The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office confirmed that the national police—rather than dissident guerrillas—were responsible for a massacre that killed at least six civilian protesters and injured at least 20 others in Tumaco, on Colombia’s southwest coast on October 5.
The citizens at the protest were primarily coca farmers objecting to the Colombian government’s move towards a reduction of over 100,000 hectares of coca throughout the nation, the Guardian reported. The government’s decision is part of the campaign to reduce illegal agriculture and replace it with different crops. Tumaco has the highest concentration of coca agriculture in Colombia, and has, therefore, historically attracted organized crime and rebel groups.
Initial reports claimed that a rebel group from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was responsible for the murders, according to Semana. According to these reports,the armed men began to shoot explosives into the crowd of protesters, following with indiscriminate fire from machine guns and rifles.
However, numerous witnesses told Telesur that they were sure that the shots had been fired by the soldiers stationed there during the protest. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos did not acknowledge this accusation in his initial statement to the nation about the massacre. Assuming FARC committed the crime, he said in Colombia Reports, “We will not allow any criminal organization to frustrate a policy that must be a successful policy, which we need to be successful, to recover legality throughout the national territory and to replace coca crops with licit crops.”
In addition to this, the National Coordination of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana released a statement saying that police officials were not allowing the families of the deceased to retrieve the bodies of their relatives.
A prosecutor against the soldiers who took part in the shooting, Fernando Carrillo, considers this massacre to be the worst and most serious event to have occurred since the peace talks with FARC and the signing of the agreement in Havana in 2016. He said, “What happened in Tumaco is a [condemnable]act and demonstrates the degradation of what can be a mismanaged post-conflict, eradicating intolerance is more complex than eradicating coca plantations.”
Jean Arnault, the chief of the UN Mission in Colombia, also commented on the massacre, as his team is overseeing the peace process between the government and FARC.
“The events reinforce our conviction at the United Nations of the necessity of giving coca farmers in affected regions all the means to escape the terrible choice between extreme poverty and illegality,” he said, according to the Guardian.
The Colombian government decided to relieve 102 members of the Tumaco police force, including 80 police, two officers, and 20 executive-level officials. Explaining the reasoning behind the police firings, Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said, “We intend that the population of Tumaco increase their confidence in the uniformed police of Colombia.” The four soldiers who allegedly fired the deadly shots were also placed on disciplinary suspension.
According to the deputy prosecutor, the results of the investigations of the massacre will be released by next week.