In another case of Colombian villagers staging a local uprising in response to militarization of their communities, on the night of Jan. 18 residents of Argelia village in the conflicted southern region of Cauca detained 36 army troops for several hours. The rebellion was sparked by the death of a local resident who was shot when he tried to run an army checkpoint on his motorbike. Troops of the 56th Infantry Battalion were immediately surrounded by angry villagers, disarmed, and marched off to the Argelia cabacera (municipal building). Village authorities finally agreed to release the soldiers after the government agreed to send a team to mediate. Colombia’s official human rights ombudsman, the Defensoría del Pueblo, is backing up villagers’ demands that civilian rather than military authorities conduct the investigation into the killing. The army claims the slain man was carrying 25 pounds of coca paste.
Cauca is one of Colombia’s most conflicted regions, a key artery between the inland coca production zones and Pacific coast ports, with left-wing guerillas and right-wing paramilitary factions vying for control of the trade. Indigenous villagers have long protested that armed factions, including Colombia’s national army, do not respect their constitutionally guaranteed autonomy by keeping out of their communities.
A similar incident was seen in October at a village in Antioquia region, to Cauca’s north, when peasants detained a detachment of soldiers after three residents were arrested on charges of running a cocaine lab.