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With Significant Challenges Ahead, Development for Buenaventura Advances

Colombia’s Minister of the Interior, Guillermo Rivera, submitted a bill to the Colombian congress last week to create an autonomous development fund for Buenaventura.

The proposed bill, negotiated by representatives of the national government and the Buenaventura Civic Strike Committee, calls for the Colombian government to allocate 1.6 trillion pesos (approximately $530 million USD) to support major infrastructural and social sector developments in the port city over a ten-year period. The bill follows an agreement reached between the government and the Civic Strike Committee in June to end three weeks of mass, peaceful protests in Buenaventura.

If Congress passes the bill, the Colombian government will be able to say it has fulfilled a major part of its commitment to end the protests. But first the bill must go through four rounds of debate in Congress, during which representatives may propose amendments, rewrite the bill in its entirety, or not pass it all.

Although the bill proposes to allocate 1.6 trillion pesos over a ten-year period, La Silla Vacía reported last week that the government has only secured enough funding for the first two years of implementation.

Yet even with the uncertainty surrounding the proposal, the fact that a bill was submitted marks a rare move for an administration that often struggles to meet the conditions of its own agreements.

“This is only one of the great achievements of the May/June civic strikes,” said Victor Vidal, a leader of the Strike Committee, in a statement last Tuesday. “This bill will provide a legislative platform to materialize the demands we made in the agreement to end the civic strike in Buenaventura.”

The strike in Buenaventura began on May 5 with roadblocks and large, peaceful demonstrations in the street. Over the course of three-weeks of protest, shops and schools in Buenaventura closed and main roads were blocked as tens of thousands of strikers attempted to shut down one of the country’s most important international ports.

Strikers’ demands to the government included the fulfillment of basic and long-neglected needs for the city’s 400,000 residents—over 90 percent of whom are Afro-descendant or indigenous Colombians.

“We’re talking about potable water. We’re talking about a sewage system, roofs over our heads, actual roads,” said Euclides Rengifo, a member of the External Civic Strike Committee, based in Washington.

“In Buenaventura, where more than 60% of Colombia’s economy passes through the port…how can there be children dying of malnutrition?”

“Every two days we get access to water for two hours,” said Fredy López, one of the strike leaders in Buenaventura. “And that water isn’t even safe enough to drink.”

According to La Silla Vacía, 64 percent of the urban population of Buenaventura, and 94 percent of the rural population, lives in abject poverty.

Recently the port city has seen expanding development projects, brought about largely by free trade agreements with the United States. While these agreements have allowed billions of dollars’ worth of goods to pass through the city, the resulting development projects have exacerbated issues of inequality and displacement that have persisted in the city for decades.

Divalizeth Murillo, a founder of the External Civic Strike Committee in Washington, which used social media and public protests in the U.S. capital to support the strike, said the protest in Buenaventura was a “ticking time-bomb.”

Beyond the fulfillment of basic public health and sanitation needs, residents of Buenaventura also demanded the government improve security conditions in the city.

In November, the national government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed an agreement to end the hemisphere’s longest armed conflict. Over the course of the fifty-two year war, the predominately Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities of the country’s Pacific coast were disproportionately impacted by violent conflict.

Now in Buenaventura, where one in every two residents is a registered victim of the conflict, illegal paramilitary groups are taking over where the FARC left off. These groups are threatening and killing social leaders and human rights defenders at an alarming rate, disrupting any positive efforts to build peace in a new post-FARC era.

Throughout the protests in Buenaventura, members of the Civic Strike Committee received numerous public and private death threats from armed groups. On June 30, one month after the protests ended, one of the Civic Strike leaders was murdered.

“We suffered through massacres of our people and killings of our leaders [during the armed conflict]. And now the government won’t guarantee that these armed groups leave,” said Euclides Rengifo, who received death threats for supporting the strike from Washington.

Criminal groups also took advantage of the disorder during the protests to destroy property and loot local businesses. In response to the looting, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos called in the anti-riot police (ESMAD) to restore control. According to reports from human rights organizations and media outlets, ESMAD police repeatedly used excessive force on protesters in Buenaventura, resulting in multiple injuries and one death.

Since the Buenaventura strike ended on May 26, leaders have called for investigations into ESMAD’s conduct. “We need to make sure that the victims of attacks by ESMAD and criminal groups remain safe and have their rights violations recognized by the government,” Mr. Rengifo commented.

