of the marchers.
Wilmar Madroñero, a peasant leader, said FARC landmines left 30 victims so far this year. He also criticized the government’s policy of fumigating farmers’ crops and the Colombian Air Force’s bombardments of rural villages in the department.
The protesters said the poison used to kill coca plants also killed legal crops, leaving the inhabitants with little or no means to make a living.
Increased mining activity was also a concern for the marchers.
“We are worried about mining concessions. For the government of Putumayo, this is a mining district. We cannot own the land here and it no longer belongs to the peasants or the indigenous,” said Marco Rivadeneira, another peasant leader.
Certain local radio stations said the march was being infiltrated by FARC guerrillas, a claim refuted by the marchers.
“We condemn this stigmatization. Many of the marchers belong to the Patriotic March movement, which is a civil organization. They have already used this argument a lot [and] we have had some peasants and indigenous killed [because of it],
At the end of the march, the marchers announced the creation of the Departmental Patriotic Council, a local branch of Colombia’s national left-wing Patriotic March movement. The marchers gave homage to the community leader Herman Henry Diaz, who disappeared in April 2012, shortly after returning from a Patriotic March meeting in the capital Bogota.
Putumayo’s Governor Jimmy Harold Diaz said his office, the United Nations and certain communities designed a humanitarian plan for the areas near the Ecuadorean and Peruvian borders, where according to the governor, the conflict escalated in the past few years. Diaz said Colombia’s national government had knowledge of the plan, but refused to act.
The Putumayo department is considered one of the epicenters of the Colombian armed conflict. It has a high level of left-wing guerrilla activity from groups like the FARC and the ELN, as well as drug-trafficking gangs like the Rastrojos. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Putumayo is one of the regions in Colombia were coca cultivation is on the rise.