(Translated by Marta Zárate, a CSN Volunteer Translator )
This Christmas Pope Francis has focused his interest upon those who cry, i.e., people who suffer the effects of war and indifference, especially the displaced. “Indeed there are too many tears this Christmas,” said Pope Francis when he talked about the grief and suffering in the world. Colombia, especially in the city of Buenaventura, land of a majority of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities, has for years presented a complex situation of armed conflict, which has generated an acute crisis. And the worst of the war is the limited capacity that the National Government, and the local and regional authorities, have to protect life and to guarantee the effective rights of the Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities which have been consecrated under Judicial Decrees 004 and 005 of 2009 and Decree Laws 4633 and 4635 of 2011.
We, the Commission for Life, Justice, Solidarity and Peace of the Buenaventura Diocese, express our indignation for the treatment given to the Wounaan People of the Lower San Juan River, who were forced to leave their territory from September 25, 2014 on, due to the presence and armed confrontation between guerrilla groups, armed demobilized groups and public forces. This situation has generated the displacement of 829 persons (162 families) to Buenaventura.
This is a situation being experienced by not only these communities but rather all, indigenous and Afro-Colombians, living in the Lower San Juan River area, as well as in the municipality of Littoral of San Juan in Choco Department and in the District of Buenaventura in Valle del Cauca Department, who find themselves restricted in mobility.
Today the situation of these persons is very worrisome, because three months have already passed and the conditions in which they are found permits us to see that the government entities in whose jurisdiction they are located have not given an adequate reply to resolve the humanitarian crisis, nor have they guaranteed them the fundamental rights which they have as indigenous peoples. The result is that situations of risk and vulnerability remain and increase day by day.
The families of the Wounaan are living in overcrowded conditions with difficulty in obtaining potable water and sanitary conditions. The covered Coliseum of the “El Cristal” neighborhood and other homes are not suitable to accommodate the entire community. The delivery of food broadly lacks wholeness and differential distribution. The educational programs do not include the boys and girls to guarantee that they remain in school. Taking into account that this human group is that which suffers most, it is not guaranteed protection.
The Office of the Public Defender (Defensoria del Pueblo) has alerted government officials in the area about the difficult situation that the Indigenous population in Buenaventura is experiencing, so that they may protect their fundamental rights, as individuals and collectively. Clear proposals in the protection subcommittees have not been presented and in the Transitional Justice Committee decisions have not been taken. The institutions assigned these duties have not had the political will to resolve the problem in depth. The unit in charge of attending to the displaced population has been shut down, because the mayor’s office has not paid the rent for the facilities. This situation puts at even greater risk the life of the communities, particularly for boys and girls.
We call attention especially to the death of the infant Neiber Cárdenas Pirza, who, one year and one month after his birth, was still being housed with his family in the Coliseum in the neighborhood “El Cristal”. As a result of the lack of sanitary conditions, the boy showed health problems, with symptoms of diarrhea and vomit, which took his life. Likewise, there are other children and adults who are sick, showing the same symptoms.
The communities continue subject to forced expulsión, without the conditions needed to live in the city, nor to return to their territories of origin.This is an attempt against life, integrity and dignity!
We openly condemn this situation before all of the regional, national and international community:
That the State has failed in its responsibility to guarantee the life, the honor, and the possessions of its citizens, and in particular of the indigenous and
Afro-Colombian communities, which in Colombia have special protection under our Constitution. At this moment their lives are at risk because of displacement and confinement within their territories, where they are exposed to and invaded by illegal armed groups.
We ask international organizations which defend Human Rights to apply pressure to the Colombian Government so that it will comply with its committments to protect life and to guarantee the effective enjoyment of human rights, especially those of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.
Presented in Buenaventura, December 28, 2014
Commission for Life, Justice, Solidarity and Peace of the Diocese of Buenaventura,
Valle del Cauca Department
Translated by: Martha Zárate