Colombian ombudsmen have on Tuesday denounced police brutality against coffee strikers across three departments in Colombia’s south.
The reports were made from the south-central Huila departments and the southwestern Cauca and Tolima departments. A source in the latter department told Colombia Reports that 43 coffee protesters were wounded in clashes with riot police in one municipality alone.
“We are at the site of the coffee strike in Ibague … yes, there are people wounded, for the moment there are 43 people wounded [in Ibague], some more severe than others … in the hospitals, the situation is pretty worrying,” said Isaac Vargas Morales, the Ombudsman for the municipality of Ibague in Tolima department.
“The distress [of the people] is very great. We request that the national government quickly solve this problem…there is fear on behalf of the community because the public [security] forces have beaten them, the public force has maltreated them so much that they want to express their distress, but in a peaceful manner. They are asking for, among other things, [permission] to march legally to ensure that they will not be attacked…or hurt or, worse still, face prosecution for marching,” said Vargas Morales.
Morales was quick to stress that the protest had been peaceful, and that an incident involving a group of local youths who had clashed with police was unrelated to the strikes. Despite this, Morales alleged that riot police attacked the coffee protesters with tear gas canisters in retribution.
The Ombudsman for Huila department’s capital city of Neiva, also painted a grim picture of the situation in his region.
“The situation is very complicated and very grave because at this moment the police are burning the food and the tents …they are launching gas at the farmers…I do not have the number of people wounded, but there have been mutilations, amputations, one farmer had his hand blown off when he picked up a grenade launched by the police…last night they threw gases all night against the neighborhood where the peasants are…and today [Tuesday] they are doing the same thing…and the people who are living there are also being persecuted. There are some 5,000 peasants who are not [blocking] the road…and the police, the only thing they have been doing since arriving is to commit arbitrary [acts], they have not searched for a solution to the coffee strike,” said Jesus Elias Meneses, .
Meneses was also heavily critical of both the local and national government response to the situation.
“The grave thing is that neither the national government nor the local government are at the bottom of this to search for an exit to the conflict … we, the Ombudsmen of Huila, are of the position that the minimal constitutional rights of protest the people have should be respected …why is it that in less than two days they solved the transport strike? Because they represent great interests for the country, but the people who are here [in Huila], who have no shoes, no food, that’s to say those who work from day to day, who live off the land, the peasants, have only received the stick from the authorities,” said Meneses.
“I do not know in which country we live in and with which constitution… [it seems] all the human rights stay only in the formal part [of the economy],” said Meneses.
In Cauca’s capital of Popayan, the local Ombudsman’s Office was unable to comment on the situation in the surrounding countryside, as roads leading from the city had been cut off by coffee protesters..
However, Victor Javier Melendez, the Ombudsman of Cauca department, told Colombia Reports there were disturbances in the department’s Santander de Quilichao municipality.
“Yes, there have been some encounters with the public forces where 15 to 20 people have been wounded,” said Melendez.
In the northwestern Antioquia department some 550 coffee protesters gathered on Tuesday in the coffe-growing La Pintada municipality. The Ombudsman of La Pintada, Raúl Tamayo, said that the protest progressed calmly and without incident.
“The people who are marching are doing well, and their rights have been respected,” said Tamayo.
In total, some 90,000 coffee farmers are currently on strike in Colombia, protesting what they claim to be the government’s abandonment of the industry. The strike entered its eighth day on Tuesday.
- Interview with Isaac Vargas Morales, the Ombudsman of Ibague, Tolima.
- Interview with Jesus Elias Meneses, the Ombudsman of Neiva, Huila.
- Interview with Raul Tamayo, the Ombudsman of La Pintada, Antioquia
- Interview with the San Vicente de Paul Hospital of Garzon, Huila
- Interview with Victor Javier Melendez, the Ombudsman of Cauca
- Interview with the Ombudsman’s Office of Popayan, Cauca