ACTION ALERT: The Centro Pazífico (Pacific Center for Human Rights) Responds to the Displacement in Buenaventura, Colombia
Buenaventura is the main port for Colombian foreign trade and the second largest city in the prosperous state of Valle del Cauca. Historically, the territory has been inhabited by Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, and campesinos. Despite the diversity and cultural richness of this territory, it is primarily known for its high levels of poverty, difficulties in accessing public services, health, decent housing, and education. These conditions have derailed the lives of the inhabitants to unimaginable extremes….
Hundreds of people have been displaced from the coastal neighborhoods in Buenaventura as a result of growing commercial interest to convert the area into a tourist destination. These neighborhoods were once home to fishermen and welcomed the small boats that transported locals in and out of Buenaventura.
Today, the government has created the Buenaventura Development Plan, which is responsible for displacing and demolishing the already established communities. These neighborhoods were also in the middle of the “progress” established by the Buenaventura Development Plan. Most people from these areas were forced to leave and relocate due to the violence and to give way to the “Malecon”, a touristic walkway around the edges of the City and to port expansions. Today, the displaced live in the neighboring city of Cali, the Capital of the Valle del Cauca state. Read more….
A Crisis Grips Colombia
The Centro Pazífico, aka CEDHUPA, was recently established in Cali, Colombia to address the crisis that is currently gripping the Pacific region of Colombia. CEDEHUPA serves the area most affected by ongoing violence against social movement leaders.
The territory is also the area with the largest concentration of indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations, and a historic base of struggle for rural farming communities. Right now, the Centro Pazífico is fully occupied by refugees displaced by Buenaventurans who have had to leave their homes because of assaults by armed groups vying for control.
We have provided below, two links to important articles published by the Alliance for Global Justice that give detailed background for those who want to understand the situation better. As always, there is a strong United States connection to the situation. Last year, with bipartisan support, Congress raised military and “security” aid to Colombia. The Colombian government uses these funds to repress popular movements while refusing to meet the commitments it has made to its own people, especially those in Buenaventura.
The sprawling coastal city of Buenaventura
(March 30, 2021) —Buenaventura, the Colombian Pacific and other regions of the country remain submerged in a wave of violence that has led to all-new highs in rates of confinement and forced internal displacement. The ancestral territory around this international port is an area affected by armed conflict and especially by illegal paramilitary-type structures.
In the midst of the militarization of the State, they dispute for control of this strategic center for the global market and for illegal economies around commercial, drug, and arms trafficking. This is the context in which killings, threats and assassinations of social leaders have increased. This ongoing violence in ethnic territories has political, structural and ethnic roots…. the solutions to this problem must be structural and based on proposals built with the ethnic communities of the region….
Likewise, and as an effective mechanism to consolidate territorial dispossession and rights violations, the establishment decided to use the existence of the State’s internal armed conflict with different guerrilla movements to escalate the violence and implement a State policy based on paramilitarism, national security and the internal enemy, promoted for some time by the United States and financed under Plan Colombia….
From the beginning of 2021 until March 17, 2021, there have been 17 massacres in Colombia, with a total of 65 victims. Buenaventura is a clear reflection of this humanitarian crisis, a product of the non-compliance of the two historic agreements, the Peace Treaty and the Civic Strike Agreement. As indicated by the leader Maria Eugenia Mosquera Riascos, “In our rural and urban territories, we have not stopped building, resisting and weaving peace, however, the absence of political will of the national government to comply with the signed agreement, takes us back to the worst times of conflict and war.”
With the upsurge of violence in Buenaventura and according to police data, there have been 69 disappearances in Buenaventura since last year. This year, in January alone, approximately 12 people have disappeared.
The forced recruitment of girls, boys, adolescents and young people (NNAJ in its Spanish acronym) for informant network activities, logistical support, arms transportation, drug transportation, extortion, as well as for the growth of organic membership of the successor structures of paramilitarism, are increasing in all neighborhoods of Buenaventura, exceeding the figures of previous years (in some rural areas the proportion is higher than 10 cases for each NNAJ recruited by guerrilla structures, such as the FARC E-P, in times of armed conflict.
Similarly, the number of missing persons after the signing of the Final Agreement for the termination of the conflict and the Civic Strike Agreement, especially in rural areas, almost equals the cases that occurred in a period of 20 years of internal armed conflict.
In the territories with a permanent presence of state security forces deployed under the terms of the Final Peace Agreement and the presence of narco-paramilitary structures, prostitution sites are increasing and there is a high presence of Venezuelan women. Just as with the women from Buenaventura, migrant women are also subjected to various forms of sexual violence, having to relate affectionately and sexually with armed actors for their safety or to guarantee satisfaction of their needs and those of their families.
The Young Are Targeted to Disappear
Who are the disappeared? Most of them are young men from the neighborhoods, between 14 and 25 years of age. Who disappears them? The armed sectors that we mentioned earlier and that are in the territory. Those who fight for control of the corridor and involve them in the war. These children and adolescents become involved in the war and the illicit business due to lack of opportunities, the structural racism that these regions experience, and the lack of compliance by the government.
