Peasant Farms in Colombia Are Being Killed for Their Land
On a hot, dusty morning in July, I found myself rattling down a road in the beautiful Colombian countryside. I was there as part of a delegation with the international NGO Justice for Colombia, crashing through virtually unusable roads, over gaping potholes, and dangerously rusted bridges—testament to the government’s unwillingness to invest in its countryside regions, which are inhabited mostly by peasants.
At about 7 AM the bus stopped and we disembarked, unaware of what lay ahead. Waiting for us were at least 60 campesinos—the Spanish word for peasant farmers—lining either side of the road. They were standing upright, left hands aloft, right hands behind their backs, shouting demands for justice in a single, unified voice. We walked up the road in the morning sunlight, pausing occasionally to shake their hands and echo their cries of “Viva!”
This is the region of Catatumbo, and the campesinos are its poorest residents. At the moment, Catatumbo is at the frontline of Colombia’s civil war—a war that hasn’t abated, no matter what the country’s tourist board might tell you.
A few weeks before our arrival, security forces turned up and opened fire on a campesinos protest,killing four and wounding 50. The type of bullets the authorities use mean that limbs often explode and have to be amputated. The Colombian government is currently promising an investigation into human rights abuses in Catatumbo, but state repression has yet to deter the region’s residents—they are genuinely the hardest people I’ve ever met. Despite the threat of security forces returning to rob them of life and limb, during our visit thousands of campesinos were blockading the road to the region’s capital, taking turns to make sure that no vehicle could get through.