Month: April 2015

The Situation That Eats Away at Me

I am an Afro-Colombian woman. I was born in one of the mountains of the province of Cauca, one of the worst hit by the war in this country. My ancestors were enslaved in order to mine and farm for the Spanish crown, which to this very day maintains its reign.

For many years we have lived with our campesino[1] and indigenous brothers and sisters, without conflict; nonetheless, this systematic war has always beaten us down. First there was colonization, the so-called “conquest”, which was nothing but the pillage of the wealth of these lands.

Then there was also a so-called “independence”, but in reality it was only the dividing of spoils left behind by the Spaniards. That is to say, it was a distribution of spoils amongst the heirs of the Spanish crown, which in this country added up to no more than 10 families, the same ones that still control this country today, and who benefit from the war.

Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself: “Do the lives of Afro-descendant, indigenous, and campesino communities matter for this country?”

Like many other women, young and old, as well as men and hundreds of thousands of families, a few months ago I had to flee my home because my two sons and I were declared military targets by armed groups. My sons had to leave their studies, as well as their classmates with whom they grew up, learned to fish, to swim, to work the land, and to mine [gold], among so many other things.

We have had to endure all of this because of our love for our land, our love for seeing a plantain tree blossom, of enjoying a sunny day for fishing, to have our families nearby; because we have defended our right to remain in the place where we grew up and we don’t want to leave because this land is of our grandmothers and grandfathers, and it can also be of our granddaughters and grandsons. Our land is a place to dream of a dignified future. But we had to secretly flee, even though we owed nothing to anyone, simply because we dared speak up against the daily abuse that we black, indigenous, and campesino communities of the Norte del Cauca[2] endure due to the economic interests in our territories. Armed groups declared us military targets, and that’s why we had to abandon the organic plantain, sugarcane, and greens that we sowed. They have all dried up now, that effort has died; I had felt proud of it, because together with my sons and my partner we were showing the community that we could live a peaceful life in our land, growing our own food.

Maybe that’s why they persecute us, because we want an autonomous life rather than a dependent one; because we want a life where we don’t have to beg, where we don’t have to be victims.

And now I have been displaced, and I seem to have lost my way, and more so knowing that that going back will not be easy, more so given this absurd war, which began not 60 but 400 years ago, and that for all our efforts, will continue filling our rivers with blood, with the blood of those of us who have been kept down.

When we arrived in this concrete jungle, my sons were amazed and exclaimed, “NOOOO! Mami, that plantain costs one thousand pesos! That is too expensive!” Because they know that when we were on our land, eating a plantain was free, at least in monetary terms, and if a neighbor had plantain, he would give us some, even a whole bunch if he had it.

The day before yesterday I felt profoundly frustrated. I couldn’t sleep at night, I kept thinking: What can we do to stop the war? What more must we endure? I wonder how the people who live in the highlands of my mountain are doing?

I mourned for the death of the soldiers,[3] because unfortunately they are our brothers, or cousins or nephews who couldn’t go to college or get a job and whose only choice is to go fight a war that is not theirs, and who don’t even know their own origins. Many call it defending the homeland, but I ask myself, “what homeland?” Whose homeland are they talking about if since slavery until today the same 10 families who think themselves heir to the Spanish crown have held the economic power of this country and have shown no regard for our lives? They have called us savages, slaves, uncivilized, minorities, hillbillies… and all of that has helped justify their war.

This is why all day yesterday we heard about the patriotic heroes on the media, who in reality are campesinos being used to guard the economic interests of those 10 families. Many people are saying, with a deep, deep hate emanating from their hearts, “Mr. President, you must order bombardments [against the FARC].”

But I think it’s very irresponsible to demand that those territories be bombarded; those territories are not empty. Little boys, little girls, women, elderly folk, young folk, and families live there, all of them people who have nothing to do with this absurd war. But of course the people who [call for bombardments] live in the cities and they have never been caught in crossfire; they have no idea what it’s like to have helicopters shooting rounds above your house. They are people who don’t know what it’s like to go to your farm to do your weeding and feel your plow pulling on the chord of a landmine that had been buried there and that will end up blowing your life into pieces, just like happened last year to a campesino in Alsacia. They are people who don’t know what it’s like to live in an area without electricity, without drinking water, without phone lines, and constantly be confined. Those are the people who say, “Mr. President, you must order the bombardments.”

War is war, no matter where it comes from. We should be demanding real peace in our territories. Cauca has been hit hard by the violence, sometimes by the FARC, sometimes by paramilitaries, sometimes by the state, and no one cares. No one has stopped long enough to realize that we blacks, indigenous, and campesinos end up paying the price.