These young victims of the invisible borders live imprisoned in their neighborhoods and in their streets. Some of them, just for crossing these invisible borders, are disappeared. The violation of armed curfews are also death sentences. These young people are forced to leave their neighborhoods, as did the children of Doña Zulma and other young people who are now in the Centro Pazifico, now operating at full capacity.
In Buenaventura, the most militarized city in Colombia, we ask ourselves, where is the military presence? Because there is no end to this violence that ends the lives of young black people. Why do the lives of young blacks in Buenaventura and the Pacific not matter?
Visiting these neighborhoods, I can only refer to the neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago, where black and Latino youth are the victims of structural racism in the United States. Keeping proportions in mind, the conditions are identical: lack of access to education, lack of access to health care, lack of economic opportunities and lack of a nuclear family and a protective environment. Easy access to weapons, drugs and crime as a labor option. This lack of opportunities has also led them to take up arms and participate in a war between armed groups (gangs) generating a number of victims that reaches the level of genocide.
Similarly, in Chicago and the United States, police force and violence is the solution given us by the system of racism and the lack of real commitment on the part of the government. So-called black-on-black crime, the fruit of state genocide and ethnocide, continues to take our Afro youth in the Colombian Pacific and in Chicago.
This violence is explained by the control and terror that must be imposed on the communities and ethnic peoples, the ancestral owners and inhabitants of the territories now set for expansion and modernization, in this case, of port activity. This has been the most effective way for the Colombian government to sow terror, fear and silence, for drug trafficking and to perpetuate the political power of the elites at the service of their own interests and of the international market.
Evading its political and legal responsibilities for human rights violations, this government that failed to comply with the Civic Strike Agreements and the Peace Agreement, and has perfected out of its paramilitary strategy, an effective policy of population and territorial control.
So What Is the State’s Non-compliance?
The Pacific region with its social and humanitarian crisis is an example of the non-implementation of the agreement. One of the most serious threats to peace is the Colombian government’s refusal to comply with the agreement with respect to points one and four, which deal with land issues and illicit crops. This non-compliance has been encouraged by the US government, in particular:
- The non-implementation of Points 1 and 4, the National Program for the Integral Substitution of Illicitly Used Crops (PNIS for its Spanish acronym) and the Program for Development with a Territorial Approach (PDET for its Spanish acronym).
- Point 3.4, which was to guarantee in Buenaventura and Tumaco a pilot strategy for the effective dismantling of the successor structures of paramilitarism.
On many occasions, when campesinos have protested to demand that the government honor its commitments for rural development and inclusion in illicit crop substitution programs, instead of fulfilling its duties, the Armed Forces, and in particular the Mobile Anti-riot Squadron (ESMAD for its Spanish acronym) — co-founded and armed by the US —, have attacked the civilian population while the armed sectors continue to assassinate social leaders, human rights defenders, campesinos, Afro-Colombians, indigenous people and peace signatories.
In three decades of terror and narco-paramilitary control in Valle del Cauca, with a clear epicenter in Cali, northern Valle and Buenaventura with its strategic corridors, it is evident that it has been the best scenario for the consolidation of what can be called neoliberal peace.
This signifies the circulation of legal and illegal goods matters more than the life of the population, evidenced by thousands of people disappeared, murdered, displaced from an ancestral and biodiverse territory, which is offered to the highest bidder; where the murders are not the product of elimination among bandits, but fully related to the transnational business of drug trafficking, the global mercantile interests of the country’s largest port and the perpetuation of political power in the hands of the same elite that has governed Colombia since its existence as a Republic.
In the midst of torture and death houses, mass graves, dispossession, misery, racism and new slavery, Buenaventura continues to consolidate itself as the CAPITAL OF THE PACIFIC ALLIANCE, for transnational trade agreements.
For all of the above, we call on the international community to support the following demands:
- That the government of Colombia comply with the Agreements of the Civic Strike.
- That the Colombian government truly comply with the Peace Accords, and in particular with points 1 and 4.
- That the government of the United States support this initiative.
- That the government of Colombia dismantle, and the US not finance, the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD in its Spanish acronym), as it has become the primary instrument of state repression against protest mobilizations in the countryside over land and eradication;
- That the government of Colombia comply with the agreement, that it NOT resume aerial spraying in the countryside, and that the United States not advocate for aerial spraying, as it is a practice that puts the health of communities at risk and damages the environment;
- That the government of Colombia put an end to the assassinations and massacres against members of popular movements and signatories of the Peace Accords, and not allow impunity for the authors and perpetrators of these crimes.
- That the Colombian government release political prisoners in accordance with the Final Peace Accord and that the US government release Simon Trinidad
• The Centro Pazífico desperately needs funds to attend to the needs of refugees from Buenaventura seeking emergency shelter • Participate in the accompaniment delegations organized by the Alliance for Global Justice! (For more information: delegations@AFGJ.org )