Peasant strikes mobilize again in Colombia

Colombia's government on Aug. 22 sent a delegation to the Pacific coastal department of Chocó, six days into a massive civil strike (paro) that has paralyzed the marginal region, with roads blocked and businesses shuttered. Aug. 18 saw street clashes in regional capital Quibdó as the feared ESMAD anti-riot force was unleashed on protesters. Demands had been bulding for weeks over potable water, electricity and other basic infrastructure for poor peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. On July 20, social leaders announced their refusal to celebrate Colombia's Indpendence Day, instead holding a 40,000-strong protest march in Quibdó under the slogan: "We change the cry of independence into a cry of protest for our abandonment by the state." (NTN24, Aug. 23; Contagio Radio, El Colombiano, Bogotá, Aug. 22; Prensa Rural, Aug. 20; El Espectador, Bogotá, July 20)

Unrest is also seen in drought-hit La Guajira department on the Caribbean coast. On Aug. 23, Wayúu indigenous leaders agreed to relax their blockade of a rail line carrying coal from the massive Cerrejón mine after Agriculture Minister Aurelio Iragorri agreed to talks. Wayúu leaders are similarly demanding government investment in the region, which remains deeply impoversihed despite the mineral wealth extracted there. (El Heraldo, Barranquilla, Aug. 23; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Aug. 20)

in Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, which was the center of a national peasant strike in 2013, campesino accused the government of failing to live up to terms of the accord that ended the action. The Catatumbo Campesino Association (ASCAMCAT) especially cited the government's failure to officially recognize the region's Campesino Reserve Zone, a declared peasant autonmous zone where lands cannot be privatized or opened to agribusiness. (ASCAMCAT, July 29)