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Bogotá, March 7, 2015

Starting at 5:00 a.m. on 7 March 2015, the National Police Riot Squad of Colombia (ESMAD) carried out a violent expulsion operation against the communities of Cantagallo, in southern Bolívar department, who have been peacefully demanding guarantees of their right to health. The communities report that ESMAD is breaking into homes, spraying tear gas, and violently ejecting the residents. There has been one death during this operation, that of OSCAR LUIS PEÑA REDONDA, as a result of the anguish and terror caused by the police action. Several residents have been arrested.

During the 18-day protest, the community has called for a dialogue with the competent authorities to deal with the serious health crisis facing the town, which has endangered the lives of approximately 7,000 residents needing medical treatment.

We hereby alert the domestic and international community that leaders and residents participating in the protests have been named and threatened by the authorities. Former and current public officials have been claiming that the guerrillas are behind the ongoing protests in the town. This increases the risk faced by the leaders of this region of the country, whom the government has declined to protect.

Yesterday in an urgent action, we called attention to the Colombian government’s lack of political will to address the grave problems affecting the communities of this region and denounced the government’s violent repression of freedom of association and the right to peaceful protest. The Dialogue Commission for Southern Bolívar and Central and Southern Cesar departments has denounced the government’s continual reneging on the agreements reached at the Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and People’s Summit. There, the national government committed to reactivating and promoting the regional dialogue tables, but that has not happened in the case of these departments. According to information supplied by the National Police in the city of Bogotá, today’s expulsions were carried out under a court order, and this was allegedly the government’s excuse for failing to intervene.

Since February 18, 2014, the communities have been holding a peaceful protest in favor of the right to health, but the local, regional and national authorities have not stepped in to address and resolve the communities’ demands.

The community of Cantagallo has produced a damning portrait of its residents’ health status:

  • Two years with no doctor in this rural area.
  • Only one doctor in the whole town of 8000.
  • Dilapidated, half-built, and abandoned health infrastructure.
  • Lack of medical staff, including doctors and nurses, this situation being even worse in the rural areas.
  • Loss of human life and/or deteriorating health status of many residents, for lack of medical attention.
  • Fiscal deficit.
  • Failure to meet the health-related goals of the Municipal Development Plan. (See table of programs, subprograms, and projects included in the Development Plan.
  • Lopsided execution of the Development Plan, with bigger investment in some sectors to the detriment of investment in areas as vital as health care.



Bogotá, March 6, 2015

The undersigned organizations hereby alert the domestic and international community to the following facts, which constitute a high risk for the farming and mining, grassroots, and community organizations of southern Bolívar: attacks on freedom of expression and information, as well as flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.


1. On Sunday, March 1, 2015, a special commando of the National Army Fifth Brigade occupied the community centre of the town of Arenal, southern Bolívar department, where various organizations participating in the Southern Bolivar and Southern Cesar Dialogue Commission have offices, including the Cultural Survival Foundation (FUREC) and the COOMUARENAL cooperative. It is also the meeting place of a number of peasant and Afro-Colombian organization based in this town.

2. The Armed Forces occupied the site, built a military encampment, and obstructed the operation of the organizations, constituting a clear and overt violation of international humanitarian law and putting the town’s civilian population at risk, since the community centre is right downtown.

3. A delegation from the Early Warning System operated by the People’s Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) and the Peoples’ Congress went to the site and took note of the situation, at the same time requesting an explanation from the Army for its serious misconduct. The Army told the delegation that it had been called in by the town police, acting on information to the effect that attacks on the police station had been rumoured; that is, that the Army was there to protect the police.

4. Housed at the community centre are the offices of the Cultural Survival Foundation (FUREC), which holds the operating license for the Arenal Stereo (“Negrita Stereo”) community radio station. It should be noted that FUREC has been the object of continual persecution by Mayor Aldomar Pabuena, Municipal Attorney Fabio Rodriguez Sierra, and the Arenal town police. This persecution is evidenced by ongoing pressure and threats from these authorities, who have infringed residents’ freedom of association, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of information in cases previously reported. Today, the legal representative of FUREC is summoned to appear before the town police inspector for the third time. FUREC has had to travel to defend the community radio station following a series of accusations, slanders, and complaints filed by the Mayor before bodies such as the Ministry of Communications in an attempt to take control of a mass media organ that has professionally broadcast impartial information in the region.

