Take Action to Stop Violence and Abuses in Colombia

In the past twelve days, violence, threats and abuses against Afro-Colombians, their communities, activists, and lawyers in key Afro-Colombian labor and land cases has spiked. The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) asks that you to please take a few moments of your day to contact U.S. and Colombian officials and urge them to prevent further violence and abuses from taking place and to seek justice for victims. 

Lawyer in Sugarcane Cutters Case Critically Wounded

On May 13, 2011, armed men on motorcycles fired five bullets into labor rights lawyer Hernán Darío in downtown Cali. Mr. Darío and his firm serve as the defense team in the case against the sugarcane workers José Oney Valencia, Omar Cedano, Oscar de Jesús Bedoya and Raúl Chacón and labor activists Juan Pablo Ochoa and Alberto Bejarano. The case which Mr. Darío represents is widely known to be an effort to bring unsubstantiated criminal charges against the workers for protesting an unjust labor environment. Mr. Darío remains in critical condition. These leaders and activists work on behalf of the sugarcane cutters in Valle del Cauca and Cauca, many of whom are of African descent and work in slave-like working conditions.

Arbitrary Detention of Lawyer Representing Port Workers

On May 17, 2011, the Attorney General’s Office arbitrarily detained Afro-Colombian leader Oscar Perlaza. For the past five years, Mr. Perlaza has led legal efforts to defend the labor rights of port workers who suffer unfair labor practices including labor outsourcing and other abuses. The Sociedad Portuaria (Port Society that represents dockworkers) calls for Mr. Perlaza’s immediate release. The Society also notes that despite the fact that the Obama/Santos Labor Action Plan released on April 7, 2011 calls on the Colombian authorities to organize a tripartite meeting between the Colombian government, stevedoring companies and the Port Society, 40 days have passed, and the government has not set up this meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to address multiple issues that negatively affect the dockworkers, many of whom are Afro-Colombian.

Paramilitaries Murdered and Displaced Civilians in Curvaradó (Chocó)

On May 16, 2011 paramilitaries brutally beat José Francisco to death in the Bocas de Caño Claro settlement within the territory of Curvaradó (Chocó). The witness to this murder also reports that two other persons endured a heavy beating. Up until now it is unclear whether or not they survived the attack. These attacks prompted the forced displacement of eleven families from the nearby area of Villa Luz. The next day paramilitaries detained members of the Lopez family in “No hay Como Dios” for half an hour. They were freed after calls were made to Colombian officials by NGOs. These are examples of the latest abuses taking place in the territory of Curvaradó where Afro-Colombians and mestizos victims are advocating for oil palm companies linked to paramilitaries to return their stolen lands. Despite various legal rulings, a Constitutional Court sentence, and the Attorney General’s office investigation into 23 oil palm industrialists for various crimes including forced displacement of civilians and links to paramilitarism, oil palm companies continue to illegally operate in these Afro-Colombian lands. New murders, threats, displacements, and continued paramilitary activity continue to take place under the noses of the Colombian military that is present in this area. Despite repeated international condemnations, including OAS and U.S interventions and the recent visit of high level Colombian Ministers to this area, paramilitaries and palm oil companies continue business as usual.

Justicia y Paz Afro-Colombian Rights Activist’s Home Broken Into

On May 13, 2011, human rights defender Danilo Rueda’s home was broken into and two hard drives were stolen. The robbery follows an April incident whereby members of Justicia y Paz were followed in their cars by suspicious individuals in Bogotá. The trailing car proceeded to follow Mr. Rueda to his home. The car containing four men stopped in front of Mr. Rueda’s apartment, and one of the men rang his bell. When no one responded they left. Mr. Rueda is involved in defending the rights of multiple Afro-Colombian communities and victims in cases including Curvaradó, Naya, Bajo Calima, Cacarica and the murder of Marino Lopez at the hands of paramilitaries during Operation Genesis in the Chocó. This is a clear attempt to intimidate the members of Justicia y Paz and attempt to force them to abandon their work in defense of the victims of Colombia’s internal armed conflict.

