Colombian farmers arrest 180 soldiers
Farmers in Colombia arrested 180 soldiers to protest the government’s campaign to eradicate their coca farms. Armed with sticks and machetes, around 600 farmers surrounded the soldiers last October 26 in Tibú, Norte de Santander. The soldiers were deployed to the municipality in October 22 with orders to to destroy their farms.
The farmers belong to various peasant associations. They detained the soldiers for two days before releasing them. The farmers announced the soldiers’ release last October 29, after the Colombian reactionary state agreed to end the forcible and violent destruction of their farms. The government also promised to come up with a comprehensive plan to help farmers gradually shift towards the production of other crops. It was also made clear that the said program will include plans to improve the lives of the farmers.
Coca plantations in Tibú in the Catatumbo region are estimated to cover around 40,086 hectares of land. For decades, the state has been enforcing the policy of “forced eradication” of coca plants. Coca leaves are a raw ingredient for the production of cocaine. The production and exportation of this drug is one of the biggest operations of criminal syndicates in Colombia, which are believed to also have power over the government bureaucracy. The US is among the biggest markets of cocaine.
Farmers are the frequent targets of militaristic tactics in quelling coca production. US imperialists provide funds and intervene in these operations, which extend to counterinsurgency campaigns. Widespread violence to suppress the farmers’ struggles is tightly linked to the policy of eradicating coca production. In October 2018, state forces fired upon protesting coca growers in the province of Nariño, resulting in the massacre of seven farmers and the wounding of 30 others.
Likewise, the indiscriminate aerial spraying of glyphosate to defoliate coca plants pose a huge health risk to farmers. The said chemical is not only toxic to the soil and rivers, but is also harmful to humans.
The state does not provide any alternative program to ensure the livelihood of farmers with the eradication of coca farms. As a result, farmers usually return to coca production after their crops are destroyed. According to a study, an estimated 80% of the affected farmers return to coca production. Around 70% of them resume farming in the same location, while others relocate to different areas.