‘Minga’ strike launched in defence of environment, peace and human rights

Thousands of people have mobilised in southwest Colombia in a new ‘Minga’ strike in support of environmental and land rights, human rights and peace.

Indigenous, African-Colombian and peasant farmer organisations are demanding a meeting with President Iván Duque to address the chronic violence and state abandonment which continues to impact their communities despite the signing of the 2016 peace agreement. Human rights groups and students have also joined the mobilisations.

While Monday saw talks with government representatives in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, strike leaders say they will travel to Bogota if Duque does not meet them in Cali.

The north Cauca region at the forefront of the Minga has been impacted more than virtually anywhere else in Colombia else by the human rights crisis. Cauca has seen the highest number of murders of social activists in the country, with indigenous communities particularly targeted. According to the INDEPAZ human rights organisation, 47 indigenous leaders have been murdered in Cauca in 2020. With Colombia having seen a major rise in massacres this year, approaching double the number of recorded cases during the whole of 2019, nine of the 67 massacres recorded so far this year have been committed in Cauca.

The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), Colombia’s largest such body, has accused the government of failing to protect lives. ONIC human rights officer Aída Quilcué said ‘the Colombian government does not have the least will to guarantee the individual and collective lives of indigenous people.’ Duque’s government has been criticised for inaction over the security crisis, with the United Nations Verification Mission, based in Colombia to oversee implementation of the peace process, repeatedly emphasising the urgent need to advance security mechanisms contained in the 2016 agreement.

Another core Minga demand is maintaining the ban on aerial spraying of chemicals on illegal crop plantations such as coca. While Colombia’s Supreme court previously prohibited the practice due to the damage caused to the environment and people’s health, Duque’s administration is pushing for its return. There are also concerns over the environmental and social impact of fracking, mining and other extractive industries which have had a major impact on rural populations.

Elsewhere, the Minga is calling for reform of the security forces. Nelson Lemus, a spokesperson for the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), criticised the continued militarisation of regions despite the signing of the peace agreement, and questioned why police are still provided with arms more suited to conflict than issues of public security. ‘Our proposal is fewer arms, [and] more social investment, so that people can have more possibilities in production, work, health, and so that education is not a commodity,’ he said.

Colombia’s last Minga was held in April 2019 and saw occupations of major roads and public spaces. Security forces were accused of excessive violence towards protesters, while right-wing politicians made a number of baseless claims that the strikes were being coordinated by guerrilla movements. This stigmatisation provoked fears of violent reprisals by armed groups towards protesters.