The People’s Land Summit, March’s March, and an Ultimatum

The People’s Land Summit, March’s March, and an Ultimatum
CAHUCOPANA, a grass-roots campesino organization that formed to defend the land and human rights of the campesinos in north-east Antioquia, has learnt that sometimes you have to leave your home to defend it. CAHUCOPANA asked the CPT Colombian team to accompany a caravan of dozens of buses from the department of Antioquia to join about 30 thousand demonstrators in a march in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, on the 17th of March of this year.

The march was planned to end and compliment the People’s Land Summit, also held in Bogotá. The Summit itself, in which CAHUCOPANA also participated, was in response to the national government’s failure to live up to the commitments it had made as part of negotiations to end a nation-wide general strike in August of 2013. After having first met with and consulting their constituencies, leaders of various social movements and organizations got together for a Summit in Bogotá to decide how they could collectively best organize an appropriate response. Participants included indigenous, Afro-descendant, campesino, artisanal miner federations, students, and others. Although the government did consult with agro-industry and other huge stake-holders, it failed to honour its commitment to consult with or address the concerns of those who organized and took part in last year’s general strike. The Summit, therefore, came up with its own criteria and blueprint for an inclusive Colombian agrarian policy. After the Summit they presented the government with that blueprint, and an ultimatum: comply with our demands by the first week of May, or face the consequences of another paralysing nation-wide civil strike.

The Land Summit managed for the first time in the history of social movements in the country, to unite peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian organizations. The movement represents the economic, social, environmental, cultural, territorial and political demands of historically marginalized and excluded communities. It is a call to the national government to recognize the urgent need for structural reform to protect the rights of the rural population. The Summit also proposed a single negotiating table, a scenario that would improve the level of dialogue, avoid procrastination, and promote enforceable agreements in the short and medium term. The unity achieved today is also the unity of action. We have embarked on a path of social action that will ensure rights that have up until now been denied us are both enforceable and achievable. The Summit and its proposals constitute a definite commitment and investment on our part in the achievement of peace: a peace that, to be stable and lasting, must be built from the bottom up, be socially inclusive, based on truth, justice, effective political participation, and guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights in rural Colombia.

–Declaración Política Cumbre Agraia

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The Summit represents a coalition of a wide variety of social movements, from all over the country: Antioquia, Arauca, Boyacá, Caquetá, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Eje Cafetero (Caldas, Risaralda y Quindío), Nariño, Putumayo, Valle del Cauca, Tolima y Huila. Their collective demands are many and wide-ranging. They include: sovereignty over the local territory and resources of native, Afro-descendant and campesino farmers; agrarian reform and increased access to land; environmental protection and an end to the ceding of territory and local resources to multinational mining companies; the revocation of the US Free Trade Agreement’s prohibition on (criminalization of) the traditional practice of saving and planting ancestral seeds for new crops (dubbed “the Monosanto Law”); prior informed consent of the local population before exploiting petroleum resources; viable alternatives to coca production before the aerial spraying or manual eradication of coca crops; representation and participation in peace talks; truth, justice and reparation for victims of state and paramilitary violence; an end to impunity and guarantees of non-repetition for victims of crimes; and more.

The government has been put on notice: it has until the first week of May to comply, or face a second nation-wide civil strike. The previous strike, which included 5 large demonstrations in Bogotá, and 30 more in other major cities in Colombia, paralysed much of the country for weeks, and resulted in 19 deaths, 600 injured, and hundreds of arrests. It ended when the government finally agreed to enter into dialogue and come up with a social plan in line with the concerns and demands of the protesters. Last December some protesters again took to the streets “with the complaint that the government of President Juan Manuel Santos had not followed through on 72 of the 88 agreements signed as part of the negotiations to lift the farmers’ month-long strike in August”. Unless dialogue happens and issues are resolved in the very near future, it seems that the general strike and protest that ended last August will resume some time in early May—in the middle of an election campaign.