By Colombia 2020, EL ESPECTADOR, July 9, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

This Friday, representatives of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, the business sector, young people, and local authorities called upon the Colombian government to support and invest in these regions, keeping in mind the customs and practices of the ethnic peoples, so as to keep the war from continuing.

On this July 9, during the Regional Dialog for the No Continuation and the No Repetition of the Armed Conflict in the Bajo Atrato-Darién, and Urabá, organized by the Truth Commission in Apartadó (Antioquia Province), the communities discussed the causes of the persistence of the armed conflict in these regions. All of this is tied to the abandonment by the government, to the unequal land holdings and natural resources, to the use of these territories as drug trafficking corridors, and to weapons trafficking by the illegal armed groups.

“In the midst of this humanitarian crisis that the indigenous people are experiencing, we are marginalized, and without any kind of protection. What are we supposed to do to survive when we have no guarantee of security on our lands?” pointed out Arquímedes Carpio, a member of the Regional Organization of Councils and Authorities of the Wounan People. Right now, he said, there are still cases where we are confined because of combat between armed groups, as well as by displacements and murders.

Jorge Jarupa, a member of the Antioquia Indigenous Organization (OIA in Spanish), also stated that there are a lot of young people that are joining the illegal armed groups because there are no opportunities to make a living, while the communities continue to live in fear of the threats and of the presence of land mines. “Just yesterday an indigenous woman in Murindó was killed because of a land mine, with three children injured. And the government never says ‘we have to go to Murindó to take care of those communities’,” he pointed out.

The reality isn’t any different for the Afro-Colombian people in those regions. They make up the Chocó municipalities of Riosucio, Carmen del Darién, Unguía, and Acandí, and the municipalities of Mutatá, Apartadó, San Pedro de Urabá, and Turbo in Antioquia. These are ethnic groups that have been the most affected by the conflict, according to the participants from the communities during the dialog.

The Victims Units in eight municipalities in these regions (Urabá and Chocó) report that there are at least 429,820 victims of the armed conflict, principally from things like forced displacement, land theft, and selective killings. But the communities are getting tired of being unable to find any peace in their ancestral territories. Because of that, together with the Truth Commission, more than 100 representatives of inhabitants and organizations maintained conversations throughout a period of two months, in order to think about and propose solutions to the armed conflict that they are still experiencing in these regions.

The most urgent proposal made during the dialog, and on which all seven panelists agreed, is the necessity of a comprehensive presence of the central government: so that there would be opportunities for employment and access to higher education, as well as cultural programs to keep the young men from ending up in the ranks of the armed groups; so that the riches of the territories would be protected, the rivers, the scenery, the animals that live there, and with plans for their protection by the community councils and indigenous reservations. They also urge that investment by the national government stop focusing primarily on the military, but rather focus on social and economic projects that will bring these communities out of poverty.

These were the proposals by each of the panelists:

Zenaida Martínez, Councilor of the Community Council Association of Bajo Atrato:

“The government has to commit to the implementation of the Peace Agreement, because it has not yet arrived at these territories. It has to comply with the Ethnic Chapter of the Agreement they reached in Havana, but also with the regulations in the four chapters of Statute 70 (which recognizes the Afro-Colombian communities of the Pacific and requires the government to protect them). The officials that represent us at the national level have to carry that flag.”

“We also ask that the former combatants of the FARC admit the damage that they did. They have only done it with Bojayá and La Chinita, but not with the rest of the communities where we were affected.”

Arquímedes Carpio, of the Regional Organization of Councils and Authorities of the Wounan People:

“In our reservations we already have plans for living and for preservation. The plans for local and national development should implement those plans also, working with us, to save our villages and all of our property. We aren’t against development. We do want it, but so it includes opportunities for the indigenous people.”

Abdo Ovidio Córdoba, Antioquia Provincial Councilor for Citizen Participation for the Afro-Colombian Sector:

“The first exercise we have to do as a society is to root out of our minds that ideation that we are the only owners of the truth and the land. There is a class in Colombia that thinks themselves the only possessors of land wealth. No, we all have to be the possessors of that wealth.”

Yurani Baño and Andrés Parra, young leaders from Chocó and Antioquia:

“We’re tired of not having access to higher education. And if any one of us manages to get through the university, we don’t find work because they require years of experience. I’m calling on the business sector to hire young people that are recent graduates.”

“Both local and national authorities ought to carry out some real implementation of the public youth policy, so that we can be builders of our surroundings and our communities, and so that there is no opportunity for armed actors to swell their ranks.”

Fredy Mejía, Manager of EPM for Urabá

“We have to recognize each other, without mystiques, with solidarity, based on humanity. When we think that way we can work together, even when there are different points of view. And also the government should be taking decisive action to work on the gaps that cause inequity in these regions.”

“Companies ought to promote projects with a social focus that’s associated with the needs of these territories. In Urabá, EPM is consolidating a model of inclusion that considers the history of the countryside. There has to be much more emphasis on rural life; that is key both for the government and for business.”

Ubaldo Zúñiga, known as Pablo Atrato, a former FARC commander

“The implementation of the Peace Agreement is fundamental. But, along with that, we have to think of proposals that are centered on human beings and not on economic interests. They say that the paramilitary phenomenon is counterinsurgency strategy, but rather, its goal is to implement the neoliberal economic model. As long as this persists, there will be no peace.”

As part of the dialog, local authorities from Antioquia and Chocó also answered questions about the work projects they are creating so that the communities in those regions will have a future that’s different from making war. Gloria Restrepo, the Secretary of Government in the Apartadó Mayor’s Office, believes that all of the communities are involved in the plan for local development. They are creating a High Achievement Center so that the young people will be able to do more sports. And that will also bring agencies to the reservations and Community Councils through events that will involve city officials, social inclusion, and families meeting with police at police stations.

William Halaby, Secretary of Interior in the Chocó Governor’s Office, pointed out that they are giving great emphasis to the work of the Security Councils and the Provincial Committees on Transitional Justice, that they are organizing with the different Mayors and the national government to have a more effective presence in the countryside. They are using royalties as funding and they are also working on projects for the eradication of illegal plantings, and on the financing of crops that will be productive for campesino families.

He said that for Governor Ariel Palacios it’s very important to build up the military in the strategic corridors used for drug trafficking and weapon trafficking. He asked the representatives of ethnic communities that were present, as well as other social sectors, to file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, because that is a priority for documenting what continues to go on in the countryside, and to generate strategies for protecting the victims.

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