Colombia Gov’t, Indigenous Groups Begin Dialogue After Weeks of Protests

Indigenous people participate in a press conference Wednesday in the El Pital sector of Caldono, Colombia.

BOGOTA, March 23 (NNN-TELESUR) — Colombian Indigenous people lifted a 12-day blockade on a highway and bridge in the department of Huila and signed an agreement with representatives of the national government Thursday to initiate a formal dialogue.

After several hours of negotiations, the Interior Minister, Nancy Patricia Gutierrez and the leaders of the Indigenous community agreed to a dialogue Thursday night, de-escalating the weeks-long standoff.

“The passage of vehicles is reopened tonight” along the highway that runs between Neiva, the departmental capital, and Pitalito, the governor of Huila, Carlos Julio Gonzalez Villa, said on Twitter.

In Huila, one of the four departments blocked, the passage was reopened for vehicles that were trapped. Protesters had also barricaded the Pescador bridge, at the height of the municipality of Hobo.

Since March 10, the communities have blocked the Pan-American Highwaywhich connects Colombia with Ecuador to demand that President Ivan Duque comply with previous agreements the government have yet to respect.

The Indigenous peoples, led by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), have been demanding that the Duque government implements in full the Havanna Peace Agreement, more security protections for social leaders and a debate on the National Development Plan, a request which could “push the state to recognize their ancestral territories,” the CRIC said.

Over 462 murders of social leaders and human rights activists have taken place in Colombia since 2016. 

Governor Gonzalez claimed that the blockade has led to a shortage of food and fuel in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño.

According to Minister Gutierrez, human rights commissions and other policies will be included in the dialogue table in order to advance the routes and agreements for the construction of trust between the parties.

“We demand guarantees for people who are outside of this protest, we respect this right, as long as it does not cause harm to third parties,” he said.

The breakthrough comes just days after at least seven people were wounded and one killed after the Indigenous protesters were ambushed by forces of the Colombian Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) and the National Army on the Pan-American highway. — NNN-TELESUR


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