13 July 2007
On 31 May 2007 our partner, Palenque el Congal, took part in a demonstration that demanded that national and international bodies take action to confront the dismal situation in the port city of Buenaventura. What follows is Palenque's summary of the situation in Buenaventura and their demands from both the Colombian government and the international community.
The geopolitically important port of Buenaventura ought to be a source of prosperity for the surrounding region. But instead, Bueanventura's residents, 98% of whom are afro-Colombian, are far worse off than the rest of the Colombian population.
To make matters worse, conflict between different paramilitary and guerrilla groups is rife. While established paramilitaries are winding down the violence, new groups are now operating in and around the region. Buenaventura has long been a battleground for groups who want to control its port for commercial or military purposes, and local police and military authorities have been complicit in the violence plaguing the region. In the past three years over 1500 people have been assassinated, and the death rate is higher than in the rest of the country. The impoverished majority are victims of constant racism and cultural exclusion. Any hope that education might liberate them from poverty is slim as illiteracy is double the national average.
The people of Buenaventura are vulnerable to human rights abuses from several quarters. The government authorities have arrested fishermen wrongly accused of collaborating with illegal guerrilla groups, even forcing the fishermen's wives to confirm these false accusations. A special force has been created to carry out discriminatory and violent actions against the local population and the police have forcibly stopped community gatherings. Meanwhile assassinations from paramilitary and guerrilla groups are on the rise. Both groups abuse the rights of residents in many ways, from forcing the cultivation of illegal crops to limiting movement or demanding illegal tax payments.
In light of this situation we demand that the national government:
- Guarantee the life and the security of afro-Colombian communities on their land. Any arrangements must be made in coordination with community organisations that are best equipped to understand the needs of their members.
- Implement the law that guarantees afro-Colombians the rights to their land in rural and urban areas.
- Protect the safety of the afro-Colombian communities, especially of women and children.
- Negotiate a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict.
We ask that the international community:
- Apply pressure on the Colombian State to respect human rights.
- Abstain from developing infrastructural contracts with Colombia when they have a negative effect on the environment and communities.
- Establish a mission to monitor the development of the armed conflict and its effects on the people of Buenaventura.
We believe that these demands will contribute toward the rebuilding of the social fabric of Buenaventura. Only a conjoined action between national and international organisations to defend life and social justice will produce a serious transformation for the lives of those living in the threatened communities of those regions.
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