The municipality of San Miguel, Putumayo, along the border with Ecuador, is one of the most violent and dangerous in Colombia. So things must be very urgent for hundreds of people to gather in the town center for a multi-day protest.
On March 18, 50 people from the municipality’s rural zone gathered in the county seat, La Dorada; their numbers continued to grow until, on March 26, 3,000 people from 30 villages had converged, and were marching through the town’s streets.
The protesters say that following the wave of intense U.S.-funded aerial herbicide fumigation that took place in December and January, they have been left with nothing to eat, and that levels of hunger have reached crisis proportions.
San Miguel has been subject to regular fumigations since late 2000, when “Plan Colombia” got underway with a large-scale spray campaign in Putumayo. The December-January fumigations are the same ones that caused the Ecuadorian government to lodge high-profile protests with Bogotá, in a diplomatic spat that is still not fully resolved.
The San Miguel protesters are demanding humanitarian aid to address their immediate food needs, and a commitment to fund projects to help them abandon coca, achieve food security and grow legal crops.
About 400 of the protesters remain, at least as of three days ago, in La Dorada’s main school, according to the Bogotá-based human-rights group MINGA. They promise to remain there until Putumayo’s governor and representatives of the central government meet with them.
The U.S. government, which funded the spraying that killed the farmers’ food crops, now has an obligation to help these people feed their families. Even those who see the San Miguel farmers as criminals who got what they deserved – there are plenty of such people here in Washington – should recognize that killing the population’s food crops, then refusing relief, is no way to run a counter-insurgency campaign.
Here is a translation of a letter that the San Miguel farmers sent last Friday to Colombia’s human-rights ombudsman, or defensor del pueblo.