On May 22, clashes between FARC and military forces broke out in Bete, Palo Blanco and Mercedes in the Middle Atrato, Choco, Colombia. The violence led to the killing of three civilians and wounding of three civilians as well as the retention and isolation of over two hundred members of the community. This most recent attack comes on the heels of a larger humanitarian crisis impacting more than thirty thousand Afro-Colombian and Indigenous civilians confined throughout the Middle Atrato.
On May 22, Afro-Colombian teacher and community council treasurer from Bajo Calima, Buenaventura Miriam Angulo was critically injured during an attack in her home. There has been no response or official investigation initiated by the police or state into the attack. Bajo Calima is a rural area just outside of the port-city Buenaventura with known presences of illegal armed groups operating with impunity.
On May 22, a thirteen year-old boy was seriously injured by what is believed to be a fragmentation grenade found on the beach in Nuqui, near Quibdo, Choco, Colombia. The local ombudsman stated that investigations would take place to determine the origin of the un-activated explosive, suggesting it may have been from previous military exercises on the beach earlier that day.
On May 19, a twelve year-old girl was attacked and raped by a police officer in the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura. Community organizations are working with the girl’s family to further look into the incident. The police authorities (SIJIN) have promised to initiate an investigation and the case is in the hands of the Office of the Public Proescutor (FISCALIA); the perpetrator has not been arrested to date.
On May 19, human rights defenders Franklin Torres, Ingrid Vergara and Pedro Geney, members of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), received a death threat by email. The email accused them of being members of the FARC guerilla group and included photos of them juxtaposed with violent threatening language. MOVICE advocates for the rights of displaced persons in Colombia and campaigns for the return of lands stolen by state-backed paramilitary groups. Their work for land restitution has led to threats and murders, including Eder Verbel Rocha, who was killed by paramilitaries on March 23, 2011.
On May 17, The Black Rebirth Community Council (located in Timbiquí, Cauca, Pacific Coast) was forced to leave its territory by a paramilitary group identified as los Rastrojos. The paramilitary group established an illegal checkpoint on the river, which serves as the only mode for transportation, to pay fees and in some cases turn over their possessions.
It is estimated that this forced displacement is related to May 7, 2011 confrontations between armed actors of the FARC and los Rastrojos in dispute of territorial control of the area. The fighting forced the community to leave the area but the following day, on May 8, many community members decided to return. On May 10, los Rastrojos apparently reappeared and abducted to youth (between ages 20-22) who were held and tortured for several days. A week later, on May 17, the detained youth were released but los Rastrojos required the entire community (made up of 23 families-over 120 people) to leave their collective territory without their belongings. This mass displacement took place alongside the advance of bulldozers.
This level of ongoing violence and abuse in Colombia is unacceptable especially at a time when the Obama Administration has announced that it plans to move forward with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement under the guise that significant improvements in security and human rights have been made. These most recent attacks demonstrate that many more concrete actions must be taken by the Colombian Government to secure the safety of Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and working communities before any trade agreement can be considered.
*The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) includes the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), TransAfrica Forum (TAF), Global Rights, Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN), U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC), International Working Group of PCN, and activists and scholars Joseph Jordan, Roland Roebuck, Eunice Escobar and Arturo Escobar
Photo courtesy of OCHA Colombia