There will be no peace with institutional corruption and forced displacement; there will be no peace with death threats to communities and their leaders; there will be no peace with bombardments in our territories; there will be no peace with large-scale gold mining. The engines of development only generate misery, hunger, pollution, war, and death. There will be no peace with the media providing dis-information. And having the largest jail in Latin America, in Jamundí, will also not bring peace.

Peace means respect for life and for the ancestral territories of the Afro-descendant, indigenous, and campesino communities. It means that Colombia has the largest university in Latin America where students are not kicked out of classrooms when they can’t afford to pay tuition. Peace means that in Bogotá and in all of Colombia we won’t be killed for being black or indigenous.[4] Peace means that our politicians do not steal the funds from the health care system, that women’s rights are respected, and that we are not tortured and sexually abused. It means autonomy, and respect for difference and for ancestral knowledge. It means a transformation of the development model which, at the end of the day, is the cause of so much war, not only in Colombia but across the world.

[1] Subsistence or small-scale farmers, typically of mixed ancestry.

[2] Northern region of the Cauca province in southwest Colombia.

[3] On April 15, 10 soldiers were killed in what was reported to be an attack by the FARC guerrillas, apparently breaking a unilateral ceasefire (from launching offensive attacks) as part of on-going peace negotiations. See more here: http://colombiareports.co/10-soldiers-killed-in-southwest-colombia-farc-attack/

[4] In recent weeks, a number of hate crimes have occurred in Colombia. See: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/5298-hate-crime-killings-rattle-bogotas-afro-colombian-communities

Black Women’s Movement Suspends Negotiations with Colombian Government

April 24th, 2015

To the women who defend their territories like they defend their daughters and sons

To those who defend a Dignified, Simple, Unified Life.

We are angry, we feel tired, groped by this Government that does not honor its word. By this National Government that disrespects us and treats us like second-class people, like beggars. We are angry at a National Government that parades the discourse of Peace, and forgets that there is no Peace if it is incapable of defending Life, if it fails to put Life above transnational interests. True Peace would mean that last year’s deaths at the San Antonio mine, and the following ones in Santa Rita, Rosal and Magui Payan, truly matter. But the lives of those of us who live in community don’t matter. It would seem that our lives are a too high a risk, and are highly appraised in stock market; the less we live, the higher the profits for a few here and there. In light of the failures of the National Government to honor its agreements, we, the black women who approached the government with concrete, actionable proposals, have come to realize that the National Government does not want to accomplish our proposals. We know, therefore, that we are only valuable if we are dead.

People from all over the world know that in November of last year Black Women – ancestral miners from Northern Cauca – embarked on a mobilization to share the path leads to the defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories. We mobilized to tell the world that unconstitutional mining and illegal mining is taking our families away, that it is tearing out our roots, stealing the possibilities of continuing to live where our elders planted our placentas.

People from all over the world know that we walked to Bogota, and that we occupied the Ministry of Interior’s Casa de la Giralda. Millions throughout the world know that we were asking why economic interests are above our rights and why there is greater investment and protection of private interests than our lives.

The Government’s failures are systemic, the agreements are simple. Do you remember? First: That the Government cease all illegal and unconstitutional mining in the State of Cauca. To this day, the illegal excavators have not left Cauca. On the contrary, now they have moved on to other river basins, such as the Palo River in Guachené. They have told us that we would have to go to Court if we want to suspend the mining titles awarded without Free, Informed, Prior Consultation. Second: That the government honor past agreements it had failed to resolve such as the Popayan-Incoder Accords of 2013; the Santander de Quilichao Accords of May 7th, 2014; and the agreements of the Black Women’s Mobilization in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories. Key among these accords was the Government’s implementation of the Constitutional Court’s Auto 005 of 2009. Between January 21st and January 23rd, our communities assembled in Santander de Quilichao and created a plan of implementation. However, according to the National Government, there is no State budget for that plan; there are no resources to defend Life, and there is no political will. There is however, a budget and the political will to implement its war against our territories.

The situation with the Integrative Attention Plan is the same. We created proposals by coming together through a lot of hardship. We created proposals that have not been read, and much responded to by the National Government. The Plan includes proposals for the legal study of the sociocultural and socioeconomic damages caused by gold mining. Instead, they send us a clear message that we have to get used to the idea of living with concern of not knowing how to deal with nor how to repair the poisoning of our rivers with cyanide and mercury. The waters we are currently drinking, the waters in which we bathe, cook our meals and wash our clothes. The waters full of mercury and cyanide pumping through our veins.

