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Caught in FARC-government crossfire, Colombia's Nasa say 'get out'

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“This is a political defeat for the Santos government,” according to Colombian conflict analyst Jorge Restrepo. Santos has emerged as a major regional player since assuming the presidency in 2010, implementing historic legislation to compensate victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, healing relations with Ecuador and Venezuela, and finalizing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. But this outbreak of violence, an embarrassing reminder that Colombia’s decades of internal conflict are far from over, “puts in question his ability to win re-election," says to Mr. Restrepo.

Crying soldiers, public lashings

After marching earlier this month to demand autonomous rule, the Nasa climbed to the top of a 7,500-ft. mountain near Toribio – a town that has become an epicenter of FARC operations and military counterstrikes – and drove hundreds of soldiers off a military base, correctly predicting they would not open fire. 

Scenes of crying soldiers being dragged from their camp by unarmed peasants caused outrage among many Colombians, who accused President Santos of allowing his Army to be humiliated. He sent in riot police the next day who retook the base armed with guns and tear gas; dozens of Nasa were injured. Later, a 22-year-old indigenous man was shot dead “in error” by a soldier at a nearby checkpoint, adding to their rage.

Next, the Nasa captured the four FARC collaborators, holding them at an evangelical school that has become a headquarters for their resistance movement. Voting by show of hands during a community trial last Saturday, they handed down their sentence – 30 lashes each with a leather whip; 10 for the teenager.

The prisoners’ evident pain during the flogging divided the crowd. “You have the hearts of dogs,” and “Don't you have sons?" yelled some at those demanding the whippings be completed. The 16-year-old captive fell to the floor in tears after just a few hits, as his family pleaded for mercy. Each lashing was stopped early.

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