Another rural farmer in Colombia has been killed by a military soldier in the northeastern rural area of the country.
Alexander Jose Padilla Cruz of the National Coordinator of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana Cultivators, or Coccam, was picking coca leaves at his small farm in Tierra Alta located in the department of Cordoba in northern Colombia. According to Andres Chica Durango, Director of the Cordoberxia Foundation, the soldier told Cruz to stop.
“Cruz didn’t, and the soldier shot him ... (Cruz) wasn’t committing any crime," he added.
Cruz had just signed onto the government agreement, National Integral Program Integral for Substitution of Illicit Crops, or PNIS, designed for small farmers who, for the past six decades, have lived in remote rural areas abandoned by the state. These campesinos have depended on growing illicit crops for subsistence.
The program, part of the government’s larger peace accord with the former Revolution Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, is trying to help small-scale farmers substitute illicit crops for legal ones.
According to Durango, PNIS allows farmers to "continue to maintain cultivating (illicit crops), but they can’t process them."
"The military shouldn’t even be in this zone because all 53 farmers here are a part of the PNIS accord.” More than 115,000 families that cultivate 72,000 hectares of coca are a part of PNIS.
Community members of Tierra Alta detained the soldier accused of killing Cruz and handed him to authorities.
Since January of this year, the military has assassinated 20 PNIS members.
Just two days ago, social movement leaders marched in Bogota to demand that authorities do something about the military and paramilitary killings of PNIS members and rural land rights activists.
"They are killing us one by one. The government is distorting the truth, saying the killings are about settling scores, but what scores do they have to settle with us?” said one of the masked marchers. The rural activists believe that big industry and cattle ranchers who want access to campesino lands are working hand-in-hand with armed forces to eradicate them from their territories.
Nevertheless, 15 groups of about 700 dissidents in total have refused to accept the terms of the deal, according to a report issued last week by the foundation Peace and Reconciliation.