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  • Colombian Esmad member stands ready to confront Asoinca protester in Cauca.

    Colombian Esmad member stands ready to confront Asoinca protester in Cauca. | Photo: Asoinca Facebook

Published 4 March 2019

At least 18 demonstrators have been injured by national police since a general strike began last week in rural Cauca. Protesters demand land from a 2013 agreement. 

At least 18 demonstrators were injured by the Colombian anti-riot police (Esmad) late last week in the town of Popayan as a general strike continues against the state’s failure to complete a 2013 resolution to bring land reform and economic development to the region wracked by violence and high income inequality.  

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According to the president of the Association of Educational Institutes and Workers of Cauca (Asoinca) at least six people were seriously injured by the national police, and another six teachers were detained.

Member of the National Association of Campesino Users (ANUC), John Jairo Astudillo, may lose an eye due to a police injury to his face, says Suceso Cauca Radio.

"We want people to show solidarity because our colleague is very badly (injured) in the hospital. He has suffered a brutal blow to one of his eyes by the Esmad," a ANUC leader told the local media outlet. At least one association member remains missing after the police attacked the demonstrators in the street.

Popayan Secretary of Health Iris Santiago said that 10 people were treated at a local hospital, many for tear gas inhalation.

For a week the Asoinca, ANUC, the Association of Dignified Housing (ADH), as well as Indigenous and Afro-Colombian people movements have been staging a general strike against the Ivan Duque government for his overall refusal to converse with campesino organizations and for cutting off peace talks with the National Liberation ELN. 

The social movements say Duque has refused to begin to fulfill agreements made with them under the Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) administration, including the construction of 700 homes in Popayan located in the Cauca department.

Protesters also say the current government is failing to follow through with the 2013 land reform between Santos and the FARC, precursor to the 2016 Peace Accord, that would enable them fair access to land and resources, what the FARC had been fighting for since its 1964 formation. They continue to demand protection from state instutions against paramilitary killings of social movement leaders in Cauca as promised by the 2016 agreement.

Teacher union Asoinca says its demanding more teacher hires and a food program for poor students.

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Fernando Vargas, president of Asoinca told local media: "We say to the community, to the city of Popayan, that they understand us because of the inconveniences, but all this effort we are doing for life and for the territory, for the National Government to bring concrete solutions to collective problems. We appreciate your understanding."

The government has responded to the strikes and highway closures with tear gas and repression.

A video posted on the Asoinca website shows several heavily armed Esmad members dressed in full riot gear arguing with a woman taping the video. At one point an Esmad police cocks his rifle and points it in the direction of the camera.

Cauca Inigenous say they will join the strikes March 10.

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