WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
10 Aug 2011 | | News

Take Action to Protect Afro-Colombian activists, religious leaders and trade unionists

The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) strongly denounces the following security incidents that have taken place in Afro-Colombian communities since July:

Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó (Chocó)

Last week, two persons from the communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó, Everto González and Francisco Pineda, were presumably disappeared and their whereabouts remain unknown. Another 32 members of these communities are facing death threats. Among those threatened is leader Enrique Petro who has provisional protection measures from the OAS. In this area, paramilitaries continue to act with impunity despite the presence of members of the Army’s 17th Brigade, who have taken no action against the estimated 300 paramilitary troops who have been seen repeatedly in the locality in recent weeks. Paramilitaries have allegedly planted 10 hectares of coca in these collective territories in the past five weeks, and the 17th Brigade is neither searching nor apprehending paramilitaries who regularly transport coca through Army checkpoints. Paramilitaries are also offering youth 800,000 pesos (approximately 400 USD) to join their ranks. If the youths refuse, their lives are threatened and they are forced to flee the area. This scenario is generating drop by drop displacement of the locals. The Minister of Defense has yet to comply with requests by NGOs and the community to establish, in consultation with the communities, an Integral Protection Plan which coordinates Army and Police action at the highest level.

Afro-Colombians of COCOCAUCA (Guapi, Cauca)

On August 6, paramilitaries murdered Jose Maria Cadena (33 years old), the brother of an Afro-Colombian leader of COCOCAUCA. Mr. Cadena was detained by paramilitaries while he was traveling via boat on the Guapi River from the Bellavista community (Community Council of Lower Guapi) to the urban municipality. Men who identified themselves as paramilitaries forced him to get off the boat, tied his hands behind his back, and proceeded to brutally kill him. After Mr. Cadena’s murder, fifty families from the Sanson community (approximately 300 persons) became internally displaced to Guapi. COCOCAUCA reports that as of August 8, the local authorities had not recognized these persons to be internally displaced and that Accion Social has not visited these IDPs. ACSN is greatly concerned of reports that a paramilitary checkpoint exists in this area given that it is a place regularly patrolled by the Colombian armed forces. We urge the Colombian authorities to formally recognize those displaced due to paramilitary activity and to provide them with humanitarian assistance. 

Catholic Church in Chocó

On July 29, unknown persons broke into the home of a member of the Dioceses of Quibdó and proceeded to steal a computer, two external hard drives, a USB memory stick and a mobile internet device. These items contained sensitive information pertaining to human rights cases involving victims of the violence and displacement and ethnic minority organizations. This is the second robbery of this sort to take place targeting members of the Dioceses of Quibdó this year.

Port Union of Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca)

On July 24, John Jairo Castro Balanta and Elizabeth Cuero Badillo, the directors of the Buenaventura Port Workers Union, received death threats via cellular phone texts. These messages stated the following: “If you the (people from the) Port Union continue to create problems you will find out what you have not yet lost” and “If you (the people from the) Port Union continue to create problems and denounce things you will die in a mortuary union.”

ACSN is particularly concerned about Mr. Balanta’s safety. He recently visited the United States in an AFL-CIO sponsored delegation to talk to U.S. policymakers about the poor working conditions that Buenaventura port workers are subjected to and the port workers’ concerns about the pending U.S.-Colombia FTA. Despite the fact that Colombia and the U.S. signed a Labor Action Plan in April that calls for labor inspectors to investigate the situation faced in industries including ports where labor cooperatives (CTAs) operate, investigations against abuses committed in this industry do not appear to have moved forward. Little is publicly known about these labor inspectors’ actions and investigations. ACSN recommends that USTR and U.S. policymakers urge the Colombian authorities to guarantee that the labor inspectors are taking action on the labor rights abuses committed in the port industry and that all threats against the Port Union and workers are investigated.

Afro-Colombians in Northern Cauca and Bogotá

During July, Afro-Colombian activists residing in and working on issues related to Northern Cauca received death threats. Jose Santos Caicedo, member of the National Coordination Team of the Black Communities’ Process (PCN), received such threats via text message on his cell phone. Armando Caracas Carabali, a PCN activist residing in northern Cauca, received a series of threatening calls and unidentified men tried to enter his home while his wife and daughter were at home. Aníbal Vega, the legal representative of La Toma’s Community Council, also received a death threat that referenced his opposition to illegal mining in the region. The perpetrator of the threat stated: “You people from the Community Council are the ones opposed to the machines working in the Ovejas River. The bumps in the road must be removed so that they don’t disturb progress.”

All death threat recipients denounced these incidents to the appropriate authorities. At a meeting on June 21 with Vice-Minister Idagorri of the Ministry of Interior and Justice, several Afro-Colombian organizations expressed their concerns and requested protective measures. At a meeting on July 25, PCN reiterated their concerns with Oscar Gamboa, Vanessa Palomeque (Director of Afro-Colombian Communities’ Affairs for the Ministry of Interior and Justice), two representatives of the Ministry of Defense, and Sandra Narvaez (Presidential Program for Human Rights). Despite these leaders’ verbal and written requests for protection, the Ministry of the Interior and Justice (MIJ) has still not provided them with protective measures.


On July 13, two armed men broke into the offices of the Council for the Integral Development of Black Communities of the Western Mountain Chain of Nariño (COPDICONC) in the city of Cali. The men assaulted the legal representative and another member of COPDICONC. They called the members “guerrillas” as they physically abused them and demanded to know what guerrilla group they belonged to. The men stole computers, recording equipment, cellular phones, hard drives, and other material with sensitive information regarding human rights violations against Afro-Colombian communities. That same day, the home of the president of COPDICONC was broken into by three men.

On August 8, the We Are Defenders (Somos Defensores) campaign released a report that states that “on average, between January and June 2011, a human rights defender was attacked or threatened every day-and-a-half.” According to the report, 29 defenders have been assassinated, and 145 attacked or threatened between January and June of this year. ACSN believes that the United States should not move forward with a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia when such a high number of Afro-Colombian activists, human rights defenders and trade union activists continue to be killed, threatened and attacked.

We urge you to please take action to protect the lives and rights of Afro-Colombians by:

  • Calling your Representative/Senator by phoning the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and urging him/her to vote NO on the U.S.-Colombia Free Tra
    de Agreement and to advocate for Colombia to take bold steps in protecting Afro-Colombian leaders, communities and labor activists.
  • Sending an email to Ambassador Michael McKinley in Bogotá at [email protected] to express your concerns about the Afro-Colombian cases listed above and recommending that the U.S. Embassy take action to protect Afro-Colombians and investigate the abuses listed above.

For further information, please contact Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli of WOLA at [email protected] or (202) 797-2171.

*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. Peace Brigades International (PBI) serves as an international observer.

Photo courtesy of OCHA Colombia