The Black Communities Process (PCN) Buenaventura office, Palenque el Congal, works to defend the rights and dignity of Afrodescendant communities located in the Bajamar area of Buenaventura’s Cascajal Island for decades. Afrodescendants living in this area, many of whom are the displaced and their children, who fled conflict and abuse in nearby river communities are living in sub-human conditions due to the abandonment of the State. Not only have they had to confront extreme marginalization, poverty, lack of basic services, and had little access to employment opportunities, but they have also become the targets of the armed groups. For years, these residents have suffered brutal homicides that involve torture and dismemberment, disappearances, and displacements. PCN has accompanied and advocated for a stop to these abuses and justice for the victims.
The Port Operator’s “Master Plan Buenaventura 2014-2050” is designed to facilitate the increased operations brought about by Colombia’s FTAs with multiple nations including the U.S. and Canada. This expansion is driving the displacement of the thousands of Afro-Colombian families from their homes. Communities living in the zone where the Buenaventura Container Terminal (TCBUEN) operates are facing a myriad of abuses. An October 2013 report[i] by U.S. Democratic Congressional staff who visited these communities found the following:
“The lack of social investment by the port companies in the communities is evident, as well as the blatant racism by employers of Afro-Colombian workers. Impoverished communities, mostly persons displaced from other parts of the Colombia’s Pacific coastal regions, living in the area of Bajamar where the port expansion is taking place to accommodate increased trade under the FTA, are under tremendous pressure through coercion, violence and other means to leave the area. Representative McGovern visited neighborhoods where by the locals’ houses are literally falling apart due to the economic activity by companies like TCBUEN and where residents are unable to sleep at night due to the noise pollution generated by around-the-clock operations. He also met with impoverished Afro-Colombian fishermen who can no longer go out to sea to fish and feed their families because persons associated with the companies will shoot at them if they see them in their traditional wooden canoes. Those who dare to fish in the area surrounding the port find dangerously polluted waters, as coal and other harmful substances are spilled into the port.”
The Congressional report was published before the “Master Plan” and the related Pacific Alliance went into effect. The situation has only deteriorated since then with residents filing more than 106 “right to information” reports with authorities. Various reports including those of Senator Alexander Lopez Maya’s hearings on abuses taking place in Buenaventura, Taula Catalana per la Pau I els Drets Humans a Colombia’s 2015 “Asedio a las Comunidades,”[ii] Justicia y Paz/Mundubat’s[iii] May 2015 “Buenaventura: El Despojo para la Competividad,” and others, document the coercive and difficult situation faced by Afrodescendants in Bajamar. Human Rights Watch has reported on the atrocities taking place in Buenaventura. On July 11-12, a delegation of Canadian trade unionists visited this area with PCN and the NGO NOMADESC. The U.S. NGO Witness for Peace has organized numerous delegations to Bajamar whereby activists and Representative Keith Ellison listened to many testimonies of abuses faced by inhabitants from these areas. ACSN partners, including WOLA, have brought multiple international delegations to and from Buenaventura that included PCN, NOMADESC and Senator Lopez to the U.S. to raise awareness of these violations with U.S., OAS, UN and other international actors. This week, Colombia’s Constitutional Court suspended[iv] the eviction of 3,400 families in the Cascajal area impacted by the boardwalk expansion project. It ordered the Mayor of Buenaventura to not proceed until it undergoes a consultation process with the affect community.
At 5:30pm on November 23, PCN’ Danelly Estupiñan received a death threat[v] stating “Danelly you are close to the end.” Less than five hours later, she received a call from a friend where a distorted voice was interposed that stated “we know where you are, we know where you are.” These threats follow a November 22 visit by the community human rights ombudsman, UNHCR and PCN Congal members to the Inmaculada neighborhood. The visit was prompted by the November 19 threats against community leader Rocio del Pilar Segura. Neighbors informed Ms. Segura that personnel from the TCBUEN posted a sign outside her house without her consent. Ms. Segura moved the sign and on November 20 personnel from TCBUEN arrived at her door and told her daughter “that they will make Rocio pay for the sign.”
These threats are taking place at a time when more than 143 death threats against activists were reported in the region. On November 9, paramilitaries killed Afro-Colombian youth activist Jhon Jairo Ramirez Olaya in Buenaventura[vi]. They also coincide with numerous leaders of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), of which PCN forms part, receiving threats and being intimidated for their work promoting justice, peace and human rights.
ACSN urges the international community and Colombian government to immediately act to protect PCN, investigate and bring the perpetrators of the threats to justice. Colombian and U.S. officials should make public pronouncements denouncing the threats and abuses committed against defenders and communities in Bajamar, Buenaventura.
[v] See Accion Urgente: Amenazan a lideresas del proceso de comunidades negras y defensoras de derechos humanos en Buenaventura, November 24, 2015, PCN, NOMADECS, CEPAC, FUNDES, SJR, MOVICE, et al.