Peasants mobilized in Colombia: The strike is finished, the struggle continues
The current development model in place across Colombia has brought repression and harassment. The government has not fulfilled the terms of a 2013 agreement. On May 27th, the Cumbre Agraria, Campesina, Etnica y Popular1 called for a national Minga - a period of strikes and mobilizations - across Colombia to put pressure on the government.
In a repeat of the 2013 struggles, many organizations have joined the initial call: peasants, afro-descendent communities, indigenous peoples, fisher folks, students, trade unions, truck-drivers, teachers, environmental defenders, and the general population are mobilized both in rural and urban areas, demanding a shift in the development model.
Social organizations argued that the government has failed in 80% of the agreements made since 2013 and renegotiated every year since then. The eight items of the collective demands developed in 2013 are4:
1) A different approach to territorial planning and integral agrarian reform;
2) A new rural development model, based on indigenous, peasant and afro-Colombian economies to ensure food sovereignty;
3) A new mining-energy model, based on popular sovereignty, environmental sustainability and profit redistribution;
4) An end to repressive policies against coca, marihuana and poppy cultivation;
5) Political rights, access to democracy, truth, justice and guarantees of non-recurrence for victims;
6) Access to social rights;
7) Support for the links between rural and urban areas;
8) An agenda for peace based on social justice and dignity in the territories, and political resolution of the armed conflict.
According to the Cumbre’s representatives, instead of establishing a roadmap to fulfil these agreements, the Colombian government has continued to strengthen the extractive development model by giving new licenses to mining, dams and agroindustry projects, causing further displacements, rights violations and, in sum, the grabbing of territories5. The impacts of the free trade agreements with the US, Canada and the EU have become evident over the last few years.
At the same time, new free trade and investment agreements have been signed or negotiated and laws have been created guaranteeing access and protection for foreign direct investments without restriction. This has led to the privatization of public enterprises6 and the development of more infrastructure projects, including a new maritime port, many dams constructed diverting rivers and broadening roads or constructing new ones7. The main purpose of these projects is to provide transnational corporations with better infrastructure for exports and extraction of resources, rather than satisfying people’s needs for better access to infrastructure. These projects are carried out without proper community consultation and increase existing social and environmental conflicts. As the Movimiento Rios Vivos argues, communities are becoming victims of development and infrastructure projects8. For all these reasons, Colombian organizations decided to call for this national Minga and the country went on strike for 14 days9.
The government responded to these demands with repression, further militarization, and criminalization of protest and resistance. Riot police were sent to different regions and attacked participants in the Minga. After 12 days of mobilizations, three people were murdered, 152 injured and more than 145 imprisoned10. Paramilitary groups threatened the organisations and leaders, in an attempt to prevent them from participating in various mobilization activities.
While mainstream media and the Colombian government constantly denied the situation and misinformed the country about the Minga, popular media such as Real World Radio and the Communications team of the Congreso de los Pueblos played a key role communicating and informing on the on-going mobilizations, the situation in the territories, and the development of the negotiations between the Cumbre and the government.
In light of this situation, mobilized organizations also demanded guarantees from the government that their right to protest will be protected and that they will be able to return to their territories when the protest finishes11.
Organisations asked the government for a space to negotiate and made concrete proposals. The response was evasive, until the government agreed to meet the Cumbre delegates on Saturday 11th of June12. The delay in opening a space for dialogue with peasants, indigenous and afro-colombian organizations, who have been victims of 60 years of conflict and have concrete proposals for peace with social and environmental justice, was highly contradictory, with the lead taken by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos in negotiating the end of the conflict with different insurgent groups13.
After three days of dialogue between the Cumbre and the Colombian government, some agreements were reached and some others remain for further negotiation and evaluation of the steps taken forward by the government14:
Guarantees against criminalization of protest, recognizing the right to protest and mobilize and start developing collective and individual protection schemes for social movements, beyond the existing individual programmes.
Land and territories: recognition of the peasants as legal subjects, who should benefit from the full protection of human rights, recognition of peasants' territorialities and its expressions (Peasant Reservation Zones, Peasant agro alimentary territories) and development of methodologies to guarantee access to land for peasants.
Peace, participation and human rights: to create a clear mechanism to ensure society’s participation as a step towards building peace with social and environmental justice.
Mining-energy model: To create a mixed national commission with participation of social organizations to evaluate the existing mining titles and concessions; and to create a mechanism to ensure the application of the Constitutional Court sentences, which recognize the environmental importance of high lands and special territories.
Indigenous and Afro-descendants' rights: Guarantees for rights and fulfilment of previous agreements.
Open a space for the Cumbre at National Parliament to present the debate around the development model.
Even though there is optimism after the negotiations, people still doubt the government’s commitment to the agreements and are deeply concerned about the conditions of return after these 14 days of Minga. For them there is no possible guarantee of any agreement while paramilitary groups continue to exist and new licenses are given to Transnational Corporations to extract from and destroy territories.
Despite the killings and the human rights violations, the overall effect of the period of mobilization has been positive15. Once again, 3 years after the National Agrarian, Ethnic and Popular Strike in 2013, peasants were able to recognize their political role as legal subjects, who should benefit from the full protection of human rights, in a country that has historically denied them and, as a result, were able to join forces with social movements, indigenous and afro-descendent communities and the general population to mobilize the country and receive international solidarity.
1 The Cumbre is a space where different organizations and grassroots movements come together to articulate demands and proposals to defend their lives, communities and territories.