(Translated by Stacey Schlau, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
From the Semillas Group:
Dear Friends, we are sending you a statement from the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific organizations, which emerged in the meetings of Mesa Manglar that the Jenzera Work Collective sponsored in conjunction with the PCN and the base groups of Indians and Afro-Colombians. This statement is a result of the devastation that the Pacific territories are suffering from the overwhelming advancment of mining interests into the rivers of the Pacific, with the consent of official agencies.
We request that it be circulated,
Statement of Buenaventura
My Pacific, they are selling you,
we are destroying you, which is worse,
To the curse that breaks,
With you, my heart!
The Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples of the Pacific region and its base organizations, declare a social emergency of our communities, caused by the ecocide being carried out against our jungles, rivers, and mangrove swamps. This destruction of biological diversity contributes to the extinction of many species of animals and plants, ripping us from our ancestral territories and placing our communities on the edge of ethnocide.
We cannot close our eyes to or remain silent about the gravity of what is occurring in our territories. Nor can we hide the fear that overpowers us when we see advancing the destruction of the jungles that have offered us refuge and that give us life, joy, and freedom. We fear losing what we blacks and indigenous peoples have built during so many years of peaceful co-existence between our peoples, respecting the laws that nature gives us. We have linked our lives to nature, and depended on its laws for our wellbeing and the future of the present and future generations of our peoples.
While we discuss the dignified permanence of our communities in the region, planning our development and ordering our operational practices in accordance with environmental resources, other economic and egotistical interests have arrived which overwhelm our forces, ruin our cultures, wound to death the land, and tear apart the organizations of ancestral peoples, the true owners of the Colombian Pacific.
We believe that the territory of the Pacific region is similar to the human body. It has life. Should any of its parts be damaged, it affects the entire organism. The mistreatment of one of its river mouths damages the entire territory. This is what our ancestors believed and we continue to teach our children that wise precept, because that is where the key to our survival lies, and from that derives the solidarity and mutual aid that we should continue practicing between the rivers.
Today we find ourselves debating the defense of the mangrove swamp, a space of life unique on this planet and crucial to the lives of many of its inhabitants. We find ourselves at a crossroads. Either we defend the mangrove swamps, and the thousands of species that live there, or our lives will be wiped out, but also the lives of the indigenous and black children who have yet to be born and who deserve to live in these vital ecosystems. The mangrove swamp is so important for the lives of humankind, many species, and the planet, that we propose that the damage to this ecosystem be categorized as a crime against humanity.
With the Social Emergency that we declare today, we are calling upon all our brothers and sisters of the Colombian Pacific, black and indigenous organizations, friends of biological and cultural diversity, scientists, scholars, and lovers of this rich and fertile region. In sum, we call upon all those who value diversity, to respond to the serious violations occurring in all these territories, especially those that are the private collective property of the indigenous and black peoples:
1. Gold Mining. The exploitation of gold is out of control in Zaragoza (Dagua River), leading to irreversible damage to the environment and ecosystems downriver and highly prejudicial to the black and indigenous communities of the Middle and Lower Dagua. There, almost 300 excavating machines work day and night, churning up the river bed and changing the course of the river. This situation has been tolerated, and even permitted, by local, regional, and national governments. The dead, wounded, prostitution, alcoholism, higher price of life, and arrival of new and “legalized” businesses have caused uncertainty and fear in the region. This mining extends like a cancer to other Pacific rivers. A dredging machine for great depths works in the mouth of the Mallorquín. In the Anchicayá River (San Marcos) there are also several excavating machines working.
With great concern, we see the maps of applications and titles that INGEOMINAS and the Ministry of Mines are granting in the Colombian Pacific. This ignores the agreements that the Colombian government has committed to with international agencies and seriously weakens the rights of the communities, since it destroys ecosystems vital for feeding the communities. As the environmental authorities of our lands, we only allow traditional mining, barequeo, ancestrally practiced by the communities, as one secondary form of income.
2. The spraying of pesticides that equally affects the cultivation of coca leaves and of all cultivation. These fumigations do not succeed in controlling the production of cocaine paste, but they do contaminate soil and water, and destroy the genetic basis of our crops and of biodiversity. Worse still, they violate rights to nutrition, health, and a healthy environment. We know the evils that coca crops produce. They not only damage the environment, but also are embedded in violence, in order to force the native population to grow coca. The assassinations and displacements created by the production, synthesis, and trafficking of illegal drugs are a disaster for our communities and organizational processes. The social order imposed by armed groups destroys legitimate community governance. Worst of all, they rope in many young people for security activities, thus undermining community authorities. The consequent abandonment of proper practices of food production and dependence on the flow of resources from these illegal economies leads to the uprooting of the population, a situation that for ethnic-territorial peoples leads to ethnocide, to the disappearance of those ethnic characteristics that give them social cohesion.
