In another case of Colombian villagers staging a local uprising in response to militarization of their communities, on March 24 a detachment of some 20 special anti-narcotics agents of the National Police were detained by indigenous peasants at the hamlet of Alto Naya, in the southern region of Cauca. Villagers apparently accused the troops, who were on a coca eradication mission, of entering indigenous lands without community consent. But the local National Police commander said consent had been secured at a meeting with village leaders held in the nearby town of Santander de Quilichao. In any event, police seemingly agreed to call off the eradication mission in order to win the release of the detained troops.
Militarization of indigenous lands is a sensitive issue in Alto Naya, which was the scene of an April 2001 massacre in which 37 villagers were killed by paramilitary gunmen.
Cauca has been the scene of growing protests in recent months, as indigenous peasants have staged land occupations in an effort to recover traditional territories they say have been illegally usurped. Colombia’s interior ministry this month invited indigenous representatives from Cauca to discuss the situation in a bid to broker peace. The move comes after March 7 clashes between indigenous protesters and army troops, in which some 50 protesters and two soldiers were injured. The clash took place at La Emperatriz hacienda in Caloto municipality, one of the contested properties.
In the campaign to “Liberate Mother Earth,” Cauca indigenous peasants are seeking to recover 40,000 hectares of land now mostly under the control of sugar plantations contracted by Colombian soft-drink giant Postobón.