By Marcela Osorio Granados, EL ESPECTADOR, June 23, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This Thursday, a report will be delivered to the Integrated System of Truth, Justice, and Reparation. The report will recount the different forms of structural violence and racism experienced by the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities of the Pacific Coast of Nariño Province. It looks beyond the phenomenon of violence.
Thirty-eight percent of the people that identify as Afro-Colombian, Palenquero, and Raizal indigenous people are victims of the conflict.
If indeed it’s true that the Pacific Coast region of Nariño Province has been and continues to be one of the most devastated by the war, and the endless disputes between multiple armed groups that are present in the area, it’s also true that the problems and the humanitarian crisis that is permanent in those communities can’t just be seen through the filter of the armed confrontation. Because the origin of the conflict is also in the denial of rights, in the impoverishment of the people, and in the structural racist practices by the government itself; in the end, that is what has allowed the merciless violence to be perpetuated in the territory.
That is the premise of the report that this Thursday the Orlando Fals Borda Socio-Legal Collective, joined with the Pacific Nariño Human Rights Network and the Piedemonte Costero (Coastal Foothills) (Redhpana) will present as their contribution to the agencies of the Integrated System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Guarantees of No Repetition. The document, titled “Government Racism and Violence in the Ethnic Territories of the Pacific Nariño”, was prepared using the voices of the ethnic organizing process in the territory, including the testimonies of regional leaders, academic sources, governmental, and journalistic voices. It creates an X-ray of the humanitarian crisis experienced in the region. Its backdrop is the structural racism and its incidence in the patterns of violence against the Afro-Colombian and indigenous people.
The document shows the existence of three social phenomena that help us to understand the bases of the argument that structural violence by the government exists: the notion of cultural territory, colonization and racism as ways of thinking, and the relation between extractive economies and the physical and cultural death of the peoples.
“The Colombian Pacific reflects in its territory the historic exclusion of which it has been the victim. The absence of highways is particularly significant, since the Andes area enjoys a network of secondary roads, often paved, that include the principal network of international importance (the Pan-American Highway). But on the coast, which is five times longer, there are only two highways that lead to the coast. The first comes from Cali to Buenaventura, and the second runs from Pasto to Tumaco,” it points out.
In the specific case of Pacific Nariño, it’s a subregion with around 467,000 inhabitants (in the municipalities of Barbacoas, El Charco, Francisco Pizarro, La Tola, Magüí Payán, Mosquera, Olaya Herrera, Ricaurte, Roberto Payán, San Andrés de Tumaco, and Santa Bárbara Iscuandé), and an index of unmet basic needs of nearly 60%, where the national average is 14%. In urban parts of municipalities like La Tola the index is 99.58%, in those of Mosquera 98.54%, and those of Magüí 94.08% or in Santa Bárbara Iscuandé 91.47%. “This diagnosis of the lack of access to basic rights explains the structural racist violence. It’s because of the established institutional order, according to the values that guide the government’s decisions, because of its tolerance of the forms of discrimination and of the violence that the people experience, and because of the refusal to guarantee social rights,” details the report.
In the same way, it identifies some of the government policies that, according to the communities, have contributed to a reorganization of the territory and an increase in the violence in the area. Those include the aerial fumigation with glyphosate ever since the end of the ‘90’s, which led to the displacement of illegal plantings into the region, the incursion of the paramilitaries, in many cases in connivance with the Armed Forces, the extractivist policies that allowed the access of economic actors into the properties of the ethnic communities, the implementation of Plan Colombia, the creation of the Strategic Mining Areas, and even the implementation of the policy of democratic security developed during the administration of Álvaro Uribe.
“As a consequence of the government’s policies that denied the ethnic communities access to their rights, and prioritized the extraction of the natural resources from this “frontier”, we had the war in the southern part of the Pacific coastal area. It was a process of combat without any truce among the different legal and illegal armies,” states the document, pointing out that, in June of 2020, the Single Victims Registry reported 169,772 victims and 432,919 victimizing events in that area of the country.
The investigation maintains that, of all of those events, there were three violent practices that included special characteristics, as they responded from their imaginings of racial hatred and were trying to take away the land that belonged to the ethnic peoples: massive forced displacement (because of the mining economy, the monocultures of oil palm and the aspersions with glyphosate), forced disappearance and murders of social leaders.
In the case of forced disappearance for example, according to the Information System for the Missing Persons and Corpses Network (SIRDEC), between 1985 and 2020 in the eleven municipalities in this region, 1,310 disappeared persons were registered, along with 3,138 persons reported in the 64 municipalities in the province. That means almost 42% of the total cases in Nariño Province. “The selective racialized violence against the traditional peoples has gotten much worse during recent decades. On the bodies of these people they use some specific forms of attack, oriented toward erasing any vestige of identity and humanity. They mutilate their victims, lacerating them and transforming them to demonstrate the hatred that exists against their feelings and their collective efforts. They use the body of the victim to engrave their historic racial domination and to demonstrate the negative social worth of their lives.”
For the communities, it’s fundamental that there has to be reparation for the damage done to them, a means to contain the effects of the violence that continues to be ingrained in these territories. That’s why the work of the Truth Commission is so necessary, as a way to “establish clearly the temporal and causal relationship that exists between the arrival of the extractive and industrial agriculture economies and the overwhelming increase in systematic violations of individual and collective human rights.”
In the same manner, the report calls for a reconfiguration of public policies, with the active participation of the ethnic communities. It must permit the application of strategies with different focus: recognizing not just the characteristics of the region, but also the multiplicity of factors that have converged throughout the years to exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the Pacific part of Nariño.