Moving forward, strike leaders and supporters like Mr. Rengifo have said, “the end of the strike is only a new beginning.”

“The Colombian government made agreements [to end the strike], and now we need to ensure they follow through and the implementation of the agreements is sufficiently monitored.”

“In Chocó,” a predominately Afro-descendant department on the Pacific coast, “the government has signed at least eight previous accords [following mass protests]. And they haven’t fulfilled a single one.”

Ms. Murillo, who also received death threats for her work on the External Civic Strike Committee, encouraged Colombians around the world to continue using social media to monitor the situation in Buenaventura. “You don’t need to be a media professional to make yourself heard,” she said. “Our External Civic Strike Committee [in Washington] was launched through protests in front of the White House and the [Colombian] Embassy. That’s when we realized the power of mobilization to promote our issues and get people involved.”

Mr. Rengifo agreed. “We’re not the first group to have done something like this, and we certainly won’t be the last. The goal is to keep growing, to never stop defending the advancements we’ve made toward a more dignified life for our people,” he added.

“No more death. No more poverty. No more displacement. No more misery.”

Written by Atticus Ballesteros

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PCN: Statement on Stigmatization and Persecution by the State


Nurturing Life and Territories as Black People is Not a Crime
Our lives, Our Territories, and Our Rights Cannot be the Price of Peace

We struggle for the dignity of black people. We are the inheritors of those that survived the dehumanizing policies that were implemented in the name of progress. We are the granddaughters and grandsons of those that organized in order to nurture life and wanted to enjoy it with dignity and health.

High-level government officials and armed actors often accuse us of opposing development because they value the exploitation of the earth more than our lives. We are what they want to hide and eliminate because we resist. We defend water, the territories, biodiversity, and life from the predation caused by large-scale mining, energy, and infrastructure projects such as roads and ports. We are critical and we oppose the model. We are the ones that have to deal with the mess caused by the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the model. Even though they do not want us alive, we continue to struggle for life and happiness, for the hope and freedom of our people.

We came today to face Colombian society as leaders from the Black Communities’ Process. We come from different parts of the country, and we are here in front of the Attorney General’s Office without fear. We are here because we want to say that we will continue participating in marches, assemblies, protests, and campaigns wherever we are. We are building institutions that promote the good life (buen vivir), institutions that are free of racism, discrimination, and inequality.

They are trying to promote the idea that we are entering a moment of democratization, participation, and implementation to the outside world. But we keep the following people alive and strong in our hearts: Demetrio López, Miller Angulo, Ana Fabricia Cordoba, Genaro García, and Bernardo Cuero, who was murdered last week in front of his home. 57 people have been murdered because they struggled for justice and dignity for all of us.

Countless others like Felix Manuel Banguero have had their names smeared by State-led criminalization campaigns that promote policies of fear and hate. Similarly, countless black women like Francia Marquez, Danelly Estupiñan, and Sara Quiñonez have given everything for our descendants (renancientes).

We are here. We are showing our faces before a form of justice that is limping, and we are here to offer our support so that justice can become a reality in our lives and in our territories. We are here showing our faces because we don’t owe anyone anything. The State should encourage dialogue and promote effective participation in response to social protest. It should definitively abandon its practices of stigmatization, militarization, and police brutality, as well as its denial of the systematic murder and criminalization of social movement leaders.

Being a social movement leader is not a crime. Territory is life, and life is never sold—it is loved and defended. We don’t carry weapons—we have dignity. The people will never give up!

Statement on Stigmatization and Persecution by the State
June 12, 2017
Black Communities’ Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN)

AFRODES Leader Bernardo Cuero Murdered

The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) expresses its deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Bernardo Cuero Bravo. His murder is an attack on all of us struggling for peace and racial justice in Colombia and beyond.

Mr. Cuero was murdered on June, 7 2017 in front of his home in Malambo, Atlantico.  He was a leader at the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) and the Legal Representative of the Association of People Displaced for Living of Malambo (ADEVIM). Mr. Cuero was a former recipient of a protection scheme provided by the National Protection Unit (UNP). Despite repeated calls for more protection from the Colombian government and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the UNP rescinded its protection scheme for Mr. Bravo, which included a bulletproof vest and a cell phone.