In regards to the Integral Protection Plan, the response has been the same as before: there is no budget. They have gone so far as to say that we are making up the death threats we have received.

It’s more than 4 months of Government failure to implement the accords; its years and years of delay that the government fails to push forward. We ask ourselves, Why so much resistance to our proposals? Why doesn’t the desire and will that the government talks so much about manifest itself in our territories and in our lives? Our reality is that now we live constantly on edge and in fear for hour daughters and our sons, for our mothers, our fathers, our sisters and our brothers.

We have had 6 meetings with Government officials since signed the last accords. We’ve left our families and other responsibilities behind because we believe in the words that committed of Minister of Interior Fernando Cristo, and the other vice-ministers in the Ministry of Mining, Ministry of the Environment, Defense, and Vice Minister of Interior for Human Rights Carmen Ines Vasquez. Vice-Minister Carmen Ines Vasquez fails to assume her responsibility to uphold our rights as Black Peoples, but is happy to go to the United States to talk in about Colombia’s supposed campaign against racism in the context of the UN’s Decade of Afro-descendants. We ask ourselves “Isn’t the refusal of State institutions to protect us from the systemic violation of our rights as Black Communities racism?

These meetings are usually called and typically delayed from one day to the next. The Government attends without being prepared, without the proper context of the mobilization and its agreement, without integral responses to our proposals. To us, this demonstrates a clear lack of interest, and political will. As such, we have called on the various guarantors to oversee this ongoing process.

The National Government presents its endless foot-dragging as progress, while the situation for our communities gets worse. We declare that progress would be to live the changes that would allow us to regain the life of our territories. That is why we get up, fed up of so many lies. We will only return to the negotiating table when the Minister of Interior, de Vice Ministers of the Environment, Mining, Defense, and Justice – the latter of whom agreed to advance the investigations regarding the violation of our rights, including death threats and forced displacements – give us real answers to the concrete changes in regards to their duties to guarantee our rights, the reason our mobilization.

We are well aware that the government’s disrespectful treatment of our negotiations is also its response to many people throughout the national territory.

It seems that the Country’s plan is a future without Black Communities, without Indigenous Communities, without Peasant Communities, without Grassroots Communities. It seems that the Country’s plan is to use us as a pretext in their business deals, so long as we remain in misery.

That is why it is up to us to create the present that we desire. For that reason we should organize ourselves and mobilize together. Every organization: unions, students, environmental, women, indigenous communities, black communities, peasant communities, teachers, and every person that loves and defends Life. We must construct the possibility of Real Peace. That is only possible by generating the transformations that allow a dignified Life for everyone. Real Peace is possible if we do not allow death to be the price of the rampant, seemingly untouchable mining interests.

TERRITORY IS LIFE AND LIFE IS NOT FOR SALE, LIFE IS TO BE LOVED AND DEFENDED!

Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories: mujeresnegrascaminan@gmail.com

Suspensión del Proceso de Negociación entre las Mujeres Negras del Cauca y el Gobierno Nacional

Abril 24 del 2015

A las mujeres que cuidan de sus territorios como a sus hijas y sus hijos

A las cuidadoras y los cuidadores de la Vida Digna, Sencilla y Solidaria.

Estamos bravas, nos sentimos cansadas, manoseadas por este Gobierno que no cumple con su palabra, con este Gobierno Nacional que nos falta al respeto y nos trata como personas de segunda, que nos trata como mendigas, este Gobierno Nacional que hace de la Paz un discurso, se le olvida que no hay Paz si no es capaz de cuidar de la Vida, si no pone la Vida de todos los seres por encima de los intereses transnacionales, Paz es que tengan profunda importancia cada una de las muertes de San Antonio hace un año, de las siguientes en Santa Rita, en Rosal, en Magui Payan, pero la vida de la gente que vivimos en comunidad no valen, tal parece que nuestras vidas son un riesgo muy alto y se cotizan bien en las bolsas de valores, entre menos vidas nuestras, son mayores las ganancias para los muy poquitos de aquí, y los muy poquitos afuera, en medio de los incumplimientos del Gobierno Nacional, nosotras que vinimos a él proponiendo acciones concretas, nos damos cuenta, que estas acciones no las quieren y que por eso entendemos que solo valemos muertas.

