Justice for Colombia: Day 3 – Harrowing Stories


Motorbikes in colombiaOur Head of Employment continues to blog about experiences as the delegation move through Colombia.

A 03:00 wake up call for a 06.30 scheduled flight to the Putumayo district in South Colombia where, in the town of Puerto Assis, we expected to meet with upwards of 200 representatives of local community and indigenous groups.

On arrival, we discovered that more than half of our welcoming party had travelled to the village of La Carmelita, 3 hours away, to support striking oil workers who had set up a road blockade. This was achieved by dismantling a bridge on the single road leading to the oil field, tankers were then prevented access.

Workers were responding to the oil company's actions in extending its exploration activities to within just 500 meters of the indigenous people's reserve. In addition, the area was continuously being fumigated with obvious adverse environmental consequences. We quickly took the decision to head to La Carmelita to support the workers. Around 30 local peasant farmers and community leaders joined us.

Anything but Straightforward

Getting to La Carmelita was anything but straightforward. The lack of infrastructure in Putumayo significantly contributes to the isolation of indigenous groups who routinely suffer human rights abuses.

We drive to Putumayo River where we took a barge ferry across the water and boarded an open air bus. Bumped and jostled along the single dirt track into the jungle, we eventually came to the blockade. The military presence en route was palpable, with riot police camped at numerous checkpoints along the way.

A rudimentary rebuild of the bridge allowed us to walk across but our bus didn't make it, breaking down as soon as the tyres hit the planks. Locals on motorbikes relayed many of us to the outskirts of La Carmelita where canoes were at the ready to take us to the village boundary. Walking into the village we were welcomed by around 170 locals willing to share their own stories.

Led Away

We were horrified to learn that on 17 May 2014 state security forces in the area unlawfully entered the homes of 4 families.

At around 02:00 they confiscated the families' mobile phones and led away four young men.

At 04:00 the families heard shots being fired but were prevented from leaving their homes.

At 06:00 they walked out onto the street to find their loved ones lying dead, having been shot by the security forces. A 14 year old boy lay among them. The others were husbands and brothers of the women standing before us.

Before long an orderly queue had formed, each person eager to share their experiences. A boy in his early teens told of his father's disappearance on 17 July. He later learned that his father had been shot by the military who, the boy believed, had taped explosives to his father's chest before releasing the body.

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