Government officials and farmers from the northeast of Colombia on Thursday failed to reach an agreement to end escalated social unrest that has killed at least four peasants.
According to local media, the initial round of talks failed because the government demands an immediate end to all protests before discussing a possible agreement while the farmers demand an agreement before ending the protests in support of their demands.
The government delegation is led by Agriculture Minister Francico Estupiñan and is accompanied by the High Adviser on Social Dialogue, Luis Eduardo Garzon.
While the government and farmers failed to come to an agreement, national indigenous organization ONIC said they were willing to join the farmers in their protests, meaning the social unrest could spread to other regions in the country where indigenous peoples make up a large portion of the population.
“It is time they seriously revise the situation in the agrarian sector, not just in Catatumbo, but in all Colombia,” ONIC spokesman Luis Fernando Arias said.
“Our brothers from Catatumbo are also Colombians, something that those who govern should have understood as for decades they have forgotten this region that makes part of our national territory,” the indigenous leader said.
The protests began nearly three weeks ago when farmers from the northeastern Catatumbo region took to the streets to protest an initiative to eradicate coca without providing coca farmers the means to generate alternative income. Additionally, the farmers demand increased autonomy and improved conditions for Colombia’s farming communities.
According to a local journalists, the farmers felt obligated to block roads after weeks of non-violent protests was ignored by the government. In response, the government sent extra army and police forces to the region which caused clashed that killed four peasants and injured dozens of protesters and policemen alike.
The Catatumbo region is one of the most violent regions in Colombia. The area is mostly controlled by rebel group FARC, but also home to almost all other Colombian illegal armed groups with interests in the drug trafficking business, because of the lack of border control allowing drugs to easily be taken to Venezuela.