Gentes de todo el mundo, saben que en noviembre del año pasado mujeres negras, ancestralmente mineras del norte del Cauca, salimos a movilizarnos para compartir el camino que lleva al cuidado de la Vida y los Territorios Ancestrales. Salimos a caminar para contarles que la minería inconstitucional y la minería ilegal nos están dejando sin familia, arrancándonos las raíces, robándonos las posibilidades continuar viviendo donde nos enterraron el ombligo.

Saben también que caminado llegamos a Bogotá y que estuvimos en asamblea permanente en la Casa de la Giralda, que ahí estuvimos preguntando porque los intereses económicos están por encima de nuestros derechos, porque es mayor las proporción en inversión y protección a la iniciativa privada que a nuestras vidas.

Los incumplimientos son sistemáticos, y los acuerdos simples, ¿se acuerdan? Primero: Que se detuviera toda la minería ilegal e inconstitucional en el Cauca. No han salido las retroexcavadoras del Cauca, por el contrario, ahora ya han pasado a otras cuencas como las del rio Palo en Guachené, nos han dicho que tendremos que recurrir a la Corte si es que queremos que se suspendan los títulos concedidos sin consulta previa libre e informada. Segundo, que se cumplieran los acuerdos incumplido, de años anteriores, los acuerdos del Popayán- Incoder 2013, los de Santander de Quilichao del 7 de mayo del 2014 y los de la movilización de mujeres negras por el cuidado de la vida y los territorios ancestrales, entre ellos la implementación del auto 005 del 2009 de la Corte Constitucional, las comunidades entre el 21 y 23 de Enero construimos en asamblea en Santander de Quilichao la propuesta para su implementación, pero según el Gobierno para eso no hay presupuesto, para cuidar de la vida no hay recursos, ni voluntad política, para implementar la guerra en nuestros territorios sí.

Con el Plan de Atención Integral pasa lo mismo, construimos propuestas reuniéndonos con mucho esfuerzo, propuestas que no han sido leídas, ni respondidas por el gobierno, ese plan de Atención incluye la propuesta para estudiar desde un enfoque de derechos los daños socioculturales, socioeconómicos, causados por la minería del oro, nos mandan el mensaje de que tenemos que hacernos a la idea de acostumbrarnos a vivir con la preocupación de no saber cómo mitigar y reparar la intoxicación que causa el agua con mercurio y con cianuro, esa que hoy estamos bebiendo, con la que nos bañamos, con la que preparamos la comida y lavamos la ropa, de que tanto mercurio y cianuro circula ya por nuestras venas.

Sobre el Plan de Protección Integral, la respuesta es como en las anteriores, la falta de presupuesto, nos han llegado a decir, que nosotras y nosotros nos inventamos las amenazas.

No son cuatro meses de incumplimiento, son años y años de un deber atrasado que no se quiere adelantar, nos preguntamos ¿Por qué hay tanta resistencia a lo que proponemos? ¿Por qué la disposición y la voluntad de la que tanto se cacarea no se muestran en la realidad de nuestros territorios y nuestras vidas? es una realidad que ahora andamos a alertas y un poco si temerosas de nuestras hijas, de nuestros hijos, de nuestras madres, y nuestros padres, de nuestras hermanas y nuestros hermanos.

Desde la firma de los acuerdos reiterados, son seis reuniones que hemos hecho, dejando familia tirada, responsabilidades tiradas porque creemos en la palabra que comprometió el Ministro del Interior Fernando Cristo, los viceministros de Ministerio de Minas y del Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Defensa y Viceministra del Interior para la Participación y los Derechos Humanos Carmen Inés Vásquez, que no cumple frente a la garantías de nuestros derechos como gente negra, pero si va a los Estados Unidos a hablar en el marco de la Década de los Afrodescendientes de hacer una campaña contra el racismo en Colombia. Nos preguntamos, ¿acaso no es racismo la desatención institucional del Estado frente a la violación sistemática de nuestros derechos cómo comunidades negras?

Estas reuniones convocadas y aplazadas de un día para otro, a las que el Gobierno llega sin preparación, sin contexto de la movilización y de sus los acuerdos, sin respuestas integrales a nuestras propuestas significa para nosotras falta de interés, de voluntad, nosotras hemos tenido que convocar a las partes garantes, al ministerio público para que haya garantías.

El Gobierno Nacional presenta como avances sus dilaciones, mientras tanto nuestra situación empeora; nosotras decimos que los avances, son vivir los cambios que nos permitan recuperar la vida en nuestros territorios. Y es por eso es que nos levantamos hastiadas de tanto manoseo, y solo volveremos a hablar cuando el Ministro del Interior, los viceministros de Medio Ambiente, Minas, Defensa, y la Fiscalía, que se comprometió a adelantar las investigaciones frente a las situaciones de violación de nuestros derechos, entre ellos las amenazas y el desplazamiento forzado, nos den respuesta de los cambios concretos frente a las garantías de nuestros derechos por los cuales nos movilizamos.

