Anti-riot police have begun removing more than 5,000 homeless farm workers who had been squatting farmland in the northeast Colombian Urabá region since Monday.
According to the authorities, 250 members of an anti-riot police squad have been deployed in the operation and are using teargas to push the squatters off roads and private lots in the municipalities of Chigorodo, Carepa and Apartado, all located along the road connecting Medellin with Turbo.
Until Sunday afternoon, at least 14 people were arrested. Police accused the farmers of using pregnant women and children as human shield and say there are “youngsters trying to take advantage of the situation to commit acts of vandalism.”
The governor of Antioquia, who ordered the eviction, told newspaper El Colombiano that illegal armed groups are behind the protests. According to Caracol Radio, the protesters deny this.
Carmen Palencia, director of the NGO Victims Association for the Restitution of assets and land in Uraba, told Associated Press that the squatters demand the return of land stolen from them by paramilitary forces over the years. Palencia denied that the farmers are occupying farmland, but are on public territory. “This is a social problem that has to do with housing shortage. The people have no homes,” she said.
According to the NGO, some 50,000 hectares of land in the banana growing region are still in the hands of those who illegally acquired the land through forced displacement by paramilitary groups in the 1990s and 2000s.