The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) would like to express its deep concern regarding the current humanitarian crisis in the Department of Choco, due to the violation of human rights by the Colombian State. In 2014, social and ethnic organizations in Choco came together with the Diocese of Apartado, Istmina and Quibdo to express their concerns, which the Ombudsman’s Office recognized after it issued the resolution 064 of 2014 with specific recommendations for each of the national and regional institutions to overcome the crisis. That same year, several member organizations of the Choco Inter-Ethnic Solidarity Forum and the Diocese of Quibdo sat before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where the Ministry of Interior promised to work alongside organizations and the Church to create a human rights plan for the Department of Choco and Buenaventura, yet progress has not been made on this front. This is why since July 20, the people of Choco have been protesting by deciding not to raise the flag of the Republic of Colombia but instead Choco’s flag to protest the state’s historical neglect.
Civic resistance manifested in daily marches began on August 17. Led by the Committee for the Salvation and Dignity of Choco that encompasses all organizations and unions in the department that back the protest, a reported 70,000 people marched in Quibdo yesterday along with protests in all the municipalities of the department. The population is reacting against the historical neglect by the state that has left 65.9 percent of the population living under the poverty line and 37.1 percent under extreme poverty with inadequate living conditions. The lack of security to civilians has generated constant displacement and humanitarian emergencies in the department. Until March 5, 2015 19 children died due to malnutrition and water pollution. Systematic corruption is dealt only with interventions rather than real efforts to end this problem.
The protest includes the different sectors of the department, including the Catholic Church represented by the diocese of Quibdo, who have sympathized with the protest and its mission. The list of demands that the people from Choco request from the Colombian government is as follows:
- Ensure road construction in Choco that connects the department with the rest of the country
- Investments and concerted action to ensure the fundamental right to health in the department of Choco
- Affirmative action to consolidate and ensure the integrity and territorial control of Belen de Bajira by Choco
- Investment on education and culture as a basis for human development for ethnic and mestizo groups that live in Choco
- Institutional reform for territorial development and administrative autonomy of the Department of Choco
- Infrastructure to municipal capitals and major settlements of the Department
- Promotion and consolidation of state and private programs for employment and departmental productivity with ethnic focus
- Investments to ensure the completion in 2016 of the entire sports infrastructure originally scheduled for 2015 National Games
- Mass communication and digital connectivity for social development
- Easing of public policies for the implementation of sectoral agendas on ethnic peace, borders, victims, human rights, gender, disability, children, youth, adults, sexual diversity, security, education, health, sports, housing and potable water
At this point it is required to implement the recommendations made by the inter-sectoral commission for the advancement of the Afro-Colombian population in 2009.
The Colombian government’s response has been to stigmatize and make excuses stating that the government has invested in the Department in recent years. The national government shifted the blame to regional leaders rather than to assume responsibility for its citizens. It does not demonstrate a political will to seek real solutions to the serious situation the people of Choco face. Leaders of the Department of Choco welcomed President Santos appointment of the Minister of Environment, Luis Gilberto Murillo and Vice Minister of Culture, Zulia Mena who know firsthand the historic neglect of the state to the Department of Choco and especially its needs. Therefore, the statements made today by the Minister of the Environment to the press where he catalogued the protest as inopportune amaze the people of Choco. The only thing the Choco’s people expect of Afro-Colombian leaders is to at least show solidarity and respect of all manifestations that seek the just demands for basic rights and ability to live in dignity.
As a network that monitors closely the human rights reality, socioeconomic rights and other rights of Afro-Colombians we call on the government of Colombia to find a real solution to the demands of the people of Choco. At the same time we continue to demand that the parties at the negotiating table incorporate an ethnic chapter and recommendations presented by the Ethnic Commission in the final peace agreement. Only if the government shows willingness to solve the problems of ethnic groups that lead to results, and ensures that voices are heard under the right to free and informed prior consultation in the design of policies, programs and projects created for their regions will you begin to see real changes for this population.
In turn, the Government of the United States who has been an ally for communities of African descent should ask Colombia to prioritize and protect the fundamental economic, political and social rights of ethnic communities in the country. It should ensure that agreements between the two countries affecting the Afro-Colombian communities such as human rights conditioning in military aid to Colombia, the Labor Action Plan between the US and Colombia and Plan of Racial Action (CAPREE) are implemented in a way to support the advancement of the rights of same and reduce social inequality and racial discrimination in that country.
For more than 40 years the people of Choco have carried out strikes, which the government responds with agreements that are never implemented.
For more information on this situation please contact Euclides Rengifo Cordoba to firstname.lastname@example.org