Greetings from AfroColombian territories.
As you are informed, the community form the city-port of Buenaventura has been on strike for 10 days now, demanding the State presence they have lack for centuries. Buenaventura since later 1998 has been under control of paramilitary forces that committed horrendous crimes with a disproportional focus on women and youth and have endured centuries of racist treatment.
Buenaventura is a community of around 500.000 people, mostly Black, with 80% poverty levels, 60% unemployment, extremely limited access to health attention, huge school drops, scarce water service cut off 126 days/year. However, enormous investment has been made to expand the capacity of the port and to build a touristic mega-project that would displace families from seven neighborhoods. Buenaventura is highly contaminated by the open-sky storage of coal, most of the areas affected are the same areas that face gentrification by the ambitious projects where economic interest prevail over the human beings and their rights.
After many urgent calls from the human rights organizations, catholic church, union organizations and coalitions, teachers and even the local commerce, all decided to initiate an indefinite civic strike that started on May 16. The community mobilized performing cultural activities to ensure a peaceful and organize demonstration and have sustained culturally oriented activities while blocking the main roads that access to the port. Having peaceful intentions, elder and children were part of the mobilizations. On May 19, the Ministry of Defense order the special force ESMAD to attack the peaceful demonstrators. The ESMAD responded with a massive attack with tear gas and ribber bullets. The indiscriminate and vicious attack had as result several children severely affected by the ingestion of the tear gas that needed to be hospitalized and a chaotic situation that brought an opportunity for the unscrupulous to ravage the city. We presume that many of the responsible are part of those armed groups that have dominated in Buenaventura for more than a decade, considering how this situation occurred and how many citizens try to hold back the pillage. Despite the massive presence of police and ESMAD, these forces were apparently unable to control the pillage, or pay little attention to this criminal situation, while focus on the peaceful demonstrators who were not even responding to the attack with violence.
Since May 19, the ESMAD have been attacking systematically the groups at the roadblocks, but the last two days and specially last night, these forces took chance of the circumstances and attacked neighborhoods, one of them Juan XXIII, launching tear gas to the houses at 12:00 a.m while people was sleeping. The human rights committee of the Paro Civico reported families affected by tear gas and many youth injured. Black women, being disproportionally affected by the economic, social, environmental and the violent situation in the port, and being more than half of the population, are at the receiving disproportional end this critical situation. People reported shuttings but we haven't been able to confirm if it was with rubber or real bullets. The truth is that the national government has responded to Buenaventura with a extreme presence of military, marine, police and special forces, heavy machinery and vicious attacks given a sense that the government is treating the situation as a situation of war.
Today, the attacks in neighborhoods are victimizing even babies, please see attached video. This brutality must end.
The human rights team of PCN urgently call your attention and respectfully ask that your organization exhorts the President Juan Manuel Santos, Peace laureate 2016, to immediately order the ESMAD, police and military forces to restrain from attacking the civilians and better ensure effectively that the dialogues can continue without hostile repression.
We appeal to your leading voice regarding racial and social justice and peace to urge for the respect of civilians, particularly women with small children, who are not directly involved on the peaceful strike.
In a country preparing to build peace, it's contradictory, even hypocritical, that the response to peaceful and urgent request by a community desperate to be treat with respect and recognition of their fundamental rights to live in dignity, is a war-like threaten. It is hypocritical that the Peace Nobel Prize call barbaric the actions in Egypt while is allowing this vicious attack on innocent and peaceful people. It is obvious that profit is more important than human beings and their rights. We understand that President Santos is determine to stop loosing money by all means necessary. We see as a historic strategy to use violence to displace and expropriate Black people from their territories, sough-after by multinationals and government, strategy that today takes disproportional magnitude in Buenaventura.
Please help to stop this barbaric respond from the Colombian government. Remind President Santos that his message todays is totally contradictory with the efforts he shows internationally to build peace. There cannot be social justice without racial justice. What happens in Buenaventura is absolutely deplorable, it's a crime.
National authorities are meeting with the Coordination Committee since Sunday. The Paro Cívico has identified eight main demands (please see attachment) and have organized groups by thematic in order to give specific attention to each point. In the middle of this negotiations the national government continued with hostile responses that don't help the process. Buenaventura is decided to continue the strike until clear agreements are reached based on those demands. This calls for a real political will from the national authorities to look for clear responses and solutions and real commitment to comply with what is accorded. The Colombian government has a historic reputation of neglecting agreements reached in the past and particularly the administration of President Santos has been slow on complying with the agreements with indigenous, Afro-descendants and campesinos from the past mobilization on 2016.
As a resonant voice against racism and racial discrimination and justice we urge a letter and calls directed to President Santos, the new Ministry of Interior Guillermo Rivera; the Ministry of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas and Anibal Fernandez De Soto vice ministry of defense, and the National Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, requesting that peace in Buenaventura is restored and command the military, police and special forces to stop the attacks against the community; urge the Colombian government to show a real political will with the community in Buenaventura, ensuring that the conciliation happens in a peaceful and respectful manner, ensuring the presence of high level authorities capable and decided to take decisions and bring clear response to the demands and expectations of the community and ensuring the safety of the leading voices in this process, including immediate protective measures for those who need it.
In light of the perilous situation the special forces are putting in the community, we also urge you to consider an urgent mission to Buenaventura to evaluate the human rights situation in the port.
Finally, we ask you to exhort President Santos to visit Buenaventura and in person assure the community his real commitment to effectively address the humanitarian, economic, environmental and social crisis affecting Buenaventura. The conditions in Buenaventura are part of the issues we expect to be addressed during the implementation process of the Peace Agreement, the accords reached with the Negotiation Committee are important step to start with.
You can find more about the #ParoCivicoBUENAVENTURA (Spanish) at
PCN human rights committee greatly appreciate your urgent attention to this critical matter.
We look forward to hearing from you soon on this very sensitive matter.
Charo Mina Rojas
Human Rights Committee
International Working Group
Black Community Process in Colombia -PCN