Afro-Colombian Social Movement Leaders Arrested

Human rights and social justice organizations from Colombia and international community question arrests of Afro-Colombian activists. On April 20, the Colombian government arrested around thirty people in southwestern Colombia that included the Afro-Colombian leaders Sara Quiñonez and her mother Tulia Maris Valencia based on accusations of narcotics trafficking and working with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group. However, both Ms. Quiñonez and Ms. Valencia are members of the Black Communities’ Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) social movement and have risked their lives to defend the individual and collective rights of Afro-Colombians.

The arrests of black activists are part of a systematic campaign to challenge the legitimacy of Afro-Colombian rights, and criminalizing the defense of human rights undermines the tenuous status of the Peace Accords. In 2012, another PCN activist Felix Banguero was arrested along with 27 others under similar circumstances for allegedly belonging to the FARC. After spending more than two years in an overcrowded prison, Banguero was released based on insufficient evidence. He continues to maintain his innocence and remains committed to the struggle for Afro-Colombian rights.

The arrests of Afro-Colombian activists Sara Liliana Quiñonez Valencia and her mother Tulia Marys Valencia are particularly concerning. Ms. Quiñonez currently has protective measures from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) due to death threats against her and the entire leadership of the Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera located in Tumaco on the Colombian border with Ecuador. Ms. Quiñonez continued to defend the rights of the Afro-Colombian Community Council, even after the high-profile murders of her fellow community leaders Genaro Garcia in 2015 and Jair Cortés in 2017. Following the murders, Ms. Quiñonez was forcibly displaced with her family, including her mother Mrs. Tulia Maris, to another part of the country where she received protection measures provided by Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP).

ACSN expresses deep concern regarding their arrests and joins the call of the Colombian social movements to drop the charges and release Ms. Quiñonez and her mother Tulia Maris Valencia. According to PCN, “If our leaders (lideres y lideresas) stay in the territory, they are murdered—if they leave the territory, they are criminalized.”

Take Action on Twitter with the following message:

., ! These Black women are defending the right to life in the ancestral territories of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera in Tumaco. There, Black communitiess are relentlessly attacked. !

@FiscaliaCol #SarayTuliaMarisLibres! Son mujeres Negras defensoras de la vida en los territorios ancestrales del #PuebloNegro del Consejo Comunitario Alto Mira y Frontera en Tumaco donde la vida se asedia cada minuto. #Justicia! #SarayTuliaMarisLibres! @PGN_COL @CIDH @renacientes

For additional information, please contact:

Charo Mina Rojas, International Coordinator of the Black Communities’ Process (PCN):

Gimena Sanchez, Director for the Andes of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA):

Anthony Dest, Coordinating Committee of Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN):

Alert Regarding the Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Activists of the Black Communities’ Process (PCN) Sara Liliana Quiñonez Valencia and Tulia Marys Valencia

Defending Human Rights is Not a Crime*

*Statement by the Black Communities’ Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN)

Cali, Valle del Cauca
April 20, 2018

On April 20, 2018 at 6:29 a.m., agents from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DIJIN) detained two human rights defenders and activists from the Black Communities’ Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) in Cali on the orders of the Attorney General’s Office. SARA LILIANA QUIÑONEZ VALENCIA and TULIA MARYS VALENCIA QUIÑONEZ are accused of rebellion and belonging to the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) guerrilla group. Sara and her mother Tulia have dedicated their lives to defending the collective ethnic rights of the black community in Alto Mira and Frontera.

Sara Liliana Quiñonez Valencia and Tulia Marys Valencia are from Tumaco, Nariño. Sara once served as the President and later as the Vice President of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera. In 2015, Sara and her family were victims of forced displacement after she received threats against her life, safety, and wellbeing due to her work with the Community Council in defending and strengthening the collective ethnic rights of her community. She was forcibly displaced a second time in October 2017 after the leadership of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera was threatened and subsequently displaced. Two legal representatives of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera, along with other leaders from the community, have been murdered.

At the time of her arrest, Sara and her nuclear family were living in a state of forced displacement in Cali with protective measures from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, as well as a protection scheme from the Colombian National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP). Ms. Tulia Marys Valencia, Sara’s mother, is also a well-known local leader for her work in support of the individual and collective rights of the Afro-Colombian community. She is part of the women’s group and local committees of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera.

In light of this concerning situation of criminalization, persecution, stigmatization, and the violation of the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and justice, we alert the international and national human rights organizations, women’s organizations, and other sister organizations to advocate and take action in order to ensure that there are guarantees for their rights to integrity, their good names, protection, dignity, and legal defense. If our leaders (lideres y lideresas) stay in the territory, they are murdered—if they leave the territory, they are criminalized.

May peace not rob us of the little we were left by the war!

Alerta sobre Incriminación de las Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Activistas del Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia

Defender los derechos humanos No es un delito*

*Comunicado del Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN)

Hoy viernes 20 de Abril del 2018 en la ciudad de Cali- Valle, siendo las 6:29 de las mañana, fue detenida por miembros de LA DIJIN de Bogotá, bajo órdenes de la Fiscalía General de la Nación – Bogotá, las compañeras defensoras de derechos humanos y activistas del Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia (PCN); SARA LILIANA QUIÑONEZ VALENCIA Y TULIA MARYS VALENCIA QUIñONEZ, a las cuales se les sindica de rebelión, y ser parte del grupo guerrillero ELN. Sara y Tulia, son madre e hija y se han dedicado a la defensa de los derechos étnicos colectivos de la comunidad negra del Alto Mira y Frontera.

Sara Liliana Quiñonez Valencia y Tulia Marys Valencia, son oriundas de Tumaco- Nariño. Sara ha ido Presidenta y vicepresidenta de la junta de gobierno del Consejo Comunitario Alto Mira y Frontera. En el 2015 Sara y su familia fueron víctimas de desplazamiento forzado, tras amenazas contra la vida e integridad física y moral de Sara, por la labor que asumió como parte del gobierno propio en pro de la defensa y protección de los derechos étnicos colectivos de su comunidad. Su segundo desplazamiento se provocó en octubre de 2017, cuando la junta del Consejo Comunitario del Alto Mira y Frontera fue amenazada y en consecuencia desplazada; ha este consejo comunitario le han asesinado dos de sus representantes legales y otros miembros de la junta de gobierno. En la actualidad Sara y su nucleo familiar se encuentraban en situación de desplazamiento forzado en la ciudad de Cali, bajo medida cautelar de la Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos y con esquema de proteccion de la UNP. Doña Tulia Marys Valencia, madre de Sara, es igualmente una reconocida lideresa local, por su trayectoria a favor de los derechos individuales y colectivos de su comunidad afrocolombiana, hace parte de las juntas veredales del consejo comunitario y del grupo de mujeres Alto Mira y frontera.

Ante esta preocupante situación de incriminación, persecución, estigmatización y violación de los derechos fundamentales a la vida, libertad y la justicia, alertamos a las organizaciones internacionales y nacionales de derechos humanos, dinámicas de mujeres y organizaciones hermanas a adelantar acciones de incidencia en el marco de las garantías de los derechos a la integridad, el buen nombre, la protección, la dignidad y la legitima defensa de las lideresas; Sara Liliana Quiñonez Valencia y Tulia Marys Valencia.

A nuestros lideres y lideresas si permanecen en el territorio los asesinan y si salen del mismo los criminalizan.

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

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)