In recent weeks, other leaders from AFRODES have received death threats in Cali, Cartagena, Bogota, and Soacha. These threats are directly related to the organization’s work in defense of Afro-Colombian rights. As evidenced in the murder of Mr. Cuero, black activists are increasingly targeted for defending their rights to the territory and demanding that the government fulfill its constitutional obligations to the black community.

We demand that the Colombian government immediately investigate the perpetrators of Mr. Cuero´s murder and the threats against AFRODES. Furthermore, the government must take deliberate steps to provide comprehensive protection for black activists throughout Colombia and specifically our dear colleagues at AFRODES. The United States government should urge the UNP to provide a report regarding why they did not provide him with adequate measures. The U.S. ambassador should also publicly condemn this murder and guarantee that the remainder of the AFRODES leadership receive protection immediately.

Letter from Vicenta Moreno of the Permanent Assembly of Black Women in Cali

(En Español)

I am deeply thankful for the hugs, expressions of affection, and accompaniment during this moment of immense pain caused by the loss of my brother due to the structural violence that affects our territories every day.

Early this morning, Saturday, June 4, my brother Gregorio Urbano Moreno Hurtado was murdered. He was a sensitive 38 year old man who tried to stop the murder of a youth who was being followed by an armed man. The young man tried to take refuge at a party that my brother was attending.

When Gregorio pushed the armed man who entered the house, the man shot him in the heart and killed him.

Now we are here together among family and friends confronting this very deep pain.

As a family, we have worked with the community from the moment we arrived in this territory. However, we were unable to escape the reach of the acts of violent death that surround the territory.

Although this case is directly associated with issues related to neighborhood violence and it is not related to my presence in the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, I consider it another way of sentencing the black population of Colombia to death. It is a situation that is not far from what the people of Buenaventura are living through.

Therefore, even though I am currently in the District of Aguablanca, I continue to be in the Permanent Assembly for the abuses that Buenaventura is being submitted to.

With affection,

Vicenta Moreno

I AM FOR BUENAVENTURA!
THE PEOPLE WILL NEVER GIVE UP!
FOR BLACK PEOPLE!
THE PEOPLE WILL NEVER GIVE UP!

Civic Strike Committee for a Life with Dignity and Peace in the Territory 

(En Español)

Civic Strike Committee for a Life with Dignity and Peace in the Territory 

Press Release #21
Buenaventura, June 4, 2017

OUR RESISTANCE CONTINUES TO BE STRATEGIC
(DAY 20 OF THE STRIKE)

The Civic Strike Committee for a Life with Dignity and Peace in the Territory addresses the public and reiterates its initial principled demand for respect for peaceful protest.

On the 20th day of the civic strike, we once again express our profound admiration for the brave people of Buenaventura who have clearly understood the decisive role that we are playing in history.

From diverse backgrounds and each one according to their means, there have been concrete and symbolic actions, and – as such – we are one. We are a dignified people that have stood up and forced Colombia and the world to look at us.

All of this strength has contributed to the fact that today we are close to reaching an agreement with the government, who only after all of this time has begun to understand the determination of our decision and the powerful strength of our reasons.

In this context, we could speak with the government’s commission, which was directed by Minister of Interior Guillermo Rivera and Minister of Environment Luis Gilberto Murillo, about concrete answers, such as the decision to create a fund for the Autonomous Heritage of Buenaventura that will respond to the problems identified by the Civic Strike.

One effective component of this process at this moment has been the diverse institutions that have acted as guarantors. We would like to especially highlight the presence of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Todd Howland. His proven international prestige gives us confidence and facilitates the progress of these dialogues.

It is, therefore, a question of continuing down this path. Meanwhile, the resistance and the commitment of our people in the streets, with their cultural and educational activities, continues to be profoundly important, along with the efforts of businesses and sectors of the economy that have taken on a large cost and effort to maintain the strike.

We would also like to inform you that we have reported all of the acts related to the presence of the ESMAD to the negotiating table, with all clarity. Accordingly, a commission made up of human rights defenders from the UN, government officials, and members of the Civic Strike Committee informed the negotiating table about this issue before the government’s commission, and in the presence of Minister of Interior Guillermo Rivera.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE – CIVIC STRIKE

Calle 7 No 62-07 Barrio Independencia 1a etapa. CELL: +57-3155189830 – +57-3117173594. parocivicobuenaventura@gmail.com; Facebook: Comité paro cívico Buenaventura.