by Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(FinalCall.com) – As Afro-Columbian women leaders work to expose violence and human rights violations, grassroots activists are mobilizing for a historic conference to address their issues, gain and protect the rights of Blacks in the country and to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of a law that was supposed to grant freedom.
Black women in Columbia have been very vocal about human rights abuses their community has suffered for years.
The term “supposed” is used because, according to activists, the government of Columbia has yet to fully implement Law 70, which for the first time recognized the rights of Black Columbians to protect their land, culture and other important things.
To commemorate the law, issued in August 1993, activists plan to host the First Afro-Columbian National Congress of Community Councils and Organizations from August 23-28 in Quibdo.
“Law 70 … gave African people the material foundation to protect themselves as a people by giving them the right to collective ownership of their ancestral lands. It is the commemoration of the victory by Afro-Colombians that will serve as backdrop to the National Congress,” stated activist Charo Mina-Rojas, coordinator of the Afro-Colombian women’s human rights defenders project.
Organizers want the Colombian government to respect and implement measures to actualize Black people’s right to participate in decision-making on issues that affect their lives, culture, environment and territories as provided for by the law.
Approximately 700 community leaders and state officials are expected to participate and outside observers are also invited to witness the historic gathering, which aims to increase international awareness of the deteriorating human rights conditions Black Columbians face.
Many of the deplorable conditions, displacement and death threats are occurring as part of armed combat between guerilla groups and the military, explained Gimena Sanchez, senior associate for the Andes for the Washington Office on Latin America. The organization promotes human rights, democracy, and social justice in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 2012, Blacks were 20 percent of all new displacements in Columbia, Ms. Sanchez said. That same year, 36 percent of all new displacements took place along Colombia’s primarily Afro-descendant Pacific Coast. That marked a 22 percent increase in displacements compared to 2011, according to numbers provided by the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement.
“This situation is basically leading to a crisis, a humanitarian crisis as well a very difficult crisis for people because once a person is displaced, they lose their home, their livelihood, and they experience severe stigmatization, and they become second class citizens,” Ms. Sanchez told The Final Call.
Elusive employment, poor treatment, and racism make it harder for people to put their lives back together, she added.
A growing number of U.S.-based organizations and indigenous groups are calling for an end to threats, attacks and murders of Afro-Columbians, including members of AFRODES, a coalition of some 89 groups for internally displaced Afro-Columbians.
AFRODES has suffered 35 death threats against members, had three assassination attempts, a break-in, and constant surveillance of its members, according to Ms. Sanchez.
The threats come in the wake of the deaths of several key leaders: Miller Angulo of AFRODES, Demetrio Lopez of Community Council of La Caucana, and Socrates Paz Patiño, the legal representative of the Community Council of Iscuande.
On June 20, a network of Afro-descendant women in the Caribbean announced they’ve been receiving death threats as well, Ms. Sanchez stated.
Due to a concerted joint inside and outside effort to raise awareness, the Columbian Attorney General’s Office intends to address high priority cases of violence and political persecution of Afro-descent women from Buenaventura, the Caribbean region and Tumaco, according to Ms. Mina-Rojas.
Buenaventura is a very dangerous, major port in Columbia, where women are heavily targeted, according to activists. In 2011, 13 women were killed, they reported.
Black Columbians continue to struggle for equality in their homeland.Photos: Courtesy of PNC International Working Group
“We have a case of woman that they tied to a pole in front of everybody … for three days. They tortured her in front of everybody and didn’t allow anybody to touch her. Then they buried her in the sand, up to the neck and left her there for the tide to come over and she drowned,” Ms. Mina-Rojas told The Final Call.
“We have cases of women that have been raped … killed and thrown in the water,” Ms. Mina-Rojas continued. It’s been difficult to count the number of women who have suffered but it’s just a small example of what women are facing, she explained.
People should be concerned about the United States’ role in what’s happening in Columbia, because it has a lot to do with the conflict, Ms. Sanchez said.
“The United States is the largest donor to Columbia in military assistance,” with approximately $8.5 billion to Columbia since 2000 and a signed free trade agreement with the country, she continued.
“A lot of areas where the commerce is being incentivized … are Afro-Columbian areas. For instance the Port of Buenaventura, where ultra-violence is taking place, is the same port that the United States is working with Columbia to help expand for economic interest. It’s also a port where the majority of the workers are Afro-descendants and the human rights and labor rights situation is abominable,” Ms. Sanchez said.
From January to April this year, 91 mutilated bodies have been found there, according to Ms. Sanchez. But the appalling events also present an opportunity to help improve the lives of Afro-Columbians through the U.S. Columbia Racial Action Plan, she added.
“What is needed is more U.S. citizens to follow this situation and get involved politically to help,” stated Ms. Sanchez.