Indigenous protests demanding government compliance to agreements made to end previously held strikes turned violent in west Colombia on Monday, leaving at least one dead and one injured.
The most violent event of the protests’ first day took place just outside Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port city, where more than a thousand local indigenous took to the highway to demand the administration of Juan Manuel Santos keep its word regarding support for small farmers.
One protester was killed “possibly due to a fall after being hit” by a truck, the Valle del Cauca Association of Indigenous Leaders said in a statement.
According to the police, the deceased jumped off a bridge, landed unfortunately and died.
The protests escalated after the fatal incident and, according to radio station Caracol, spurred violence targeting the trucks transporting goods from the Buenaventura port inland.
Six trucks had their tires pinched and one motorcycle was burned, the radio station reported citing local police.
In the neighboring Cauca province, more than 3,000 indigenous mobilized at La Maria, considered a sacred site by the local natives.
National indigenous authorities urged the presence of the United Nations and the Red Cross to prevent a further escalation of violence.
Spokesmen of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) told press they expected the visit of four ministers in La Maria on Monday, warning that if the ministers failed to show up the protesters will begin blocking the Panamerican Highway connecting Colombia and its southern neighbor Ecuador.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said he did “not understand” the reasons of the indigenous uprisings, claiming the government has done everything to comply to promises made in 2013.
Following a nation-wide agrarian strike that left dozens dead that year, the president promised numerous measures to alleviate the precarious situation of farmers, who claim their economic situation worsened after the coming into force of a free trade agreement with the United States.
Poverty levels in predominantly indigenous and Afrocolombian areas are disproportionately high following decades if not centuries of state abandonment.
Additionally, illegal mining activity is devastating the indigenous’ habitat, polluting drinking water and causing tensions between illegal armed groups and indigenous groups.
Moreover, the remote areas where the minorities live have seen extreme violence due to the country’s half-a-century armed conflict.
This year alone, at least 30 indigenous children have died of malnutrition in several indigenous communities throughout Colombia.