In a letter published on the website of activist new agency Prensa Rural, farmers’ association AsCamCat said “we are willing to send a delegation to the [presidential palace] Casa de Nariño to talk to you. This with the objective to obtain enough confidence to continue talks and and be able to eventually reach an agreement that is satisfactory for our peasant communities in Catatumbo.”
AsCamCat responded to an invitation by Santos, who on Saturday said he wanted to “invite the leaders of the peasants from Catatumbo to come to Bogota on Tuesday so they can meet with the Ministers of the Interior, Agriculture, and Defense, and the Advising Minister for Social Dialogue … to sit down and come to agreements.”
The president said he felt “certain that if there is a will, we can reach agreements.”
In their response, the peasant leaders announced the immediate end to the blocking of the road connecting the town of Ocaña with the rest of the Catatumbo region where between 6,000 and 16,000 farmers have protested for weeks.
The peasant representatives did demand the government to agree to appointing a neutral mediator and the explicit acceptance of the communities’ initial demands before traveling to the capital.
“Basically, the peasants said to accept to go to Bogota to the meeting the president invited them to,” House Representative Ivan Cepeda (Polo Democratico) told Spanish news agency EFE after a short visit to the region.
The farmers’ protests were spurred by government initiatives to eradicate coca, the crop used to make cocaine. According to the locals, the national government wanted to eradicate coca in the region without offering alternative sources of income to the farmers. Additionally, the locals demanded their region to be declared a Peasant Reserve which would grant more autonomy.
The Catatumbo region is one of the most violent regions in Colombia because of its importance for drug trafficking to Venezuela. Additionally, FARC leader “Timochenko” is suspected to be running the country’s largest rebel organization from the area.