On July 16, more than 1,000 peasants from the Morales municipality of Bolivar department, Colombia, protested against the illegal arrest of nine social leaders and human rights defenders from the Micohumado town by the national army and police officials. Protesters blocked several roads in the south of the Bolivar department, including the Morales-Gamarra highway, for several hours.
#DerechosHumanos ✊🏾| La comunidad del municipio de Morales, Sur de Bolívar, se moviliza y exige respuestas al gobernador por la captura infundada de 12 campesinos el lunes en el corregimiento de Micoahumado. pic.twitter.com/NDkyF2PFN1
— Colombia Informa (@Col_Informa) July 17, 2019
The arrests occurred on July 15, at around 2 am, when the soldiers of Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta Marte, stationed in the region, along with police officials violently entered several houses of the community and arbitrarily arrested 9 peasant leaders (8 men and 1 woman, who is pregnant). The army officials claim that the nine are members of the revolutionary left-wing guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), however, the community assures that the detained people are only peasants.
Through a joint communiqué, the inhabitants and social and peasant organizations of Micoahumado, such as Proceso Ciudadano Comunitario por la Vida, la Justicia y la Paz de Micoahumado, Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolívar, Corporación Sembrar,* denounced that “the soldiers entered violently, firing shots, breaking the doors and causing damage to the houses, taking people by force, they were not allowed to dress or put on shoes and the presence of minors was not respected.”
In addition, immediately after the incident, when the community members headed to the military base of the region to demand answers about the arbitrary arrests, they were met with teargas and physical force.
Incidents of illegal detention and prosecution of social leaders without any valid reasons have a long history in the region. The criminalization of social leaders in South of Bolivar and across Colombia is part of a state strategy to dismantle the strength and cohesion of social movements that challenge the interests of the state and the Colombian oligarchy. Many of the people who have been arrested and prosecuted are eventually released after being proven innocent, and yet the prosecution and stigmatization have not stopped. The recent episode has once again highlighted the stigmatization of peasant communities of the region by the Colombian security forces.
Since the beginning of this year, the Micoahumado community has also been denouncing the militarization of their territory due to the presence of 4,000 soldiers of the Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta Marta as well as the violation of human rights of community members by the Colombian army. The clashes between the guerilla group and the army have become a major cause of concern for the residents and they have called for the demilitarization of the zone.
The platform of social movements and organizations in Colombia Congreso de los Pueblos (The People’s Congress) wrote in a communique responding to the incident “From the People’s Congress we reject the persecution and stigmatization of social leaders across national territory. The Public Force has dedicated itself to criminalizing community leaders and community members…This situation has been aggravated by the systematic assassination of leaders, with the silent complicity of a State that is not worried about the life of the inhabitants of the most vulnerable territories.”
They denounce, “In this illegal and irregular action, the Public Force detained nine innocent people, who are being accused of crimes they did not commit, and as such are victims of a criminalisation that has intensified during the current government.”
* The organisation names translated are: Citizen Community Process for Life, Justice and Peace in Micoahumado, Agro-Mining Federation of South Bolívar, Sembrar Organization