“We have to stand for human rights, and that should be part of the trade equation.”
These words expressed by President Obama during his electoral campaign have become a rhetoric that could cost Colombia’s Afrodescendants the legal achievements they have won in their struggle for self-determination and recognition of their rights. It could also cost them the ancestral territories they have defended for centuries. That is, if President Obama insists on Congressional approval of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.
The struggle of Afro-descendant communities for their ancestral lands and economic, environmental and cultural rights has led to deaths of more than 47 leaders, massacres of dozens of innocent Afro-descendants, internal displacement of more than 1.5 million people, the loss of their control over their collective territories, and acceleration of these communities’ impoverishment.
The port of Buenaventura and Northern Cauca zone where development-driven economic policies were imposed against these communities’ will has created serious social and environmental problems. Such policies have generated food and humanitarian crises throughout the territory-region of the Pacific Coast and parts of the Caribbean. They have also led to the illegal, and often violent, expropriation of territories for the large-scale cultivation of oil palm and other large-scale economic projects in the collective territories of Alto Mira and Frontera (Nariño) and Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó (Chocó).
The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is just one more mechanism that will endanger the rights of Afro-descendant and indigenous communities in Colombia. As we have previously stated, the approval of the US-Colombia FTA will bring about conditions that will violate the economic, environmental, territorial, and intellectual property rights of these communities. It will exacerbate the racial, economic and environmental injustices that have affected these populations for centuries.
We remind President Obama and the legislators who favor the FTA in the United States that the Afro-descendant communities continue to face violence due to the presence of illegal armed groups and actors that form part of the internal armed conflict in Afro-Colombian territories. For the past two years, paramilitary groups known as the Black Eagles, Rastrojos, and New Generation have systematically threatened Afro-Colombian leaders and their organizations. Internationally recognized Afro-descendant organizations including AFRODES and the Black Communities’ Process (PCN) are currently military objectives for these groups. In the port of Buenaventura alone, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office documented 357 forced disappearances in the last three years (an official statistic that does not reflect the actual number of forced disappearances in the city), and an average 500 violent deaths a year for the last five years. This discriminatory violence does not simply respond to a lack of economic opportunities, instead it responds to the interests of different economic and political sectors in the territories and resources of the region.
In the territory-region of the Pacific, the violence and implementation of Plan Colombia are responsible for the impoverishment of the Afro-Colombian population in the last ten years. 72% of Afro-descendants have lost their means of self-sustenance (one of which is the land that is their primary source of work). 78% of internal displacement between 2002 and 2009 came from the collective territories of Afro-descendants and has left 96.5% of the forcibly displaced persons in conditions of extreme poverty, 78.4% of which live in conditions of indigent poverty. Forced displacement, as indicated by the Colombian Constitutional Court in Order T-025 of 2004 and Orders 004, 005, and 092 of 2009, is caused by discriminate violence against the communities, armed confrontation, and military actions of counter-insurgency, fumigations with glyphosate on subsistence crops of the communities, racial discrimination and the exclusion of black people from spaces and critical actions in decision making. We remind President Obama and the legislators that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was formulated and will be applied in an environment of discriminate violence, violation of rights and without the previous consultation with the communities whose territories, resources, and rights will be directly affected by it.
President Obama has argued that in order to achieve peace, economic stability is required. He has used this argument in favor of the Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. In the reality of Colombia and the Afro-descendant communities, peace would require the government of Colombia to recognize the existence of paramilitary groups and the impact of their actions on democracy and the possibility for peace. The government of Colombia would also have to decisively guarantee justice and reparation for the victims of their actions. It would also require that the Colombian government guarantee forcibly displaced, expropriated and impoverished communities conditions for restitution, reparation and return to their territories in a way that would reestablish their lives under dignified conditions. It also requires the creation of differential attention policies for internally displaced Afro-descendents so that they can recuperate their possessions and sources of work and employment (which include recuperation of their lands), and that they are reintegrated into their productive livelihoods with conditions of competition and equality that correlates with the rest of society. This requires respect for their right to free and informed previous consultation as obliged by Convention 169 of the ILO, the Colombian Constitution, and Law 170 of 1993.
We, the communities and organizations that struggle for our territorial, economic and political self-determination, find that the Colombian government does not have any political will to respect to the rule of law or the rights that are due to us. The Colombian government has been characterized by its inability to implement regulations such as Order 005 of 2009, which obliges the government to define appropriate prevention and attention plans for Afro-descendant communities that are vulnerable to forced displacement. The Colombian government violates the rights to free and informed previous consultation and consent. Our last experience with this issue has been during the formulation of the National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo), where the Colombian government deliberately has limited the obligations of a transparent previous consultation process to bureaucratic meetings where the direct voice of the communities that will be affected by those decisions has not been represented. Likewise the FTA was formulated behind the back of these communities making it a new mechanism of expropriation and violation of rights.
The grassroots Afro-Colombian communities defend a Life Project (Proyecto de Vida), based on principles of equality, sustainability, self-determination and self-affirmation, that the US-Colombia FTA threatens, as there are not democratic conditions in Colombia for the economic, political and social participation of our people. We make it clear that despite President Juan Manuel Santos’ rhetoric, his decisions and actions against the rights of our communities as Minister of Defense during President Uribe’s administration, do not give us any hope that conditions will get better during his administration. His policy in regards to mining, the Land Law and the poorly named consultation process on the National Development Plan are concrete examples.
Therefore, the organizations and communities that struggle for the protection of our ancestral territories, the resources within the territories and our rights to them, reiterate our opposition to the current U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, as it is not a choice that favors sustainable development in the future and favorable advancement for our communities, in full exercise of our constitutional and human rights.
We ask that the United Status Congress condition any future discussion of the FTA with Colombia in compliance with the recommendations that all sectors of the national and international social movements have presented in addition to the observations presented last year to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
We make a similar appeal to civil society in the United States to demand their representatives to publicly oppose the FTA with Colombia until the Colombian government can demonstrate concrete results in transforming the human rights situation in Afro-descendant communities.
With our traditional affirmation of life and joy, hope and freedom,
Black Communities’ Porcess (PCN)*
International Working Group
* PCN by its acronym in Spanish, is an Afro-descendant organizations comprised by about one hundred grassroots organizations, Community Councils and activist. Visit www.renacientes.org