Yesterday, thousands of elders, children, women and men comprising hundreds of families from the 41 Afro-Colombian community councils in Northern Cauca, initiated a peaceful protest along the main Pan-American Highway in Northern Cauca to demand that the Colombian Government respect the constitutional rights of black communities to autonomous governance of their lands. After withstanding beatings, tear gas, and smoke grenades, the Governor of the State of Cauca assured the communities that officials from the National Government would arrive for negotiations by noon on Tuesday, April 26th.
Instead, Colombian authorities sent low-level administrators that lacked the authority to reach binding agreements, and deployed the National Army into schools in blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law. After the communities insisted on negotiating with capable officials of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Mining, and Ministry of the Environment, the militarized police of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squad (ESMAD) launched tear gas canisters into residential homes, injuring dozens of elders and children, including a newborn child currently battling for her life at a local hospital. At least an additional fourteen protesters have been detained. Demonstrators also note that cell-phone services have been blocked, heightening their vulnerability to continued violations of their constitutional and human rights.
Nonetheless, hundreds of families continue to demand that the Colombian Government recognize their collective land rights as mandated by Law 70 of 1993. Organize are firm in their commitment to peaceful protest until an agreement is reached with the appropriate government representatives. Until then, the blockade of the Pan-American Highway will remain, and the community calls upon national and international solidarity to ensure the safety and respect of the rights of the families out in protest. As the largest purveyor of military resources to the Colombian government, the U.S. Government has the responsibility to urge Colombia to investigate the ESMAD’s disproportionate use of force, violence and aggressive tactics towards civilians who are protesting peacefully for their rights.
To support the communities’ efforts, please tweet:
“@JuanManSantos, @carmeninesVicen We are deeply concerned re: report that afrocolombian children are affected by esmad actions in Cauca”.