Police in southern Colombia are trying to impede protests: Strike organizers

(Photo: Quindio Noticias)

The leftist political movement Marcha Patriotica, one of the organizers of a national strike called for Monday, said Sunday that police is impeding protesters to travel to where protests are planned and is stigmatizing legitimate demonstrators.

Additionally, the movement — led by former Senator Piedad Cordoba and an umbrella organization for approximately 1,000 smaller organizations — said that one of its local leaders in the Huila department was threatened at gun point by an unidentified man.

The Marcha Patriotica said in a press release that it has received complaints from the Huila department that Police since Thursday has been impeding public transport buses to take people from the department capital Neiva to rural parts of the department where farmers’ protests are set to be held.

When one of its regional coordinators tried to verify the claims and got on a bus in Neiva on Saturday, a man on a motorbike pulled up beside the bus, pulled a gun and threatened the activist’s life, said the organization.

Additionally, the leftist movement said that Huila police commissioner Colonel Juan Francisco Pelaez has been asking the general public on national radio station La FM to take photos and videos of people trying to promote the protests. On a national television station, the colonel said that he had received intelligence about subversive groups trying to persuade protesters to turn against police and break the law, which allows protesters to take to the street without blocking traffic. On La FM, the regional police commander went even further, claiming that the majority of participants of the marches are doing so under threat and that police had already identified the leaders of the protests.

In a television interview, Pelaez on Sunday said that “some strange forces are behind all this.”

The main promoters of the national strike are labor unions and opposition movements that expect to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in Colombia’s countryside and in the capital Bogota where health workers and employees of the National University announced to lay down work along with coffee growers, truckers, miners and a wide variety of farm workers.

According to the strike organizers consulted by Colombia Reports, the government has failed to contact any of the striking sector, with the exception of the miners and the coffee growers, to attempt to solve their economic sector’s issues. Moreover, President Juan Manuel Santos promised Friday the government will not negotiate with protesters as long as strikes are still in effect.

“We are not,” he said, “listen closely, so that this is very clear: we are not going to sit down to negotiate anything in the midst of a strike.”

MORE: Santos Government Flexes Muscle Ahead Of Monday’s Protests

Instead, the government deployed 16,000 policemen to prevent protesters to block important highways.

Strike organizers have said that some 15,000 health workers will strike, more than 250,000 truckers will park their trucks alongside roads , and 300,000 farmers joined by 60,000 coffee growers will take to the streets. There exist no independent estimations of how massive the protests will be.

Monday’s strikes have been receiving increased support among sectors unhappy with the government’s rural policies over the past months. While farmers in the northeast of the country Catatumbo have been on strike for months, they were joined by miners a month ago after which other sectors announced to join forces and lay down work.

The government has so far failed to reach an agreement with the Catatumbo farmers, the miners and the coffee growers and, according to the respective strike leaders, has failed to talk to truckers, health workers and university professors. The ongoing strikes have already reportedly caused food scarcity in the northern Cordoba department due to the miners’ strikes and in the Catatumbo region due to the farmers’ protests.

Colombia’s air traffic authorities told Colombia Reports last week no extra measures had been taken to prevent congestion on the country’s airports as many Colombians fear road travel will become impossible because of the mobilizations.

Neiva, Huila


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