Colombians Refuse to Be Displaced: Over 5,000 Occupy the Piñuña Negro Police Inspectors Office in Putumayo
Indigenous and Afro-Colombian Campesinos Demand an End to Coca Eradication and Plan Colombia
By James Jordan
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
December 21, 2009
Over 5,000 indigenous, AfroColombian and farming community members are occupying the community center of Piñuña Negro in the department of Putumayo, Colombia. Using tactics of nonviolent resistance, a crowd of all ages has gathered at the highest government office in the area—the Police Inspector’s office—to demand negotiations with local and national government representatives and an end to military and paramilitary harassment and coca eradication programs that are causing thousands of residents to be displaced. The affected communities say that after three years of unfulfilled promises and unanswered calls for dialogue, there have been no lasting efforts by the government to develop replacement crops, markets and the infrastructure to get crops to markets. Instead, community leaders and residents are being falsely accused of being operatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-FARC) and subjected to ongoing repression.
With no means to earn a livelihood, rural communities are enduring widespread malnutrition, disease and lack of educational or economic opportunity. The local population has been subjected to rampant abuses by the military, including unprovoked and random armed assaults against civilian populations, the forced procurement of crops and other resources, occupation of homes and farms and a military blockade prohibiting the entry of food and other daily necessities into the area. Paramilitary death squads have operated with impunity, threatening the population and, worse, committing assassinations and other acts of violence. The Vice-President of ASCAP and member of the National Directorate of FENSUAGRO was assassinated after numerous threats just last year.
Since October 19th, at least 5,263 residents of the region have occupied the Police Inspector’s Office of Piñuñu Negro, part of the municipality of Puerto Leguizamo, by the Colombian/Peruvian border, and near where these nations meet with the Ecuadorian border. The occupation is being led by the Putumayo Agricultural Association of Farmers and Farm Workers (Asociación Campesina Agrícola del Putumayo-ASCAP). ASCAP is a member of The Federation of United National Agricultural and Aquacultural Unions (Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria-FENSUAGRO), the largest organization of farmers and farm workers in Colombia. It is also Colombia’s most targeted union. Three out of five union members who are assassinated in the world are killed in Colombia.
A recent survey of the popular occupation reveals a diverse gathering of people, including 1,024 girls, 828 boys, 1,828 men and 1,543 women, with 20% of the women being pregnant. Many of the adults are also elderly. They are protesting eradication efforts and military/paramilitary attacks in Putumayo, especially around the municipalities of Puerto Leguizamo and Puerto Asís, the most important port towns on the Putumayo River.
Putumayo has been one of the departments most adversely affected by US/Colombian coca eradication efforts, including the indiscriminate spraying of Monsanto’s herbicide Round-Up Ultra. This has included fumigations not only of coca, but, due to the arbitrary and generalized manner in which it is applied, a wide variety of crops, forests and places of human habitation. These eradication efforts are part of Plan Colombia, which has received more than $7 billion in funding from the US government. Eradications efforts are co-administered by the Colombian government and the US Department of State.
Recently, eradication efforts have been by hand, accompanied by military and paramilitary troop movements. They have not included promised programs to rehabilitate the area for other types of cash crops, including the infrastructure and markets required to sell produce. Also missing is any kind of adequate system of education, health and other basic social services. There are no roads leading into and out of places like Piñuña Negro that can handle the ongoing movement of harvests. The only business concerns willing to make the trip into this remote part of Colombia are elements of the coca trade.
However, it is speculated that mining companies are interested in developing the area because of its rich mineral resources, including deposits of gold, silver and platinum. Such interests often precede large-scale efforts to displace populations to open land up for corporate development.
Threats against leaders of the occupation and labor, indigenous and AfroColombian representatives have been escalating. One of the main concerns of the protesters is the safety of these leaders. ASCAP and FENSUAGRO are calling for international observers and accompaniment to help provide security before, during and after negotiations.
The indigenous, AfroColombian and farming community members who are occupying Puerto Piñuña are doing so because they do not want to become one of the more than four million displaced persons in Colombia today—the largest population of refugees in the world. More than 60% of all displaced persons in Colombia are farmers and farm workers, and the primary reasons for these displacements are military and paramilitary threats and assaults and the destruction of farms through eradication efforts—the same conditions being resisted by the communities gathered in Piñuña Negro.
Responding to the ongoing occupation and growing national and international pressure, on the 13th, 14th and 15th of December, officials from Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior and Jusitce visited Piñuña Negro to listen to the concerns of the popular occupation and to assess the general situation. Although the report released by the ministry provided details and anecdotal evidence, no concrete plans for follow-up were given. Instead, the representatives promised the creation of a governmental commission to address the complaints and demands made by the community. However, no date was given as to when the commission would be constituted and no concessions were made
regarding the establishment of negotiations with the community.
The popular occupation of Piñuña Negro is asking the national and international communities to join them in support of their demands. Two important actions people in the US can make are to email and/or call international human rights organizations, Colombian authorities and the US White House and Representatives to demand:
· An end to coca eradications in Putumayo until authorities have negotiated and enacted a plan with Colombian authorities that includes an adequate and just crop replacement component;
· A guarantee of safety for protest leaders and community negotiators;
· An end to Plan Colombia and the triple threat of military and paramilitary repression and eradication programs that are the root causes of displacement of indigenous, AfroColombian and farming communities.
Following is relevant contact information:
Colombian Ministry of the Interior and Justice’ Human Rights Office:
Colombian Embassy in the US:
email@example.com or call 202-387-8338
Interamerican Commission for Human Rights:
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:
To Write Your US Representative:
The Alliance for Global Justice is the primary contact in the United States for communications with the union center that is backing this popular occupation. Those wanting to learn more about this situation should write firstname.lastname@example.org or call either 520-243-0381 or 202-544-9355.
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