Beginning on the 15th May 2006 more than fifteen thousand representatives of campesino, indigenous and black community groups from across the South West of Colombia began arriving at the Indigenous Reserve of 'La Maria' in the department of Cauca, South West Colombia. They were there to protest the effects of the Free Trade Agreement signed between Colombia and the United States and to criticise the lack of progress on national and regional agreements to expand land rights to indigenous and black communities in the region.
The protestors took the decision to peacefully occupy the Pan-American Highway, which links the Departments of Valle de Cauca, Cauca and Narino and extends downwards to Ecuador. They demanded that the government begin dialogue with these marginalised populations and comply with its legal obligations. In characteristic Colombia state style the Uribe government met peaceful protest with overwhelming violence.
On Tuesday 16th May ESMAD, the Colombia riot police, entered La Maria injuring 26 people and shooting three. Pedro Coscue, was one of those shot and he later died of his wounds.
On Wednesday protests continued and the ESMAD repeated their attacks. By Thursday 18th May many more protestors had been injured and 19 people were reported 'disappeared' with their whereabouts unknown and the Colombian authorities refusing to concede whether they were in custody.
Even more worrying was the action of the Governor of the Cauca Region who suggested that the protests were being led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The governor's words served to legitimise the excessive use of force by the police. Accusations that the protests were coordinated by the FARC were fiercely denied by the protestors and their representatives. Floro Tunubala, the ex governor of the Cauca Department and the first ever indigenous governor in Colombia, criticised the current governor for 'forgetting that the indigenous movement and the social organisations of Cauca have rejected and condemned the barbarities committed by the guerrilla and the paramilitaries in Colombia, and have demanded respect for life through a series of marches realised over the last few
years rejecting the armed conflict in the region'.
The organisations leading the protest are now calling for national and international solidarity to challenge the repressive actions of the state and are demanding that the United Nations sends a delegation to monitor the situation. They are calling on the government to respect the right to peaceful protest of the more than 15,000 demonstrators and to desist from using excessive force and violent against them.
Please send letters urging the Colombian government to respect the fundamental human rights of protesters, release the 19 'disappeared' protestors, and address the legitimate demands of Colombia's indigenous, black and campesino populations:
Please send messages of protest to (sample letter below):
With Copies to:
Dear President Uribe,
We, members of the international community are deeply concerned for the wellbeing and human rights of the thousands of indigenous, black and campesino communities that have gathered in the South West of Colombia to peacefully protest against current government policies.
We call on the Colombian Government to respect the fundamental human rights of all Colombia's citizens and to ensure the swift return of the following disappeared people:
1. Wilmer Vitonaz Mosquera 22 años (Corinto, las Cruces)
2. Niña de 7 años de apellido Peteche (Caloto Resguardo del Huila)
3. Elías Sánchez 40 años (Tacueyó)
4. Adolfo Coicué, 28 años (Tacueyó, zona Damián)
5. José Alexander Yalanda 18 años (La María)
6. Adriana Valencia 24 años (Morales zona de honduras)
7. Misael Biscunda Chocué (San pablo)
8. Manuel Yalanda (La María)
9. Luis Enrique Acosta Casamachin 45 años (Corinto, San Pablo)
10. Miguel Carabalí -afrodescendiente- 45 años (Salvajina)
11. Ernesto Rodallejas -Afrodescendiente- 35 años(Salvajina)
12. Víctor Masuique 50 años (Pajarito)
13. Gentil Geucha isco 18 años (Caloto, resguardo Huila)
14. Alberto Rivera 26 años (Jambaló, la mina)
15. Luz Mery Chocué 25 años (Jambaló, La Mina)
16. Carolina Opocué 27 años (Toribío)
17. Vilma Rivera 26 años (Santander zona urbana)
18. Carlos Andrés Ruíz 22 años (Santander zona urbana)
19. María Opocué 26 años (Toribío)
Furthermore, we demand that the Colombian government investigates the events surrounding the assassination of Pedro Coscue and call for the prosecution of those responsible.