5. In addition, the communities of southern Bolívar have sounded the alarm as to the presence in recent days of armed men apparently belonging to paramilitary groups, between the towns of Norosí and Arenal. According to information from the community, the armed group was seen patrolling and entering the town of Arenal during nighttime hours. A similar situation is occurring in the town of Tiquisio and upper Norosí, where the paramilitaries are to be found acting openly and publicly, causing fear and anxiety in the population, practicing extortion and being involved in the planting of illicit crops.

6. Neither the local, regional, or national authorities have shown the political will to address the serious problems facing the communities of this region. The government has reneged on the agreement reached at the Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and People’s Summit concerning the reactivation of the regional dialogue table for southern Bolívar and southern Cesar departments. Meanwhile, the communities have had to avail themselves of the right of peaceful protest through a range of demonstration and actions that they are carrying out in the region, yet the government still refuses to respond to the communities’ demands.

7. On February 23, 2015, peasant communities in the town of Cantagallo held a protest day for the right to health, given the severe health crisis and the deterioration of this right in the town. This crisis worsened with the decision taken by Mayor Janeth Cortes to withhold funds for the operation of the health centre. Added to this is the fact that the rural area has not had adequate medical staff for two years and this situation has jeopardized the lives of hundreds of town residents.

8. On March 5, 2015 at about 6:00 p.m., when students at the Efigenio Mendoza school were walking past the police station, they were stopped by the guard who told them they were not allowed to walk there, since it had been reported that the guerrillas were coming. The minors responded that they were under the impression that the streets are public property open to all. According to their version, the police hurled insulting epithets such as “dirty sons of bitches”; the youths took off running and the guard ran after them. He caught up with one, the son of a community leader, and took away his knapsack.

9. After twelve days of demonstrations in front of the town hall, the response of the local authorities was to threaten the demonstrators with violent expulsion, without offering any solutions to meet their demands.

10. The authorities’ actions are also being protested by several communities in the rural areas of the town of Cantagallo who have been affected by illicit crop eradication days involving various rights violations such as house-to-house searches.

11. In the town of Norosí, after a fruitless meeting with Juan Carlos Gossain, Governor of Bolívar, at which the participants were insulted and mistreated by the Governor and presented with a variety of demands, they decided instead to declare an indefinite demonstration until the staff necessary to guarantee the right to child and youth education in the town have all been chosen and assigned.

We reiterate the government’s lack of will to address the communities’ demands as well its reneging on the commitments that it made before the Southern Bolívar Dialogue Commission. Instead, what the government has responded with is aggression and repression against the people’s mobilizations and heavy militarization of our territories. An example is the presence in the area of more than 180 ESMAD troops, who presumably came to the towns of Gamarra and Aguachica in southern Cesar department in response to rumours of peasant and miner protests in southern Bolívar.


  • That the Army immediately vacate the premises of the Arenal community centre, in such a way as to remove the risk to the civilian population and restore the freedom of association of the peasant, Afro-Colombian, and community organizations and their ability to operate.
  • That the competent authority, the Attorney General of the Nation, open the relevant disciplinary and criminal investigations so that these violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by the members of the National Army Fifth Brigade in the town of Arenal are punished swiftly and effectively, and so that punishment is also meted out for the violations committed by the mayor and town attorney in allowing and not reporting this conduct, thus jeopardizing the lives of residents whom they have a constitutional and legal obligation to protect.
  • An immediate stop to, and investigation of, the persecution of the Cultural Survival Foundation (FUREC), holder of the operating license for the Arenal Stereo community radio station, representing infringements of freedom of association and freedom of thought and expression among other rights and also possibly constituting an international responsibility of the government due to violation of provisions contained in various international human rights treaties signed and ratified by Colombia.
  • Guarantees and protections for the leaders of the Southern Bolivar and Southern Cesar Dialogue Commission as well as the members of the Peoples’ Congress in the face of possible future reprisals to the peoples’ complaints of ongoing human rights and international humanitarian law violations in this region of the country.