3. The permissiveness of environmental authorities and concretely the CVC (Autonomous Regional Corporation of the Cauca Valley) when faced with these serious attacks on nature, enlarges the picture of strikes against our peoples. The aforementioned mining, the exploitation on a commercial scale of the mangrove tree, the illegal felling of milpesos palm tree and the naidí, the oil spills in Málaga Bay, and the dumping of garbage into rivers and sea, should be stopped immediately. The Attorney General and Agricultural office, and the Environmental Ministry, should also take emergency measures, acting without hesitation.
4. But if we denounce the latitude that the CVC allows in the destruction of the environment, we are also aware that those who sack and destroy the Pacific would not have it so easy and would not be able to act without reprisal if they did not have mentors in the government and collaborators and beneficiaries inside our communities who further such endeavors, aided precisely by the corporation’s negligence. Lack of initiative, as we have already said, is destroying life in the planet’s most productive ecosystems, the mangrove swamp, causing damage to fishing communities, especially to the women who make a living from collecting shells, crabs, and mollusks.
5. The threats being received by our leaders, for having brought to light these facts, is an indication that the capital that today controls resources comes from equally illegal activities.
6. Absence of true prior consultation about large infrastructure projects carried out behind the communities’ backs, in spite of the negative impacts of these initiatives. The communities have not been informed, even less duly consulted, about the construction of Aguadulce Port, the port development in the deltas of the Anchicayá and Dagua rivers, or about the urbanization of the lower course of the Dagua river, where black and indigenous communities live.
7. The development project of expansion and modernization of the port in Buenaventura merits special mention. It is being carried out behind the backs of the people of Bajamar. These communities will be forced from their homes and moved without attention being paid to international standards and without respecting their conditions and rights, above all, without considering the dynamic of river-people, which if it were broken would affect the entire population of the rivers. We also warn that the kinds of projects, their impact, and plans for managing possible impact are not known.
8. Increasing militarization of the rivers. With the massive arrival in the Pacific of cocaine and the increasing presence of armed groups, for the government the social problematic of these areas has become a phenomenon that should be treated in military terms. Proposals for economic development take second place, with first belonging to the military solutions of the problems of cocaine and armed groups. The biggest inconvenience of this policy is that the population of the rivers where there are illegal crops come to be categorized as aiding the armed groups. In that sense we worry a great deal about armed control of the territory, with actions such as improvements to the military base in Málaga Bay and the overwhelming presence of the military in the rivers area. This contributes to the further erosion of regional institutions, which favors increased military presence and more violence by all armed groups.
9. Public policies, economic plans, and political redistricting are changing the character of the territory and modifying guarantees to access, use, and management of our collective territories, such as the reform of Decree 622 of the Parks Department and the Water Department Plan. These are governmental initiatives that not only violate our rights, but also ignore international standards that respect the rights of our peoples, such as Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization and the Declaration of the United Nations for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Keeping in mind this situation, we declare that:
1. We are convinced that saving the Pacific from this unchecked exploitation of all its ecosystems means saving the planet.
2. We are the ancestral owners of the Colombian Pacific and our lives and history are connected to these ecosystems; therefore, we have a legitimate right to demand a halt to the destruction of our lands.
3. We point out that, as the Swedish Academy has recognized by awarding Elinor Ostrom the Nobel Prize in Economics, the best and most efficient means of preserving natural resources is when their owners manage them collectively, paying attention to the necessities for good living.
4. We have made the firm decision to work together and in solidarity among the organizations that sign this statement, assuming the principle that whatever happens to one community or one territory happens to all of us and we will act in accordance.
5. We will develop political and legal initiatives so that the damage that harms all the ecosystems of the Pacific, from which we derive our subsistence, is declared a crime against humanity. We resist being future displaced persons because of the environment.
6. We will remain alert and continue to denounce the threats against and assassinations of members of our communities who, because they dare to denounce these outrages against nature, are the target of armed groups.
7. We invite all Community Councils of the Afro-Colombian peoples and Governing Councils of all the indigenous peoples of the Pacific to join this statement and unite with us as one in this supremely important initiative to declare the Pacific a social emergency. Our lives and the future of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples are at stake.
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Valle del Cauca, región Pacífica. ACIVA-RP.
Palenque El Congal, Buenaventura
Proceso de Comunidades Negras – PCN
Consejo Comunitario del río Yurumanguí
Consejo Comunitario del río Cajambre.
Consejo Comunitario de Llano Bajo
Asamblea de Consejos Comunitarios del Valle del Cauca.
Consejo Comunitario del río Mallorquín
Consejo Comunitario del río Raposo
Consejo Comunitario del río Anchicayá
Organización comunitaria de base Mina Vieja
Organización de Negros Unidos del río Anchicayá-ONUIRA
Consejo Comunitario de Bahía Málaga
Consejo Comunitario de La Barra
Cabildo Indígena Joaquincito, río Naya
Cabildo Indígena La Meseta
Mujeres piangüeras de Santa Cruz, San Joaquín y Puerto Merizalde – río Naya.
Colectivo de Trabajo Jenzerá
Matía Mulumba Center, Buenaventura, April 11, 2010