Colombia’s main rebel group FARC has criticized the Colombian government’s attempts to modify the law to make it easier to imprison the organizers of protests and strikes.
Jorge Torres Victoria, known as “Pablo Catatumbo”, a member of the FARC delegation at the ongoing peace talks with the government in Havana, Cuba, told reporters on Monday that the law proposed by Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon, and currently being considered by the House of Representatives, threatens the fundamental right of freedom of speech and the right to protest.
“What we are seeing is no less than the decision to incarcerate those who, moved by indignation due to growing social injustices, obstruct highways or have been involved in protests and the recent strikes,” Catatumbo said.
According to newspaper El Espectador, the modification of the penal codes would result in three to five-year sentences for those who initiate protests that block roadways.
Catatumbo urged President Juan Santos to increase social spending projects to address the protesters’ grievances rather than simply labeling them as “criminals.”
The recent national strike, which began on August 19, lasted for over a month and paralyzed much of Colombia. It was the largest national agricultural strike in Colombia since 1977. It is estimated that 12 protestors were killed, four were ‘disappeared’, nearly five hundred were wounded, and over six hundred detained by the police.
During the strike, Colombia’s riot police, ESMAD, were accused of heavy-handed tactics, including indiscriminate use of tear gas, stun grenades, buckshots, rubber bullets, and using pressurized hoses against the strikers, who claimed that the government had failed to fulfill promises made following earlier labor disputes.