WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
2 May 2007 |

Memo to US Congress by WOLA and partners for President Uribe Meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus

Afro-Colombian groups express their concerns with regard to the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, the proposed Free Trade Agreement, fumigation, and the Prior Consultation mechanism. They directed these concerns towards US congressmen during the time of Colombian President Uribe's visit to Washington, DC.

Memo sent to Congressional Staffers

President Uribe is in town this week to meet with the U.S. Congress on the FTA and aid to Colombia. As organizations and individuals who follow the situation of Afro-Colombian communities closely, we kindly ask that you consider the following points that summarize the current concerns of our Afro-Colombian grassroots partners.

From: Marino Cordoba and Charo Mina Rojas, AFRODES USA; Nicole Lee and Joseph Jordan, TransAfrica Forum (TAF); Natalia Cardona, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Gimena Sanchez, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Date: May 2, 2007


Internal Displacement and the Humanitarian Crisis

The situation of internally displaced Afro-Colombians does not show any significant
changes. To the contrary, it has become more acute due to new causes of displacement.
The humanitarian crisis is persistent and critical. The government still has not adopted
the necessary measures to permit efficient and prompt prevention of and attention to this
situation. The severity of recent events, such as those in El Charco, Nariño, contradict
Colombian constitutional mandates and international humanitarian law, and show that
adequate protection has not been provided to the ethnic groups (who are recognized as
some of the most vulnerable peoples within the context of the armed conflict) and
unique mechanisms for attention to these populations once they are displaced have not
been designed, contrary to the ruling of the Colombian Constitutional Court that this
must occur.

The Constitutional Court of Colombia determined in an evaluation in August of 2006
that there had not been significant advances in policies of attention to the internally
displaced population. The orders passed down through sentence T-25/04 to overcome
serious aspects of unconstitutionality had not been complied with, with the exception of
the Ministries of Agriculture and Education, the ICBF and the SENA. As the evaluation
of the Constitutional Court affirms, “the authorities that make up the National System of
Integrated Attention to the Displaced Population have not demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Court that they have adopted the measures necessary to resolve the state of unconstitutionality, in spite of the fact that, according to decrees 176, 177 and 178 of 2005, they have the responsibility to assure compliance in this area through periodic reports submitted to the Constitutional Court” [1].

Free Trade Agreement

The Afro-Colombian communities have expressed their clear opposition to the current
version of the free trade agreement (FTA) because of its violations of the fundamental
rights to territory, collective property, and autonomous development. The FTA contains
agreements that affect the interests of the Afro-Colombian communities in areas of
natural resource use, rights to biodiversity, and collective property and territories. The
government has proposed mega projects such as the production of ‘African’ oil palm
and exploitative mining in Afro-Colombian communal territories as a means of economic development, giving incentives to foreign investors, and promoting the economic rehabilitation of groups of reinserted paramilitaries. None of these projects nor the FTA itself have been properly consulted with the communities and their organizations. To the contrary, in spite of the many criticisms raised against them, the government insists in implementing these projects and has promoted them in the United States, at the same time that it ignores the Integral Long-Term Development Plan that the Afro-Colombian organizations have been working on painstakingly, without the budget and technical support that the government is obligated to provide.  As during previous governments throughout the years, the development plans ormulated by the communities have been ignored, while projects along the margins of their interests and against their rights are proposed or advanced by the governments in turn. When will the government of Alvaro Uribe demonstrate a real interest in implementing the proposals made by the community councils and grassroots Afro-
Colombian leadership?

U.S. Aid to Colombia and Fumigations

The fumigations have become another risk factor for the physical and cultural integrity
of the Afro-Colombian communities, causing internal displacements and affecting food
security. One concrete and recent example of this is the case of El Charco: before the
armed confrontations which occurred there at the end of March and provoked a grave
humanitarian crisis in the area, numerous fumigations had already affected the communities’ crops, potable water, and animals, which made the situation much more acute during the confrontations between the Colombian armed forces and the FARC guerillas.
The failure of this tactic of eradication, within the framework of a demonstrated failure
of the counter-narcotics policy, continues to be a blind spot for the Colombian government. The affected communities have made concrete proposals for manual eradication, accompanied by economic recuperation projects, which the government has completely ignored (an example is the proposal by Tumaco-area organizations). The government of Alvaro Uribe insists on ignoring the voice of the communities and their organizations and continues the policy of fumigations. Up to now, the government does not have clear results to show for the investment in fumigations, and has not been able to eradicate the problem of coca cultivation, cocaine production, or reduction in exportation of drugs to the United States, at the same time that it cannot show clear results from social investments in the region and its populations. The increase in the rates of forced internal displacement, the intensification of the humanitarian crisis in the area, and the deterioration of the quality of life for Afro-descendants demonstrates, to the contrary, the real effects of these policies.

Prior Consultation with Ethnic Minorities

Prior Consultation is a mechanism contained in Articles 6 and 7 of the ILO Convention
169, which states that authorities must consult with indigenous communities and their
authorities in "good faith" and through the appropriate mechanisms on issues pertaining
to the use of their territories.
Prior Consultation is a tool for Afro-Colombian communities for the protection of their
rights as an ethnic group. The participation of the Afro-Colombian communities in decisions that affect them is the one way that they can guarantee their cultural survival. However, instruments of participation, such as Prior Consultation, are inefficient if the Colombian government does not take an interest in their application.
Through the formulation of laws that directly threaten the cultural integrity of these
communities (such as the Mining Law and the Forestry Law), the formulation of mega
projects, the FTA itself, and the implementation of policies that have caused a deterioration in the quality of life and threaten the fundamental rights of these peoples, the Colombian government has demonstrated that it not only has no respect for the Afro-Colombian population, but that it also shows no consideration for the constitutional and international norms that recognize and protect their rights.