COLOMBIA: Assassination follows Minga gathering at Sogamoso River Bridge


27 November 2009
COLOMBIA: Assassination follows Minga gathering at Sogamoso River Bridge


More than 500 people, including four CPTers, occupied the Sogamoso River Bridge on 12 October 2009 ("Columbus Day") to protest construction of a hydroelectric dam on the river.  The action was part of a national mobilization, called the "Minga of Communal and Social Resistance."  "Minga" is an indigenous term for collective action, and the indigenous movement is leading the way in the struggle for social and environmental justice in Colombia.    

The beautiful Sogamoso River flows through a narrow canyon near the bridge.  Sadly, heavy machinery now scrapes away at the side of the mountain in preparation to build a 600 foot-high dam, which will flood 17,000 acres of land.

The blockage of the river will destroy the livelihood of approximately 200 people who fish in the area below the dam site.  The Sogamoso feeds into a vast network of swamps and wetlands that will also be affected by the dam and in turn impact the lives of many more fishers and their families.

Nearly twenty buses brought people from the cities of Barrancabermeja and Bucaramanga to the Sogamoso River on 12 October.  Pierre Shantz and Sarah Shirk accompanied a caravan traveling from Barrancabermeja, and Duane Ediger and Scott Nicholson accompanied another traveling from Bucaramanga.  The people divided into groups to the five main issues of the Minga.  Each group built a cooking fire and began preparing a large cauldron of stew for lunch.  Community was created as people cooked and conversed around the fires.

"Land and Territory" was one of the Minga's main issues.  Participants expressed strong opposition to the recent military accord signed by the Colombia government and the administration of Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Barack Obama.  The accord enables the U.S. military to use seven bases in Colombia as part of the "war on drugs and terrorism."  People believe that this military presence on these bases may escalate the war in Colombia and make U.S. military interventions in Venezuela and Ecuador more likely.

In the "Economic System" discussion group, participants expressed strong opposition to the "free trade" agreement between the U.S. and Colombia negotiated by the Bush administration.  The agreement would be particularly harmful to small farmers in Colombia who cannot compete with subsidized industrial agriculture from the U.S.

When Barack Obama was campaigning, he declared his opposition to the agreement due to the repression of union activists in Colombia-a stance that generated much Colombian press coverage.  However, in April he spoke about promoting Congressional approval of the agreement.  Obama's Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, and Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, are both strong proponents of corporate free trade.

After sharing lunch alongside the Sogamoso River, the people occupied the bridge to protest construction of the dam, shutting down traffic on the Barrancabermeja-Bucaramanga highway for more than an hour. 

Honorio Llorente, president of the Sogamoso Bridge community council, was a major participant in the Minga.  His opposition to the dam apparently angered some powerful forces in the region.  Five days later, on 17 October, Honorio was shot and killed.