WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Corruption Cannot be Tolerated in Consultation Processes with Afro-Colombian Communities

WOLA and Civil Society Groups Send Letter to Minister Vargas Lleras

Mr. Germán Vargas Lleras
Minister of the Interior and Justice
Avenida El Dorado con Carrera 52
Bogotá DC., Colombia

February 9, 2010

Dear Minister Vargas Lleras,

On behalf of the organizational and individual signatories to this letter, we send you our warmest greetings.  We are part of a U.S. network of non-governmental organizations, academics, and activists who actively follow the territorial rights and human rights situation in Afrodescendent communities in your country.  We would like to draw your attention to the statements released on January 21 and 27 by organizations that we work closely with in Colombia in regards to the formalization process of the National Development Plan (PND) and the implementation process of Constitutional Court Order 005 of 2009 on displaced Afro-Colombian communities.

The statements in question are related to the communities’ rights to previous consultation and previous free and informed consent. We would like to express our full support for the mechanisms of consultation and dialogue with the Colombian government, which were established by Law 70 of 1993 (the Black Communities Law) and fortified by Constitutional Court Orders and Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO).  These mechanisms, which we believe to be of the utmost importance, only function when they ensure that the rights and interests of the communities are respected by the State, and when laws, policies, government programs and economic projects that impact the territories are consulted and discussed with the representatives of these communities.  The fact that these mechanisms have the important responsibility of representing the rights and interests of the Afro-Colombian communities is precisely why we are concerned with the allegations made in the statement by the Black Communities Process (PCN) on January 27.  The statement declares that a member of the Consultation Commission offered public funds to various community representatives in order to influence and later change their position in regards to the PND.

It is our opinion that this type of activity not only discredits the Consultation Commission and questions the agenda and interests of those it represents, but, in addition to being illegal, it also damages the credibility of the Colombian government in its relations with Afrodescendent communities and affects the possibilities for democratic spaces and practices.  These allegations, for example, make us question if the practice of corruption can also be found in the plans to advance Constitutional Court Order 005 of 2009, in addition to other plans, programs, and policies that influence the lives of millions of Afro-Colombians.

We are aware that political corruption in consultation and/or dialogue processes with Afrodescendent communities is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a phenomenon that is exclusive to the Consultation Commission.  We understand that it is a structural problem at many levels and that it has influenced the formation of programs and policies for the communities for decades.  These programs and policies are counterproductive for the communities’ rights and have led to undesirable divisions and conflicts that debilitate the collective leadership and fortification efforts of the black communities.

We also understand that it is the responsibility of the leaders who were democratically elected by their communities to maintain the integrity and transparency of these processes.  Assuring that these practices do not continue to occur is a shared responsibility.  This responsibility belongs to all of the representatives who are legally and morally obligated to be accountable to their constituents and to denounce, investigate, and sanction unlawful practices.

We also observe that the fear of reprisal against individuals, communities and the organizations that they represent prevents leaders from denouncing coercive practices and illegal activities in the decision-making process.  With respect to the previously mentioned incident, we have been informed of what appear to be retaliatory actions against members of PCN.  On January 28, 2011, one day after PCN denounced illegal activities in the High Level Consultation Commission, we were informed that Fernando Hurtado was forced to leave a meeting between government functionaries and representatives of the Consultation Commission.  The reason given for his exclusion was that Mr. Hurtado is a member of PCN and that the Consultation Commission made an agreement declaring that the session that day would take place without the presence of PCN members.  We understand that exclusions of this nature were also carried out during the implementation of the Constitutional Court Order 005 of 2009.

We write today to ask you, as Minister of the Interior and Justice, to initiate an investigation into the allegations of corruption presented by the PCN.  We also ask that your office take concrete, effective steps to ensure transparency in all of the consultation and participatory processes with representatives of Afrodescendent communities.  Organizations that condemn the aforementioned illegal activities in an effort to strengthen democracy must be protected by the state as well.  We must also mention that the PCN is one of the organizations targeted by paramilitary groups precisely because it exercises its right to dissent.

Additionally, we ask you to consult with the Vice President about how the Colombian government can work to increase visibility around these issues and ameliorate the consequences of these illegal practices in Afrodescendent communities and organizations.  We ask that you work at the national, regional, and local levels to improve transparency in participatory and consultation processes on policies and programs that affect the interests of these communities.

We believe that an investigation and sentencing of those responsible in this case strengthen the aforementioned dialogue spaces and assure that the decisions made in these spaces truly improve the welfare of the communities in question.



Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli and Anthony Dest
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Prof. Arturo Escobar
Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Roland Roebuck
Afro-Latino Activist

James Vondracek
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)

Kelly Nichols
U.S. Office on Colombia

Nora Rasman
TransAfrica Forum

Teo Ballvé
University of California-Berkeley

Carlos Quesada
Global Rights

James Early
Institute for Policy Studies Board

Prof. Joseph Jordan, PhD
Stone Center UNC at Chapel Hill

Prof. Jessica Heineman-Pieper, PhD
The School of Public Policy en George Mason University

Eunice Mina Escobar
Activista Afro-Colombiana – CRLN

Ajamu Dillahunt
North Carolina Justice Center

Prof. Agustin Lao-Montes, PhD
Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies
Afro-American Studies
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Prof. Kiran Asher, PhD
IDCE, Clark University

Karen Juanita Carrillo and Lisa J. Scott

Nalia Rosario and Ruben Mina
AfroColombia NY

James Winkler
United Methodist General Board of Church and Society

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Beehive Design Collective

Otras Colombias

CC:      Vice President Angelino Garzon

Oscar Gamboa, Representative of the Vice President for Afro-descendent communities

Ken Yamashita, Director, USAID mission in Colombia

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, United States

Silvia Guillen, Special Commissioner for Afrodescendant Issues and Colombia, OAS HRC.

United States State Department