Sunday, May 28, 2017

WFP Urgent Action and Condemnation of Violent State Response to General Strike in Buenaventura, Colombia

Graphic from the Civic Strike reading: "Buenaventura and Chocó demand solution, not repression."
Witness for Peace is gravely concerned about the Colombian government’s response to the ongoing general strike currently taking place in the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura and the Pacific region. On Tuesday, May 16th, 2017, 89 civil society organizations, joined together under the umbrella of the Civil Strike Committee (Comité del Paro Cívico), began an indefinite general strike in Buenaventura, planned well in advance. This ongoing general strikeis also taking place in the department of Chocó.
Buenaventura and the Colombian Pacific have been areas historically abandoned and victimized by the Colombian State throughout the duration of the armed conflict. A majority of the population have been and continue to be victims of forced displacement, and an estimated 80.6 percent of Buenaventura population's lives in poverty.
Strike organizers are calling for the Colombian government to declare an economic, social, and ecological emergency under article 215 of the Colombian Constitution. They've demanded the following: 1) Increased healthcare coverage (preventive, advanced medical treatment, and traditional medicine); 2) Recovery and conservation of degraded ecosystems; 3) Increased education spending at all levels, from elementary to university; 4) Government support for cultural and recreational activities; 5) Basic sanitation and infrastructure, and the public and community operation of public services; 6) Access to justice and reparations for individual and collective victims; 7) Urban planning and new housing; and 8) Strengthening of regional production, along with economic, judicial, and political measures that create dignified jobs and salaries. All of this can be found on the Comité del Paro Cívico’s Facebook page.
While the general strike in Buenaventura has been highly organized and mostly peaceful, local social movements, as well as Colombian Senator Alexander López, recently denounced the violent and provocative conduct of the National Police and the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) on Friday, May 19th. When the ESMAD was ordered to clear a peaceful blockade, they used gases, helicopters, stun bombs, tanks, and firearms against children, pregnant women, young people, and elderly individuals. There are reports of babies dying due to the gases, and also reports of artisanal fishers being threatened by the Gaitanista paramilitary group for their participation in the strike. Many national media reports have focused on some instances of looting, while failing to discuss the strike organizers’ demands and the tremendous organization that went into planning and maintaining the protests.
Witness for Peace supports our partner organizations’ demands, including that the US government and US Embassy in Colombia contact the Colombian government and demand that:
·       Citizens in Buenaventura and in all departments of the Colombian Pacific be able to exercise their right to freely and safely protest
·       Threats and attacks against strike organizers and participants, particularly from paramilitary groups, be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated
·       The Colombian government dialogue with the strike organizers to seriously consider their demands and follow through in a timely manner on any agreements made
We are in solidarity with our Colombian partners who put their lives on the line in defense of their communities and regions: please tell the State Department and pertinent congressional leadership to make the above demands to the Colombian government.
In solidarity,
Witness for Peace

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