Rural protests that kicked off across Colombia last week have turned violent over the weekend in the southwest of the country, protest organizers and authorities said Monday.
“There are a lot of human rights violations, they are massacring the farmers in certain sectors and press could not reach there,” strike leader Cesar Pachon told Colombia Reports over violence that erupted in the Huila state.
Police injured in attacks using firearms and acid
The police confirmed the violence, but claimed to have been a victim or attacks with firearms and acid. A National Police spokesperson told Colombia Reports that 55 policemen have been injured in the first week of protests. At least two policemen were injured after being shot at.
The spokesman said to not know how many protesters had been injured.
Local media said that on Saturday alone dozens of protesters and policemen were injured in clashes around twelve illegal roadblocks put up by protesters in the southwestern Huila state.
Police General Luis Eduardo Martinez told reporters that acid was used in attacks on police, adding that organizers of the protests will be held accountable for the injuries.
“What these criminals are using is acid, they throw it on their faces and if it reaches the eyes they can go blind,” Martinez was quoted as saying by newspaper La Vanguardia.
Police itself accused of human rights violations
One of the accused leaders from Huila, Octavio Olivero, dismissed the accusations brought by Martinez and said protesters were not responsible for violence used against the police.
“It is an insane action both for who committed this and for the one who denounces it with no evidence … The only thing that we did was to promote peaceful protests where human rights are respected on both side,” Olivero told newspaper El Espectador.
Mayor calls for foreign observers
The mayor of Suaza, one of the municipalities that saw most violence during the protests, made a call to international NGOs and the Red Cross to send guarantors for safety during the ongoing strikes.
“The situation is out of control and we need help or intervention so that the government responds and find solid solutions to the current situation of Colombian countryside,” Mayor Orlando Bohorquez said on the city hall website.
Bohorquez told Colombia Reports that “the situation is critical, a person lost an eye yesterday and there are 16 civilians injured in Suaza and Guadalupe alone,” adding that there have already been four violent confrontations between authorities and farmers.
He added that there are around 1,000 riot police members in the region.
The mayor of Suaza asked riot police to refrain from further interventions as agrarian leaders and government are currently negotiating a stop to the demonstrations in Bogota. Bohorquez told Colombia Reports that the Minister of Interior is already in Huila and that they have discussed with the government the need of international observers.
Cesar Pachon, a representative of the farmers’ national strike, said the authorities themselves were instigating violence.
Pachon told Colombia Reports that he and his fellow negotiators had asked the government to call off attacks on protesters. According to Pachon, the police took over entire villages and they “are doing whatever they want with the villagers.”
“We asked the minister [to call off police offensives] but the minister is intransigent; they haven’t stopped the attacks and the abuse,” the Agrarian Dignity spokesperson said.
Representatives of the Agrarian Dignity and Agriculture Minister met again on Monday for negotiations that seek the end of the second rural strike within a year.
- COMUNICADO OFICIAL (Suaza Municipality)
- Interview with Cesar Pachon
- Interview with National Police press assistant
- Interview with Mayor Orlando Bohorquez
- Ocho días de paro y en el Huila todo sigue de mal en peor (La Nacion)
- Policías fueron atacados con ácido por manifestantes en Huila (Vanguardia)
- “Policía tendrá que probar que líderes del paro agrario incitaron a atacar con ácido” (El Espectador)