Social organizations in Colombia’s northeastern desert have entered into an indefinite protest to demand national action in the face of an ongoing water crisis that may be deepened in the coming months, according to local media.
Santos visited La Guajira late last week to meet with local government officials and bring humanitarian aid to affected populations, some of which have gone almost a year without rain. But various social groups were not impressed by what was perceived as too little too late from Bogota.
During his visit, Santos, according to a letter released by strike leaders, “did not make any serious proposal, much less display an attitude of wanting to bring a structural solution to the severe crisis being experienced in La Guajira.”
Comprised of workers unions, student and environmental groups, and various minority associations, “For the Dignity of La Guajira” was formed to adress “the low coverage, poor quality, and high taxation of water, sewage, electric energy, and gas [in the state]; the marginalization of our population from education and health care […] the destruction and contamination of bodies of water on the part of the El Cerrejon [open pit coal mine]; [and] poverty, illiteracy, and high infant mortality among the Wayuu [indigenous] population,” among other things.
Mounted by For the Dignity of La Guajira, the protests are centered around the immediate nutritional needs of the population, as well as the deeper social inequalities in the state, according to La Guajira’s Diario del Norte newspaper.
Organizers of the protest told Diario del Norte that they would block principal road ways in the state to demand solutions that tackle to roots of the problems facing the region, and not with “bags of lukewarm water,” in reference to the government’s response so far, which has been to send tons of bagged water and water trucks to the state.
Felipe Rodriguez, protest organizer, told the newspaper that the government’s help to the region has been shallow and the protesters want to see infrastructure projects. On the top of the protestor’s agenda is meeting with President Santos, state government officials, and representatives of mulit-national corporations operating in the region, reported W Radio.
Ruben Fuentes, President of Guajira’s Ranchers Committee, told Blu Radio that Guajira’s residents were “tired of living on their knees; first they took away the [mining] royalties, and second they gutted the transformative infrastructure project, the reservoir of the Rancheria River,” reported Costa Noticias.
The mostly peaceful protests grew heated in the state capital of Riohacha, where a bus was burnt in front of university and roads were shut down by protesters. At least eight people were detained and four injured in clashes with Colombia’s riot police, according to RCN news.
Riohacha Police Chief Colonel Alejandro Calderon Celis said, “This is no longer a protest but an act of terrorism,” according to local El Heraldo newspaper.
Transport in the city has already fallen 80% and businesses are complaining about the loss of work and money to feed their children, according to local media.
The protesters, however, have asked the business sector to show solidarity with the movement, as unions have done for businesses in the past.
A letter reportedly was sent to President Santos on August 6 requesting a meeting and warning that protests would come on August 11 if none was scheduled.
The letter conveys the belief that La Guajira should receive more of the royalties from the state’s mining boom, particularly from the El Cerrejon open pit coal mine, the largest in Colombia, the fourth largest exporter of coal in the world.
“Mining has not been synonamous with development nor progress, but it has with massive enviromental, social, and cultural abuse,” it reads.
The letter, signed by over 40 locally based organizations, outlines five demands:
- The creation of a Development and Compensation Fund in which the state will pay the “large social debt” it owes to the state of La Guajira
- Sustainable management of natural resources
- Immediate relief plan to provide animal feed, jumpstart infrastructure projects, and restore productivity to the agriculture, tourism and industrial sectors
- Use resources from taxes of mineral explotation to improve health services, education, and housing
- The guarantee and promotion of democracy and human rights in La Guajira
Over the weekend, parts of the state received the first rains in over a year. The torrential rainfall that came from a passing tropical storm was said to fill water tankers and replenish water reserves, though flash-flooding also caused some damage to property and livestock.
August is typically the start of the short rainy season on the northern Caribbean coast, but in the coming months, the El Niño weather phenomenon is also expected to descend on the region, bringing even more severe droughts and heat waves.
- Guajiros se irían a paro este lunes, “Por la dignidad de La Guajira” (Costa Noticias)
- Inicio “Paro por la Dignidad de la Guajira” con maltrato a indígenas wayuú y estudiantes por parte del Esmad (Costa Noticias)
- Comercio y educación, principales afectados por paro en La Guajira (El Heraldo)
- Sandra Guerrero (Twitter)
- Boletín de Prensa N° 004 (Civil Committee for Guajira’s Dignity)
- Habitantes de La Guajira iniciaron paro por crisis de agua (W Radio)
- CARTA ABIERTA AL PRESIDENTE DE LA REPUBLICA (Civil Committee for Guajira’s Dignity)
- PARO CIVICO DEPARTAMENTAL “POR LA DIGNIDAD DE LA GUAJIRA (Facebook)