Campesino Protest Generates Tensions in the Negotiations at the Antioquia Agricultural Summit

{Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator}

Saturday, May 2, 2015, 2:15 pm

By Yhoban Camilo Hernandez Cifuentes


The protest by a group of campesinos in the municipality of Valdivia, in the northern part of the province, demanding compliance with agreements adopted as part of the development of the Hidroituango megaproject, have generated tension in the negotiations between the Regional Agricultural Summit and the government of Antioquia.  The provincial administration suspended the talks, but after reaching an understanding, the parties agreed on a meeting to scheduled for May 15.

The break-up in the negotiations took place on Thursday, April 30, at the end of a regional meeting of the Agricultural Summit in Antioquia. The agricultural leaders had planned a meeting with the Governor’s Office, but the meeting was canceled by the Provincial Secretary of Government, Santiago Londoño.  In a letter, he defended his refusal to implement the plans.

“The Office of the Governor of Antioquia finds it deplorable that there has been a situation in the District of Puerto Valdivia since last Monday where leaders of the organization known as ASOCBAC have supported a blockade of the MISPE Consortium operations that are part of the Ituango Hydroelectric Project. (This information has been confirmed by local authorities.)  In spite of the untold efforts and evident advances achieved in building ties of mutual trust, and in spite of working with the leaders and the groups who were present at the Antioquia Regional Summit and with those who live in the area, here we are in a situation where our discussions are disavowed and extralegal actions are sought, violating regulations and the rights of third parties,” is what the provincial official said in his letter.

In response to this missive, the Agricultural Summit clarified that its movement did not organize the mobilization in Puerto Valdivia, and explained that the demonstration had been organized by the Community Council for a Decent Life, which ASOBAC is a part of, along with other organizations that are not part of the Summit. They did remind him that the communities are permitted to exercise their legitimate right to protest.

“If indeed ASOCBAC is part of the discussion, it is not the only association that is facing a very risky situation generated by the construction of the highway that directly benefits Hidroituango.  Last Friday, April 24, there was an avalanche that directly affected 27 families, leaving them homeless and also in which an elderly woman was severely injured.  The Community Council for a Decent Life, which is made up of different sectors of the Puerto Valdivia District was the group that, in a public meeting, made the decision to take refuge in the school building and to wait there until the next day, Friday, May 1, at 10:00 a.m. to put together a high level meeting to find a solution to the problem,” states the clarification by the Summit.

With this explanation, the agricultural movement urged the government to continue the negotiations at the Summit and evaluate what had happened in the discussions.  At the same time it indicated that “. . . it is in these situations where territorial conflicts are the most bitter that it is most necessary to open up possibilities of arriving at agreements—in these situations where it is most important not to violate fundamental rights.”

Agustín Tobón, spokesman for the Provincial Agricultural Summit, announced that the parties had agreed to meet again, formally, on May 15, and added that on next Wednesday, May 13, a committee composed of the Office of the Governor of Antioquia, EPM (the public utility for the city of Medellín), the United Nations, and Corantioquia (Autonomous Regional Corporation for the Center of Antioquia) will visit the Puerto Valdivia District to talk with the community and seek an agreement.

The Protests in Puerto Valdivia Are Not New

The recent protests in the District of Puerto Valdivia that resulted in the suspension by the Governor’s Office of negotiations with the Agricultural Summit are nothing new in that municipality.  The community has already demonstrated on several occasions against what it considers noncompliance by EPM with its agreements and against the dangers that, in their view, are created by the construction of the projects.

Just a year ago, in May of 2014, as part of the agricultural strike, a group of campesinos gathered in the municipality of Tarazá to demand a meeting with EPM and the Office of the Governor of Antioquia because, the leaders of ASOCBAC insisted, it had been two years since EPM had promised to make various investments in the region, but up to that moment, they had done nothing to comply.

On that occasion, the requests by the farmers of Tarazá consisted mainly in electrification, housing, means of communication, and construction and improvement of school buildings.  With regard to energy, they requested electrification for eight towns in Valdivia (Bajo Cauca) and four towns in Ituango (northern Antioquia).  With respect to housing, they asked for the construction of the 100 houses that had been promised by the Aldeas project for the communities located in the Hidroituango areas of influence in Bajo Cauca.  That demonstration was halted after the energy company and the provincial authorities reached an agreement.

A year later, the situation is repeated, but this time, besides the previous demands, the communities insist that the emergency that took place last Sunday, April 24, 2015, in the Remolino part of the district, had been caused by the work of heavy machinery on a mountain that is giving way.  In addition, there are effects on the activities of fishing and small miners because of the contamination of the Cauca River with debris, which the community meeting has complained about.

Besides that, there continue to be difficulties in carrying out the agreements related to the construction of schools, electrification, and the relocation of people who have had to leave the area because of the construction in this district, which is located within the limits between the North and the Lower Cauca in Antioquia Province.

Updated Saturday, May 2, 2014 at 2:33 p.m.


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