By Diego Benitez, Colombia International Team
In January, I co-facilitated a delegation organized by Gail Phares to Suarez, Cauca, in southern Colombia. The delegation arrived at a critical moment. The community in Suarez is struggling to hold on to their land and maintain independence from multinational corporations that are looking to mine vast gold deposits in the area.
These corporations have been threatening the communities’ well being and have worked in various ways to divide the community and break the social bonds that have taken centuries to build. It is not uncommon to hear of massacres and disappearances throughout the region.
In April, a horrible massacre took place where eight people were gunned down by unidentified assailants.
As part of our solidarity with the community, two Witness for Peace International Team members, Melissa Cox, and I traveled to the region. An inter-ethnic meeting was held where members of indigenous communities and Afro-Colombian communities worked together to identify ways to resist the violence and influx of multinational corporations by building upon their social and traditional bonds.
During our visit we accompanied community leaders at a meeting where the Mayor and Ombudsman of Suarez were present. A representative of the Organization of American States was also there. As a result of the contentious issues discussed, many of the leaders we accompanied have received death threats from right-wing paramilitary groups. Some community members insist that the multinational corporations operating in the region are behind the threats, offering incentives for paramilitary groups operating in the region and using them to scare away all opposition. Yet to date there is no definitive proof to identify who these illegal armed groups are working for.
On May 20th I received a call from Licifrey Ararat, one of the threatened community leaders we accompany. He shared with me the terrible news that there are orders to forcibly remove the residents of the region in the town La Toma. At least 1300 families comprised of 6000 people are at risk.
Licifrey suggested the community is willing to die before they are removed from their ancestral land.It has become a worrying situation and we are nervously waiting to receive updates as the events unfold.
Because the U.S. Agency for International Development is funding community projects in the area, the U.S. government has the responsibility to speak out against this attempt to displace the community.
Please write to our embassy in Colombia at AmbassadorB@state.gov to express your concern for the forced displacement of thousands of Afro Colombians from their ancestral lands.
Please also consider contacting your congressional representative and ask them to support House Resolution 1224 on displaced Afro-Colombians and indigenous.