Así como a nosotras sabemos que este mismo trato irrespetuoso viene haciendo el gobierno con muchas gentes a lo largo y ancho de todo el territorio.

Los planes de este país, el futuro se hacen sin las comunidades negras, sin las comunidades indígenas, sin las comunidades campesinas, sin las comunidades de abajo. Pero, si nos usan como pretexto para hacer negocio a costa de mantenernos en la miseria.

Por eso, nos toca hacer a nosotras y nosotros el presente que queremos, y para eso debemos convocarnos y movilizarnos juntas y juntos, todas las organizaciones sindicales, estudiantiles, ambientales, de mujeres, comunidades indígenas, comunidades negras, comunidades campesinas, maestros, y toda la gente que cuida y ama la vida. Debemos construir la posibilidad de una Paz verdadera y eso solo es posible generando las transformaciones que permita una vida digna para todas y para todos, y eso pasa también por no permitir que sea la muerte el costo del sin control de la minería que parece intocable en este país.

EL TERRITORIO ES LA VIDA Y LA VIDA NO SE VENDE, SE AMA, SE DEFIENDE!

 Movilización Mujeres Afrodescendientes por el Cuidado de la Vida y los Territorios Ancestrales: mujeresnegrascaminan@gmail.com

Hate Crime Killings Rattle Bogota’s Afro-Colombian Communities

On April 9, two Afro-Colombian young men were gunned down in the south Bogotá locality of Ciudad Bolívar while a nationwide march calling for peace was underway. Their assailants yelled “niches” and proceeded to shoot several rounds. Niches is a term for black people that can have a derogatory connotation depending on the way that it is used. Edward Samir Murillo Ramírez was shot six times and died on the scene. Daniel Andrés Perlaza Hurtado also received multiple bullet-wounds, from which he later died at the hospital. Witnesses to the attack heard one of the assailants declare: “We have to finish off these negros!

In response to these recent killings, civil society leaders organized a protest on April 16 in front of the Bogota City Hall. Over 500 people gathered to demand that the police and city administrators give due attention to the violent acts being committed against the city’s black population. Through a megaphone, one of the protesters exclaimed “Black people are killed, and there are no police sketches; No rewards offered; No press releases, and the police remain silent.”

After seven hours of demonstrations, which blocked traffic in busy intersections in the nation’s capital, protest leaders met with Gloria Flórez, the Bogota city government secretary and the highest-ranking official to address the protesters, and other district officials. Flórez stated that “according to the police, there are far right-wing groups behind the persecution of the Afrodescendant population, and especially young Afrodescendants.”

These hate crimes primarily target Afro-Colombians who, due to the internal armed conflict, have sought refuge in peripheral neighborhoods in the cities of Bogota and Soacha, where their plight remains mostly invisible to the majority of the city’s inhabitants. Both Edward Samir and Daniel Andrés were members of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) who participated in the organization’s cultural dance group. They are now among the 14 young Afro-Colombians who have been murdered throughout the city so far this year. Rumors of a list of at least 40 more targets for future killings continue to sow fear among the city’s black communities.

Approximately three out of every ten internally displaced persons are Afro-Colombian, a community that represents 10.62% of the population according to the most recent census. Just as this community has been disproportionately affected by the armed conflict, they are now re-victimized through these violent acts that reveal intolerance and xenophobia in Bogota.

Several agreements were reached after the protests, which include the implementation of a mass-media campaign to combat racism and xenophobia and the creation of a working group to develop a plan of action to prevent hate crimes against black communities. However, it remains to be seen whether the current administration will move to honor these agreements. With local elections approaching in October of this year, attention will likely shift away from these communities. Continued implementation by a new mayoral administration is also uncertain.

Meanwhile, Afro-Colombians in Bogota will remain vigilant. These communities have demonstrated that they will not stand by as these violent attacks continue and will once again take to the streets if necessary. Before the protests, not a single article had been published by a major Colombian news outlet about the violent attacks these communities have been enduring. Perhaps this recent attention from the press will help foster solidarity among the city’s inhabitants and increase pressure on police and city officials to protect the lives of the citizens who have fled from violence elsewhere in the country and are now having to re-live the same nightmare.

The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) will monitor implementation of agreements made with the authorities. We urge Colombia to condemn these killings, provide effective protection for displaced youths at risk and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killings.