WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(Image CC-licensed by Wikipedia)

18 Jun 2018 | Commentary

Colombia’s Ethnic Communities Wary of an Ivan Duque Presidency


This article was originally published by Colombia Reports and is reprinted with permission.

On the eve of Colombia’s presidential election, we asked Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders about what their priorities are for whomever is inaugurated on August 7.

All stated that the new administration must urgently implement the FARC peace accord, dialogue with the ELN, uphold prior government’s agreements with ethnic groups, and guarantee their right to prior, free, informed consent on policies and economic projects that affect their territories.

The Ethnic Chapter in the FARC peace accord is a major step forward for guaranteeing the protection and advancement of ethnic rights. It makes sure that all the sections of the peace accord have a differentiated ethnic and gender focus.

While overall abuses related to internal armed conflict are down since the signing of the accord, conflict and humanitarian emergencies continue in Afro and indigenous concentrated areas, namely Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, and Nariño.


As such, finding a politically negotiated solution with the ELN guerrillas, dismantling illegal armed groups, and advancing specific Constitutional Court orders designed for Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples remain critical.

Communities residing in the historically marginalized, remote areas of the country that were traditionally abandoned by the state have high hopes that the peace accord and court rulings can reparate the harm done and set a more equitable and favorable future course for ethnic minorities. For these communities to advance, their precarious labor contracts and access to dignified work must improve.

Major stumbling blocks are weak health, social services, pensions, and benefits for persons who are disabled while doing manual labor.

The 2017 Pacific civic strikes in the port city of Buenaventura and Quibdo show that the dynamics in these communities have changed. In the case of Buenaventura, it will be difficult for any government to impose large-scale economic projects without buy-in from the local populace.

The outcome of the first round of the presidential elections demonstrated a high number of votes for Gustavo Petro in Colombia’s periphery, conflict affected areas where the majority are Afro and indigenous zones.

The long-standing, grassroots-based Afro-Colombian and indigenous organizations, Asociación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca (ACONC), Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados (AFRODES),Autoridad Nacional Afrocolombiana (ANAFRO), Centro de Pastoral Afrocolombiano (CEPAC), Consejo Laboral Afrocolombiano (CLAF), Conferencia Nacional de Organizaciones Afrocolombianas(CNOA), Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó (FISCH), Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia (PCN), Red Nacional de Mujeres Afrocolombianas (KAMBIRI) and the Organizacion Nacional Indigena (ONIC) have stated their support for leftist-candidate Gustavo Petro’s Colombia Humana. So have the indigenous political entities of MAIS, AICO and ASI.

This makes Petro's campaign one of the few in history to have received such broad indigenous support.

However, there are Afrodescendant politicians and individuals who outwardly campaigned for Ivan Duque. According to traditional Afro-Colombian leaders, such persons have made the political calculus that Duque will win, so they want to guarantee their livelihoods during his administration. Furthermore, false news, disinformation about the candidates, political clientelism and favors are dynamics strongly affecting the Pacific Coast.

When asked about a potential Ivan Duque presidency, concern was expressed over the fate of the peace accord and dialogues with the ELN. Despite the FARC accord, Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Nariño and Cauca are experiencing violence related to dissident FARC groups and killings of social activists with impunity. While many blame the outgoing administration of PresidentJuan Manuel Santosfor not robustly advancing the promises of the FARC agreement, all agree that altering the peace process would be a major step backwards for ethnic communities.

Restarting the aerial fumigation program to address coca cultivation, and combating the drug and illegal economies with a hardline security approach, would be reverting back to the old Colombia that repeated cycles of violence, increased inequities, and kept minority perspectives out of politics.

There is also concern that the previous consultation mechanism will not be applied or respected. Given the candidate’s deceptive remarks towards Afrodescendants and the belief that he will be influenced by former President Alvaro Uribe, there is concern that ethnic minorities rights will not matter in Duque’s government.

Several persons expressed fear of return to the accelerated abuses that took against the indigenous during the Uribe period. Also the former President’s assertion “ni un metro de tierra más para los indígenas“—not one more meter of land for the indigenous.” There may be a slide backwards in terms of advances Colombia made related to racial discrimination and the UN International Decade for People of African Descent.

Furthermore, there is a fear that a Duque presidency would not advance transitional justice or efforts to combat corruption allegations involving those aligned to Uribe.

Corruption efforts are likely to focus on former members of the Santos administration. Given the prominence this issue has had in these elections, the Odebrecht and other scandals, addressing corruption is needed to improve Colombia’s institutions.

Alternatively, when asked about a Gustavo Petro presidency, there were concerns about his capacity to advance his agenda. Polarization is a big factor, as well as, a congress whose majority represents the political and economic elites.

There also exists the view that such elites are willing to use violent force to impede a leftist government from operating.

Some believe that Petro’s proposals in terms of extractive industries and other powerful economic sectors will be faced with much opposition from the traditional parties and business sectors.

For the indigenous interviewed, there is an expectation that a Petro presidency would have advanced the state’s agreements with the indigenous. If that does not happen, the indigenous will organize and mobilize as they have with all prior governments. Others think Petro would have faced so many obstacles to governance that politics as usual, which is unfavorable to the collective land and rights of ethnic minorities, will reign the country.

Now that the votes have been counted, what we can say for certain is that an Ivan Duque presidency will have to contend with active and organized Afro-Colombian and indigenous movements, as it is all but inevitable that these communities will mobilize to protect their interests should these come under threat.