A new wave of protests in Colombia's troubled coca-growing region has more than 30 injured, as the government takes a hard line against farmers opposing eradication of the crop that is the raw material for cocaine, even while it negotiates similar matters with the country's largest rebel organization.
Social unrest sparked by plans to destroy coca crops near the Venezuelan border in the northeastern region of Catatumbo last month left four dead and dozens injured. New confrontations this week left 13 protesters and 24 police injured, reported the radio program La FM.
Police also announced Thursday that prosecutors were filing charges against 10 of 32 people detained in last month's clashes, reported El Tiempo, many of them for terrorism and vandalism.
Almost 18,000 people cannot leave their homes because of protesters' roadblocks, said the United Nations. These roadblocks have caused food shortages and a steep increase in prices, reported Radio RCN.
A nationwide protest is planned for July 20, Colombia's independence day, said the ex-senator Piedad Cordoba who heads her own small political party.
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The remote rural region of Catatumbo is a symbolic place for the Colombian conflict, with a long and troubled history of guerrilla activity, paramilitary massacres and government repression. In a story repeated across Colombia and the other Andes nations, coca-growing farmers find themselves in the middle of conflict between all sides, and have claimed that the government has failed to offer them any viable economic alternatives to their illegal crop.
As peace talks between the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government continue in Cuba, the Catatumbo conflict provides a microcosm of the entrenched issues of land reform and economic development the two sides are attempting to tackle.
However, negotiations between the government and farmers, whose demands include the creation of a peasants' reserve and a rural development plan, have failed. And last week President Juan Manuel Santos said that a peasant reserve was out of the question as it “would jeopardize the authority of the state and the security of Colombians.”
The government also claims protests are being incited by the FARC, and that the semi-autonomous peasant reserves could turn into rebel havens.
For its part, the United Nations has accused the government of using excessive force in response to the legitimate protests.