Colombia: continued murderous assaults on rural workers

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On 5 October 2017 at least ten rural workers were killed and over 50 injured during an assault by the police in Tandil, Tumaco. 1,500 demonstrators from the villages of Sonadora, Restrepo, Vallenato, El Divorcio Playon and El Tandil, as well as Awa Indigenous people, had gathered to protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and the federal government's non-compliance with the National Program for the Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use, as agreed in the Peace Agreement with FARC. They were violently attacked.

President Juan Manuel Santos typically first claimed that local gangs were responsible, deliberately noting that it was a traditional FARC territory, without explicitly blaming the group which is now in transition to civilian political life. The press, for example El Tiempo, on the other hand simply asserted that it was the work of a dissident FARC group. Dissident members of FARC in the area have flatly denied any association with the tragedy. The Colombian Ombudsman's Office then had to face the incontrovertible fact that members of the national police were responsible for the killing of the villagers. Four police officers have now been suspended for their involvement in the deaths, according to El Tiempo.

On 8 October a Colombian police unit, the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD), burst violently into the Aguas Tibias farm in Puracé, which was occupied by hundreds of indigenous people. Maria Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo, an indigenous journalist for the radio station Renacer, was shot twice and killed. She was covering the clashes in Puracé, Kokonuko, in the province of Cauca. The Director General of UNESCO condemned the killing on 18 October.

‘The community was in the middle of taking back their land when they were attacked by the ESMAD, without any restraint,’ said Viviana Ipia, Deputy Governor of the Kokonuko Reservation. The indigenous people’s struggle to liberate their traditional homeland has been going on for more than six years. The objective is to take back indigenous land that is in the hands of third parties, usually private entities, as is the case with the Aguas Tibias estate, now a tourist resort. The purchase of the estate had already been negotiated with the government on 23 September.

The indigenous people denounced the use of tear gas and firearms by the ESMAD in the crackdown, and stated that this is not the first attack that has happened on the indigenous community. ‘We have bullet casings from the attack on the community,’ said Ipia. So far in 2017, more than 60 human rights defenders, farmers, and social leaders have been killed in Colombia.

In Tandil, also on 8 October, Colombia's Justice and Peace Organisation said that a human rights mission with UN observers was attacked by members of the security forces as they approached the site of the 5 October massacre. Journalists were also caught up in the shooting. Police fired shots and grenades at the group as they attempted to enter the area, according to the Office of the Public Defender.

At the 26th session of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for Development and Communication (IPDC) in March 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO was asked to provide a ‘Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity’ since 2006. Since 2008, such reports have been prepared every two years.

On Thursday 12 October 2017, US President Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from UNESCO.

 

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