COMMISSION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND PUBLIC AUDIENCES: ASSEMBLY OF THE REPUBLIC
Por Informacion en español
Buenaventura is experiencing a grave humanitarian crisis. On Thursday 31 May, 800 people took to its streets to demand justice and the vindication of the right to life, liberty and dignity in their territory. The following day an even greater number packed into the Assembly of the Republic for the Public Audience of Victims, an historic event for the city. La Guarda Indigena (Indigenous Guard) of the local Nasa tribe matched the police in equal numbers. Alongside the throng of journalists and national and international human rights bodies, were a commission from the European Union and a representative from the US Embassy. The slogan of the day was “why are they killing us and for what?”
Indeed Los Bonaverenses have good cause to ask this question. In 2006, human rights groups put the number of murders in the city at between 400 and 600. It continues to be the most violent city in Colombia with massacres, disappearances, torture and forced displacement counting amongst the many violations committed against its people. So far in 2007 there have been 265 victims. As the most important portal town on the countries resource rich pacific coast, it is a key point of strategy for the States programme of global trade. It is also the battleground both for illicit armed groups, narco-traffickers and powerful economic interests. What is more, there is an added racial dynamic to the extreme poverty and open violence that the overwhelmingly afro-descendent population of Buenaventura is suffering.
The Audience gives safety in numbers to the many families giving testimony to human rights abuses. Many, however, are still sensitive to the possibility of reprisals. Along the walls are displays and photos telling of the many massacres. One such display showed the horrifically mutilated victims of the ´Football Massacre´. On the 19th April, 2005, 24 young local Afro-Colombians were tricked into leaving for a fictitious football tournament. Twelve were later found in a river while the remaining twelve are still missing. A spokesman of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras, Naka Mandinga, gave testimony to the murder of his relatives and asked why his family were being systematically persecuted and murdered. One mother told how paramilitaries entered her house and murdered her two sons. Her tears were reflected by the faces of other mothers in the audience.
Very few of the victims of the crimes have any hope of getting justice. Corruption and state links to paramilitary terror mean they few have faith in the Police. Militarization of the slums and surrounding estuaries has brings fear, silence and impunity. Liberal Senator, Piada Cordova, promised to denounce, in the Senate, the crimes of the paramilitaries and the accompanying crimes of the States armed actors. The final speaker looked directly at the (exclusively white) collection of senior officers sitting uncomfortably at the front of the auditorium. “The police are not necessarily a force of protection”, he said “they are also a force for risk, threat and destabilization”.
Official and institutional declarations on the violence in Buenaventura highlight the role of narco-trafficking and organized crime. But for local priest, Father Augustine this is a form of discrimination. “It is an excuse for subduing the people”, he said “it is a form of social control and social cleansing”, Indeed the State has failed to provide many alternatives for those who are falling into armed groups or the cultivation and trafficking of cocaine. The Assembly heard how unemployment is well over 40% and 49% of children do not have access to education. In some areas there is an average of 8 – 13 people per house. Health is another basic provision that is severely lacking; the rate of infant mortality is calculated to be between 10% and 50% above the national average.
Far from remedying this, the States “development” of the region to suit the dictates of its macro- economic strategy is deepening poverty and misery. Draconian legislation such as the Ley Forestal (Forestry Law) accelerates the exploitation of primary forest and waterways. Meanwhile villages along the port’s tributary rivers are stripped of collective titles to ancestral fishing waters. Mono-cropping such as African Palm plantations bring forced displacement at the hands of paramilitary groups for the benefit of trans-national capital.
The time for the Colombian Government to fulfill its obligation to protect the people of Buenaventura from extreme poverty and illegal armed groups is long overdue. “We are a peaceful and hardworking people” said one speaker. Yet their geo-strategic positioning puts them in the line of fire of powerful interests. To compound this, their socio-political status as a discriminated minority gives them little defense. In this respect their plight is typical of other afro-descendent populations in Colombia who, along with indigenous peoples, bare a disproportionate share of the violence in this war. One banner perhaps best made sense of the `ethno genocide´: ´We Afro-Bonaverenses are marked out for our race and pursued for our riches´.
Zona Marginal performing after the event
Choral group, mothers of victims, opening the event
ETNOCIDIO EN BUENAVENTURA (Bogotá D.C - Edición No. 162, Mayo 5 de 2007) www.planetapaz.org
Por la Vida, la Libertad y la Dignidad en nuestro Territorio
(22 May 2007, Organizaciones Convocantes)
Territorio Pacifico Boletín (1, March 2006)
Cocaine Wars Turn Port Into Colombia's Deadliest City, Simon Romero (New York Times, May 22, 2007)
Massacre in Buenaventura, Urgent Action, Andy Higginbottom (02 May, 2005)