Still from a Prensa Rural video on YouTube

by Camille Kritzman

In rural areas of Colombia where mainstream press dares not go, citizens have formed their own news agency, Prensa Rural, (the Rural Press Agency), to report on human rights issues.

Over the last month, the Prensa Rural has been focusing on the conflict in Catatumbo, a northeastern region of Colombia bordering Venezuela.  In this region, the government has invested in a massive coca eradication effort without offering coca famers resources for planting substitute crops.

Farmers in Catatumbo have been protesting since June 11th, demanding a meeting with Colombia’s agriculture minister, as well as the implementation of an autonomous zone where they can farm without fear of harassment or violence from state or paramilitary actors.  The Colombian government has responded to these peaceful protests by sending military personnel, killing four activists and wounding many protesters.

Prensa Rural released videos of the protests, which we featured in a new playlist on the Human Rights Channel:

The struggle in Catatumbo resembles that of many rural communities in the country where interests over land have fueled a decades-long conflict.  Citizens in these communities are caught in the middle of violence between guerrillas and state military as well as paramilitary groups aligned with corporate interests.

Rather than recognize that coca production is a means of sustenance for poor farmers in an area with few economic alternatives, government and military officials choose to treat these campesinos as left wing insurgents.  As is the case in Catatumbo, the government often justifies its use of excessive force in rural land disputes by claiming that the movement is run by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

These dangerous conditions throughout the countryside have made organizations like Prensa Rural indispensable to getting the story out. Founded in 2003, the agency combines forces from ten different rural communities, including Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations. Mainstream press often does not report the violence in the countryside, due to both threats and intimidation by the government, as well as the dangerous and inaccessible nature of the conflict regions.

Besides the emerging protests in Catatumbo, Prensa Rural also partners with local news agencies to report stories on the environment, corruption, cultural events, and other breaking news.  In their view: “Just a few tools stand between the rural activist and the news-reading public.”

The protests continue on in Catatumbo. To follow the story, search the hashtag #CatatumboResiste, #ParoCatatumbo.  Follow our twitter list for more information.

Camille Kritzman is a Social Media intern at WITNESS


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