Indigenous and Rural Communities on the Move in Putumayo and Nariño
Occupation of Puerto Piñuña Police Station for Sixty-Three Days Ends With an Accord Between the Government and Communities
Narco News readers were recently informed of the occupation by over 5,000 indigenous community members of the Piñuña Negro police station of Puerto Leguízamo in Putumayo, Colombia. Their demands included an end to military and paramilitary harassment, negotiations with the government over coca eradication efforts and a commitment to social development. The eradication efforts had not included promised help with crop replacement or improvements to local infrastructure. In many areas, the two pronged attack of eradication and military/paramilitary threats has resulted in the forced removal of inhabitants. But the communities occupying the Piñuña Negro police station refused to be displaced.
We have recently received reports from FENSUAGRO (the National Federation of United Agricultural and Aquacultural Unions) that not only has there been a victory in that struggle, but also in similar struggles in Putumayo and the neighboring state of Nariño. What is required now is that recent agreements be monitored to see if they result in real improvements.
In the municipality of Puerto Leguízamo, the Puerto Piñuña Police Station, as well as four other police stations, was occupied for 63 days by over 6,000 families. These families were from eight indigenous communities situated along the Putumayo river. At first the government turned a deaf ear toward calls for negotiations but was finally compelled by the popular movement to enter into a dialogue. Eventually the government signed a 45 point accord promising more social investment and a gradual and voluntary crop substitution program.
This mobilization had caught the attention of US solidarity activists concerned about US support of the Colombian military and for eradication campaigns that cause displacement in places like Puerto Leguízamo. Military aid and eradication campaigns have been major components of Plan Colombia, which has received some $7 billion in funding from the US. Plan Colombia has been officially described as both part of the War on Drugs and as a war against Colombian insurgents. However, in each, the plan has been a failure. Cocaine production in Colombia is actually on the rise. Meanwhile, there has been a reconstitution of guerrilla forces and newly announced unity between the two largest such armies, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Army of Liberation).
In the proposed 2011 federal budget announced by the Obama Administration, there is no funding allocated for Plan Colombia. Colombia will continue receiving military and other forms of aid, but with 20% less than last year. Right now a lobbying campaign is underway by the Colombian government to make sure that any budget passed includes monies for Plan Colombia. Tom Burke of the Colombia Action Network believes, in light of the agreement for the US to deploy on seven Colombian Air Force bases, that we are witnessing a change in strategies for the US. According to Burke, “Colombia solidarity activists should recognize that Plan Colombia is a failure and has only brought poverty, displacement and death. We should continue to mobilize against it during the upcoming budget debate. But the expansion into these new bases signifies that US military intervention in and around Colombia is being taken to a new level. The US is trying to take more direct control of an already doomed situation. People should call the White House and Congress and demand that there be no new funding for Plan Colombia and no new bases.”
The mobilizations in Puerto Leguízamo are indicative of a wave of popular resistance in the area. In the municipality of Puerto Asís, along the Ecuadorian border, more than 5,000 family and cooperative farmers carried out a 23 day protest concerning environmental impacts due to oil developments. They were also demanding more social investment in the area. While officials with the government run oil agency, ECOPETROL, have not yet met with community members, representatives of private oil developers have agreed to improve relations with the local population and have committed to undertake social investment in the region. Also, commissions from the Ministry of the Environment have been conducting studies to assess the damage of contamination due to oil development.
A mobilization in excess of three thousand families occurred for some 22 days in the municipality of Orito, along the border of the adjacent departments of Putumayo and Nariño. In this area, there was some dispute regarding which department was responsible for the community. This dispute had resulted in a lack of social service and infrastructure development. Because of the demands of the people, agreements were signed between the government of Nariño, seventeen community action councils and three indigenous communities. Terms of the accord include the funding and naming of staff for a health clinic and the allocation of resources for the expansion of a school as well as other development projects.
According to Nidia Quintero, who serves as FENSUAGRO’s treasurer, “It is hoped that all of the signed accords in all these mobilizations will be fulfilled with seriousness and in the established places. If it is to the contrary, the farming communities of Putumayo will no doubt mobilize anew in order to avail themselves of their rights and to defend the dignity of their territory.”
The US-based Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), which has a close solidarity relationship with FENSUAGRO, has agreed to continue closely following developments in each of these cases and will mobilize international solidarity in the event that agreements are not honored by the government and other entities. Those wishing to do so can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting to receive updates.