Anti-riot police in the southwestern Colombian city of Tumaco on Saturday brutally attacked dozens of Afro-Indigenous coca growers protesting government eradication of the crop, leaving eight critically injured.
The National Coordination of Coca Cultivators, COCCAM, say police shot and pistol-whipped members of their organization with automatic rifles during their demonstration. A video obtained by teleSUR also shows Colombian police firing numerous rounds.
The COCCAM also said police detained four protesters.
A police officer was shot dead during the standoff in retaliation for the injuries and detentions.
“We energetically reject the use of violence by the armed forces against campesinos who grow coca,” COCCAM wrote in a statement.
“This act by the national government engenders a lack of confidence and credibility for police in regions across the country.”
Demonstrators are demanding to meet with the Ombudsman's Office of Colombia and President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss reversing the government ban on coca growing. They also want to discuss human rights violations committed by Colombian police against campesinos across the country.
Coca grower protests in Tumaco, one of Colombia’s most fertile regions for the crop, began on March 25, when the ban was implemented by the country’s Congress. Since then, they have blocked roads leading to the city’s sea ports, halting trade in the region.
Right-wing politicians backing the coca ban, including former president Alvaro Uribe, claim groups like COCCAM are working with leftist guerilla groups to sell cocaine. No evidence has been provided to support this claim, however.
Nariño Governor Camilo Romero is currently in talks with Colombian lawmakers to strike a deal with coca growers in his department, which includes Tumaco.
“The objective is for the national government to clarify the anti-drug strategies that will be implemented in Nariño, so that peasants who produce coca, marijuana and other crops of illicit use proceed to unblock the road to the sea and finalize the clashes between the civilian population and public forces,” Romero said, according to local newspaper Pasto Extra.
Police brutality against coca growers in Tumaco is emblematic of systemic violence against campesinos in the South American country. In the last 14 months, 156 social leaders in Colombia were killed, EFE reported. Most of those killed were Afro-Indigenous farm workers and organizers.