Afro-Colombians and their Continuous Fight for Basic Human Rights
Nia Hampton | Monday June 5th 2017
The struggle for basic human rights has been a long one for the Afro-indigenous community in Colombia. Home to one of the largest concentrations of descendants of enslaved Africans in the Western Hemisphere, the country is mainly recognized for it’s infamous role in the drug trade and its star player, Pablo Escobar. But the story of its black population is a complicated and all too familiar one. After the abolishment of slavery in 1851, Colombia began pushing the mestizaje (read: whitening) narrative and the black population found themselves forced into the beginning of what is now called geographical apartheid. Racism is the literal law of the land in the country. Historically, the Afro-indigenous community lived on the coast in “Palanques” maroon communities founded by runaway slaves who waged war against their captors and lived freely, even before the rest of the country was emancipated. In fact, it’s believed that half of the military in the fight for Colombia’s independence were of African descent. In the early 90s, Afro-Colombian communities were formally granted rights to the land they historically occupied for centuries. But the ongoing conflict between FARC (the largest running armed insurgency in the Western Hemisphere) and the Colombian government, created victims out of what should have been a people newly empowered by land ownership. Once people were granted rights to their land, guerrilla soldiers and drug cartels descended on the land and displaced thousands of people through violence, the use of rape and landmines. The main motive for this was to grow cocoa leaves which would then be turned into cocaine. Thousands of people have sought refuge from the violence and poverty of life on the coast through fleeing their hometowns, for larger cities like Cali, Bogota and Medellin. Some people were even exiled as far as Panama. The number of activists killed for standing up and speaking out against the violence grows daily. This longstanding civil war decimated communities and killed thousands of people and there is still no formal plan to restore the damage. In fact, it seems as if Colombia is intent on making the civilians pay for the carnage created during the war.
For most of the month of May, Afro-Colombians have been on strike. Coincidentally, this is also Afro-Colombian History Month and activists have taken to the internet and the streets to make the plight of the Afro-Colombian known. Afropunk recently published this article written by an Afro Colombian activist in which he explains what’s happening to the population and how the hashtags #somospacifico #somoschoco and #somosbuenaventura can help raise awareness. The cities of Choco and Buenaventura seem to be ground zero in the fight for the rights of Afro-Colombians. The end of severe poverty, lack of resources, drinkable water and extreme corruption are just a few things on the lists of demands the community is fighting for. A mass walkout has shut down the city of Buenaventura, the most important port city in Colombia. Citizens defied laws against public manifestations and blocked the port from functioning, a move that could cost local businesses in Colombia up to 20 million dollars a day. The protests are gaining traction as the community has been suffering at the hands of corrupt government for years. According to ColombiaReports.com “The city’s three former mayors are in prison for corruption, the current mayor is investigated, and even the former prison director is in prison for corruption.” Colombia seems to be a close to imploding and it’s important that the world pay attention to how once again, the small yet mighty Afro descended population is leading the country to finally do what’s right by it’s people.
Graphic By Sophia Gach-Rasool