Dublin, Republic of Ireland (Éire) -The campaigns and solidarity organisation Justice for Colombia (trade union based solidarity campaign which affiliates 10 union and branches with up to 250,000 members), the Latin American Solidarity Centre and the Grupo Raíces –Grúpa Fréamhacha (a Latin American and Colombian based solidarity group which works with popular and agrarian organizations in Colombia) expressed their protest against the State repression against the peasant movement in Catatumbo, in the Northeast of Colombia. A letter of protest was sent on July 2nd to parliamentarians, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Joe Costello, and to the Tánaiste, Mr. Eamon Gilmore. On this letter, titled “Peasants in Catatumbo need solutions and alternatives to misery, not lethal repression”, the demands of the peasants protesting in Catatumbo under the banners of the agrarian union ASCAMCAT-FENSUAGRO are briefly explained. It also denounces the Colombian government response to their peaceful and legal protest:
“so far scores of peasant farmers have been seriously wounded, and four people are dead [ed. Dionel Jácome Ortiz -30-, Edwin Franco Jaimes -22-, Diomar Angarita y Hermidez Palacio]. Local shops have been raided by police, houses have been burnt, possessions of the protestors have been destroyed, human rights defenders and agrarian leaders have been harassed; the community has even been gassed.”
The letter expresses their solidarity with the peasant movement and claims that the situation in Catatumbo today is:
“ totally unacceptable, particularly while the government is negotiating a peace agreement. Once more, Colombia has failed to prove that it is a democratic country where the civil and social rights of the citizens are respected. Is this the military treatment that peaceful protest will receive in the future? How many deaths are needed before the Colombian government will fulfil its legal responsibilities towards its own people?”
The letter ends up doing a call to the Irish authorities to use the existing legal mechanisms agreed between the EU and Colombia, such as the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation from 2003:
“While we understand the Irish government cannot be directly involved in the peace process in Habana, we call on the government to find a way to use its influence to mediate in this crisis to prevent further bloodshed. This is of paramount importance, given the current agreements in relation to cooperation and respect of human rights and the democratic clause between the EU and the Colombian state.
We urgently request:
1. The establishment of a negotiating forum with ASCAMCAT-FENSUAGRO to solve the crisis and to implement what is a legal and constitutional entitlement of the peasant population in Catatumbo –the Project of Sustainable Development and the Peasant Reserve Zone.
2. Reparation and justice for the families affected by the violent response of the State to a peaceful protest, in particular to the families of Dionel Jácome Ortiz, Edwin Franco Jaimes, Diomar Angarita and Hermidez Palacio. We need to see those responsible for their murders and those who gave the order to be brought to justice.
3. Respect to the peasants’ right to association, freedom of assembly and peaceful protest.
4. And finally to seek an end to wanton use of force and militarisation of Catatumbo. The problems in that region are of a social nature, not of a military nature.”
This letter has been endorsed by parliamentarians such as Ms Clare Daly who stated that “this appalling situation is an absolute international scandal and I will be happy to highlight it at every available opportunity and inform the public about what is going on”. The secretary of Justice for Colombia in the Republic of Ireland, John O’Brien, also stated that “international pressure should be used to reach a peaceful resolution to the unacceptable situation in Catatumbo. Given our stated position on human rights internationally, Ireland can and should lead that effort.”
We expect reactions in the coming days to this letter and we will keep an eye in further developments on the ground. For now, apart from expressing our outrage, we welcome the agreement on a negotiation forum on Tibú (Catatumbo) on July 4th. We hope that, finally, the voice of the peasants is heard and those responsible for the abominable violence we have witnessed these weeks are brought to justice.