English

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calls for more protection from the Colombian government and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the UNP rescinded its protection scheme for Mr.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.

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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.

 

Statement by the Permanent Assembly of Black Women in the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Cali

(En Español)

June 3, 2017
Cali, Colombia

WE BLACK WOMEN SAY: WE ARE HERE WITH YOU, THE DIGNIFIED PEOPLES OF BUENAVENTURA

We are enormously proud of the resistance and bravery of the peoples of Buenaventura. We are proud of their peaceful action, their strong collective actions, and their willingness to overcome the provocations and violence on their bodies by the State and specifically the ESMAD anti-riot police. We – the Black Women of Northern Cauca and Cali – are declaring a permanent assembly with this action because we are one people (#SomosUnSoloPueblo).

Beginning on the afternoon of Friday, June 2, 2017, we occupied the offices of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Cali with the accompaniment of black youth that self-identify as the Maroon Guard (Guardia Cimarrona).

We came here because we feel the injustice, racism and disdain for black people by the Colombian State, which has manifested clearly during these last 19 days in the city of Buenaventura.

Throughout the civic strike in Buenaventura, we saw how the entities – whose constitutional obligation is to defend and respect the rights of Colombian citizens – have not fulfilled this mandate. The actions that they say they have carried out have not concluded in effective results because the police continue to use violence against a people who are protesting peacefully. The absence of statements and alerts about the humanitarian crisis in Buenaventura should be understood as complicit silence.

Therefore:

  1. Given the critical nature of the situation, we demand that the National Human Rights Ombudsman, Dr. Carlos Negret, go to Buenaventura and remain there until the aggressions against the population cease.
  2. We demand the immediate demilitarization of the territory of Buenaventura.
  3. We demand that the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman send the Civic Strike Committee and national government an effective plan for accompaniment that corresponds with the situation in Buenaventura and identify a plan for action after the end of the strike.
  4. We demand a public statement by the national government guaranteeing a protection for the citizens of Buenaventura in the context of the civic strike that solicits an immediate end to excessive use of force against the community that feels attacked as if it were an armed actor.
  5. We demand the immediate demilitarization of the territory of Buenaventura.
  6. We demand that the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman issue a detailed report on the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against the people of Buenaventura during the 19 days of the civic strike, which shows the state of the investigations into these acts and demonstrates what the reparations should be for the people whose physical integrity was affected by the aggressions.
  7. We solicit a report on the number of people sentenced or incarcerated in the context of the strike, the state of their cases, and the advances in securing their legal assistance. The report should specify what kind of assistance they received.
  8. We demand that the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman act in good faith as a guarantor of the constitutional rights of the people of Buenaventura with the hope that your dialogue with the national government will expose the grave violations of human, ethnic, and collective rights. We hope that the national government will reevaluate the illegality of its response to a peaceful mobilization as if it was a war thereby violating the right to peaceful social protest and other related rights.
  9. We demand that the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman take the public actions necessary to secure the rights of the black people of Buenaventura.
  10. We demand that the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman conduct a press conference with national and local media that covers the humanitarian crisis that affects Buenaventura by providing truthful information about it.

WE ARE FOR BUENAVENTURA!
THE PEOPLE WILL NEVER GIVE UP, NO!
FOR BUENAVENTURA!
THE PEOPLE WILL NEVER GIVE UP, NO!

Permanent Assembly of Black Women in the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Cali

Peaceful strikers are still being attacked by armed police in Buenaventura, but the people won’t give up!

Article for the Black Alliance for Peace
By: Esther Ojulari

“I know you’re fighting a just cause…We go all round the country and we see people fighting just causes all the time…But this is our job…our role here is to attack, so that’s what we do.”

These were the words my friend was told when he engaged in conversation the other night with an agent of the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron) on the streets of Buenaventura, Colombia, in the context of the ongoing civic strike.

The mainly Afro-descendant and indigenous community of Buenaventura on the Pacific Coast of Colombia has been on a civic strike now for 16 days. 16 days in which business, banks, shops and schools have been closed down and taxis and buses have stopped working to demand that the national government fulfils is basic human rights obligations to its citizens.

The demands of the strike are clear. Due to the desperate human rights situation which the community faces in Buenaventura, the Strike Committee called for the National Government to adopt a State of Social, Economic and Ecological Emergency in accordance with article 215 of the 1991 Colombian Constitution. This declaration would commit the government to providing within 30 days (90 days with extension) sufficient funds to address urgent issues in the city; basic and fundamental human rights which are seriously lacking, such as clean drinking water, a hospital with tertiary level health care, adequate sewage systems, quality and culturally relevant education institutions, and reparations for victims of violence, conflict and injustice. The Civic Strike Committee has been in and out of talks with the government for two weeks and the government has so far refused to meet the demands of the strikers.

Meanwhile day after day up to 200,000 strikers have taken to the streets marching or congregating in collective meeting points along the main Avenida 6o (6th Avenue) and the Via Alterna Interna (ring road) which both lead from the outskirts of Buenaventura to the city centre, and Colombia’s most important international port. The strikers protest the injustice of neoliberal economic policies which leave a city of over 500,000 people without basic public services, infrastructure and human rights, while the profits from tens of billions of dollars of imports and exports each year line the pockets of private owners.