Illegal Mining in Afro-Colombian Community of La Toma (Cauca)

On May 12, 2011, the Black Communities’ Process (PCN) issued an early warning alert indicating that excavators had illegally entered the territory of the community council of La Toma, Suarez municipality (Cauca). This is happening in blatant disregard to various rulings issued in early May by the Colombian Constitutional Court. In the La Toma ruling (Sentence T-1045A), the Court decreed that mining exploration titles granted to outsiders in the collective territories or areas inhabited ancestrally by Afro-Colombians in the municipality of Suarez (Cauca) should be revoked because they were granted to third parties without a previous consultation process with the local inhabitants. On Wednesday, May 10, the Constitutional Court also struck down the new mining code introduced last year by the Colombian Congress and President to promote industry and government control over territories. The Court ruled that the new mining code was unconstitutional because Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities were not previously consulted on this legislation. We are also concerned about the safety of the leaders of the Community Councils inhabiting northern Cauca.

FARC Massacre of Five Afro-Colombians

On May 7, 2011, five members of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of the Lower Naya River were taken and killed by the 30th Front of the FARC. These five persons were all from the same family. The victims names are: Jose Elder Viveros Delgado (24 years old), Gueimar Alexis Viveros Delgado (36 years old), Jose Eimer Viveros Delgado (30 years old), Jaime Viveros Delgado (40 years old), and Romulo Viveros (58 years old).

While ACSN’s main focus is to raise awareness of Afro-Colombian rights, we also wish to denounce another set of horrendous abuses that took place this week against non-Afrodescendant Colombians. Among these are the following:

  • On May 14, 2011, María del Pilar Úl Sécue (27 years old) of indigenous descent was murdered by the FARC in Caloto municipality (Cauca). She was on a chiva (transport car) on her way to Toribió accompanied by her children and husband when armed men wearing hoods grabbed and killed her. This murder follows the FARC assassination of Mr. Omar Conda in a nearby location on May 6.
  • On May 11, 2011, paramilitaries murdered John Kennedy Higuita Ramirez in La Antena, which is located fifteen minutes from the peace community of San Jose de Apartadó (Antioquia). The peace community has subject to violence from all actors in the armed conflict (guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the military) despite its position of complete neutrality. According to the peace community, this murder is a clear threat to their well-being and a violation of international law.

This level of violence and abuse in Colombia is unacceptable especially at a time when the Obama Administration has announced that it plans to move forward with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Please call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your Congressional Representative. Urge him/her to take bold action against further violence, guarantee justice in these cases, and to not support a free trade agreement with a country where labor and human rights abuses are rampant.

Sample Text:

For members of the U.S. Congress:

“My name is X. I am outraged by reports of killings of Afro-Colombians, assassination attempts against a labor rights and continued threats against Afro-Colombians, Indigenous and human rights defenders. I ask that you please guarantee the safety of Afro-Colombians in La Toma, Curvaradó and Lower Naya, in addition to Danilo Rueda of Justicia y Paz and the leaders of the sugarcane cutters movement. Do not allow these situations to remain in impunity. Do not support an FTA with a country where Afro-Colombians and labor activists are being killed and threatened due to violence linked to economic interests.”

Write or call U.S. and Colombian Officials:

  • Call the U.S. State Department switchboard at 202-647-4000 and ask to be connected to the Colombia Desk of the Western Hemisphere Bureau or the Latin America Desk of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
  • Contact U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley in Bogotá by emailing him at AmbassadorB@state.gov or calling (571) 315-2208
  • Contact Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Gabriel Silva by emailing him at emwas@colombiaemb.org or calling (202) 387-8338

Sample text for Colombian and U.S. authorities:

“My name is X and I am outraged by reports of a recent spike in killings, threats and abuses against Colombians. I strongly urge you to take action to guarantee the safety of Afro-Colombians in La Toma, Curvaradó and Lower Naya, in addition to Danilo Rueda of Justicia y Paz and the leaders of sugarcane cutters in Valle del Cauca. Please take urgent and effective steps to guarantee justice in the recent killings.”

We appreciate you taking the time out for human rights and justice in Colombia. If you receive any responses please forward them to Anthony Dest of WOLA at adest@wola.org

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