During the month of May, the Pacific Coast of Colombia was engulfed by non-violent civic strikes. In response to long-standing government neglect, poor living conditions, and insecurity, residents of the Chocó Department and the port city of Buenaventura halted work activity and peacefully protested to call on the government to address their needs. While security forces responded with excessive force—and some illegal armed groups took advantage of the situation to respond violently and loot—the strikes ended on May 26 and June 6, respectively, with negotiated agreements. In the agreements, the Colombian government made commitments to invest in infrastructure and basic services in the region.
Below is a report that summarizes the factors that led to the civic strikes, the outcome of the strikes, and how the U.S. government can best support efforts to address the structural issues that led to the strikes. Among the recommendations, WOLA calls on the U.S. Congress to continue to monitor this situation and speak out when necessary. In particular, the U.S. Congress should, through letters, meetings with the U.S. Department of State, and in bilateral discussions with the Colombian government:
- Call on the Colombian government to meet the commitments that it made in the agreements that ended the strikes. Ask Colombia to provide a timeline for its implementation and monitor that it meets its deadlines.
- Urge Colombia to prioritize consulting and working with ethnic minorities (as called for in the ethnic chapter) as discussions about development in the region take place.
- Investigate, prosecute and put in jail perpetrators of murders, threats and violence against social activists. Publicly condemn murders and attacks against defenders. Guarantee that the protection mechanisms for persons at risk are adequate.
- Encourage it to advance the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas and fully operationalize the work of the National Commission to Guarantee the Dismantlement of Criminal Organizations, which would be responsible for attacks against defenders, social and political movements that include paramilitary successor groups.