The meeting points, consisting of open-air tents and sound systems, in which strikers peacefully resist this economic model, though cultural traditions of music, singing, dancing, storytelling, banging pots and pans and chanting for basic human rights, have a another function; preventing the cargo trucks, from entering and leaving the city. This is a historical and monumental form of resistance, not only to Colombia’s economic model, but to the wider global economic system, as a small group of determined protestors block one of the most strategic international ports for trade between Latin America and Asia. The response from the state has been has been violent, brutal and repressive.

Since the 19th March the ESDMAD have been present in the city, and backed up by the police, military and undercover police operations, has rained down on strikers firing not only tear gas but on several occasions fire arms. Tear gas has repeatedly been fired at residential areas and in particular into the most vulnerable communities where it easily enters into Buenaventura’s traditional casas de palafitos (wooden houses on stilts) causing asphyxiation for babies and young children, many of whom have been rushed to the clinic on the backs of motorbikes in the early house of the mornings. Night after night the ESMAD has torn down meeting points to make way for the cargo trucks that enter and leave the city just before dawn.

Last night was a particularly bad night. We arrived at the Sabrosuras meeting point in El Dorado barrio shortly before midnight after reports of earlier attacks by the ESMAD. As we arrived we were greeted by at least 150 strikers, men, women, and children, chatting, drinking coffee, singing along to music. All was quiet for a couple of hours, but then at around 2 a.m. we got news from a meeting point further along the road that the ESMAD were on their way back.

Groups of young strikers prepared to defend themselves and the meeting point, committed to preventing the trucks from passing. They strengthen the makeshift road blocks of tree branches, tires and planks of wood, and set up shields made from billboards several hundred metres from the official meeting point were people of all ages were still gathered. From our vantage point we could see the public security forces slowly advancing, first a battering tank to take out the road blocks, then an ESMAD tank followed by ESMAD agents on foot, and behind them several policemen on motorbikes and more tanks, trucks and cars. It felt like an army had been sent to overpower a couple of hundred unarmed protestors, with nothing but stones for self-defence.

The first encounter was brief, the battering tank took out the road blocks in a matter of seconds and the ESMAD began firing tear gas scattering the protestors into the nearby streets. The convoy thundered on, creaking and moaning under the weight of so metal armour, easily reaching and passing the tents of the meeting point. For a short time after they passed and continued down the road there was relative silence as protestors wearily made their way back to the main road. Then more ESMAD trucks and agents arrived and a two-hour confrontation ensued between ESMAD and a hundred or so mainly young people.

When the attack finally calmed down, the dust settled and most of the protestors had been scattered the cavalry arrived. The raison d’être for all this violence. First an ESMAD tank, then police cars, then a line of 20 or so police on bikes ceremoniously ushered a procession of no less than 50 cargo trucks into the city. One after one the trucks thundered by as outraged bystanders shouted angrily at the drivers and ESMAD agents point blank shot tear gas at anyone who looked like they might try to stop the neoliberal caravan of profit as it made its way to the port.

The ESMAD hung around well after the trucks had passed through, still shooting the odd tear gas canister, revealing their immaturity as they hid behind walls, clearly enjoying playing at war while the city’s residents walked the streets attempting to go about their morning activities in peace. Except it wasn’t a game and the scene really resembled one of occupation and war. When the ESMAD finally moved out strikers and bystanders gathered on the sidewalks to mockingly cheer and clap the national heroes. The agents responded with equal scorn, taunting the crowds, laughing and putting their thumbs in the air.

The confrontations at El Dorado and Independencia barrios didn’t end there, they continued well into the morning, even as the Civic Strike Committee organised and planned for the day’s cultural activity, a march from El Dorado and other meeting towards the Isla de la Paz barrio located near the Via Alterna Interna.

Yes. Last night was a particularly bad night. There were numerous injuries from tear gas and a further six fire arms injuries confirmed so far. Evidence was gathered and shared by strikers of empty tear gas canisters, bullets from army rifles, photos of armed, plain clothed officers in the crowds and videos of the ESMAD advancing and firing tear gas at the unarmed strikers and at the houses in the nearby streets. The voice of one young woman carried across the wind as she called from a balcony in a building engulfed with tear gas a few streets away, repeating over and over “murderers, murderers, you are killing us, murderers.”

As the strikes entered their 16th day in Buenaventura, and the Committee prepared for the arrival of government ministers this morning to present their reformed demands, the call they have been making for weeks for the government to remove the ESMAD forces and end the violence on the streets and in the communities of Buenaventura resonated more strongly than ever. For how can we negotiate agreements in the middle of a war? The continued presence of the ESMAD, who in their own words, are here to “attack,” has made it impossible to negotiate a truly peaceful end to the strike, and demonstrates that the government has little intention of respecting the demands and rights of the community and is farm more concerned about protecting the private interests of the port. Nevertheless, in the face of an indifferent government the people of Buenaventura have stayed strong and committed to this people-centred human rights and political process. As the dialogues commenced in the afternoon of the 16th day, the community of Buenaventura continued to assert their right to march, strike and protest in the streets, to demand their fundamental human rights and to chant day after day and night after night that “el pueblo no se rinde carajo!” the people won’t give up!