[News] Afro-Colombians and the Peace Agreement in Colombia

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Wed Nov 23 12:03:58 EST 2016


  Afro-Colombians and the Peace Agreement in Colombia

Yesenia Barragan - November 23, 2016

On the evening of October 2, 2016, the whole world was in absolute 
shock. The Colombian people rejected a historic peace agreement 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37537252> between the 
government and the country’s leftwing, guerrilla organization, the 
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a plebiscite by the 
narrowest of margins, a matter of barely more than 50,000 votes.

If the agreement had passed that evening, it would have ended more than 
half a century of civil war in Colombia. To be clear, the peace deal 
would have directly affected the lives of Colombia’s most marginalized 
communities who bear the brunt of the war, among them poor, urban and 
rural Afro-Colombians, of which 78.5% live below the poverty line 
<http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2322> as of 2011 (compared to the 
national average of 49.2%).

Although Afro-Colombians constitute about 10.6% of the national 
population, they are disproportionately the victims of murders 
(primarily at the hands of rightwing paramilitary forces) 
and violent, forced displacements in the countryside, caught in the 
middle of fighting between guerrillas, the state, 
and paramilitaries often backed by the state and financed by 
drug-traffickers and multinational corporations. According to a 
government survey conducted in 2010, for example, about 22.5% of the 
displaced population identified as Afro-Colombian 
The figure is unquestionably bigger, for many fear reprisals and 
retributions if they register themselves as “officially” displaced.

Unsurprisingly, the peace deal was supported overwhelmingly in 
predominantly Afro-Colombian regions like the Pacific Coast where about 
80% of the population is Afro-Colombian 
<https://www.academia.edu/3557324/Afro-Colombian_Social_Movements>. With 
the emergence of rightwing paramilitary organizations and powerful 
drug-trafficking rings beginning in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Pacific 
Coast of Colombia has become ground zero of the war in Colombia. In 2013 
alone, the government reported 
that 63.4% of all displacements in Colombia occurred in the four 
departments of the Pacific Coast. After the plebiscite, it was revealed 
that eight of the top ten municipalities in Colombia*—*with the highest 
pro-peace votes (more than 93%) 
located in the western, Afro-Colombian Pacific region.

Among the municipalities with the highest pro-peace votes was a small, 
Afro-Colombian river town called Bojayá, located in the rural, Pacific 
coastal department of Chocó. On May 2, 2002, Bojayá became the epicenter 
of the armed conflict 
in Colombia when devastating fighting erupted between the FARC and 
paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in 
their town. On that morning in May, hundreds of families fled to the 
town church to seek refuge from the crossfire. While paramilitary 
soldiers hid around and behind the church, the FARC launched an 
improvised mortar full of explosives and shrapnel that hit the church, 
killing 119 villagers, among them many children and elderly.

According to an investigation 
<http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-37541772> by the 
United Nations, the national army of Colombia allowed paramilitaries to 
enter the region without any trouble. Despite calls for help and an 
alert from the Ombudsmen, the army did not appear until well after the 
massacre. About 5,771 people, the majority from Bojayá and surrounding 
villages, were forcibly displaced to the capital of Chocó in that single 
month of May alone.

Bojayá is undoubtedly one of the central sites of Colombia’s long and 
tragic history of war and armed conflict. And despite this, or perhaps, 
better yet, because of it, this small, rural Afro-Colombian town had the 
fourth highest percentage of peace votes in the entire nation at 95.78% 
A few days after the rejection of the peace plebiscite, the victims of 
Bojayá released a collective statement 
demanding the country respect and ratify the peace agreement. “We, the 
victims of Bojayá, have suffered the brutality of the war and for that 
reason we voted YES to Peace,” they declared.

Much was at stake for poor, rural and urban Afro-Colombians in the peace 
deal. Besides ending the formal war between the FARC and the government, 
the final peace agreement included an “Ethnic Chapter 
that explicitly recognized that the injustices inflicted by black and 
indigenous communities were the historic “product of colonialism, 
slavery, exclusion, and dispossession from their lands, territories, and 
resources,” and guaranteed protection, participation, and 
self-government to these communities. This inclusion was the product of 
concerted organizing and mobilizations by various Afro-Colombian 
organizations including the Afro-Colombian National Council of Peace, 
the Association of Small and Medium Miners of Chocó, the National 
Coordination of Afro-descendent Organizations and Communities, /Chao 
Racismo/, and other black and indigenous organizations. In June 2016 
representatives of these groups met in Havana with FARC leaders and 
government peace negotiators to demand the inclusion of an “ethnic” 
focus in the accords.

On November 12, 2016 
about a month or so before the lifting of a ceasefire between the FARC 
and the government set on December 31, 2016, both parties announced that 
they had reached a new peace deal that integrated changes and proposals 
from the opposition. The new peace deal will not be put up to another 
national plebiscite, but will now be debated and voted in the Colombian 
Fortunately, for so many Afro-Colombian families, organizations, and 
communities, the hard-won “Ethnic Chapter” remained in the final version 
of the peace agreement 

As Afro-Latino writer and Divinity Student at Duke University Daniel 
José Camacho wrote 
<https://twitter.com/DanielJCamacho/status/798738459796140032>, “I’m 
inspired by the Colombians who didn’t let the plebiscite results stop 
them.” In the wake of our own national shock in the United States 
earlier this November, perhaps the struggles of Afro-Colombians who 
continue to mobilize and organize despite the highest of odds against 
them can offer some guidance.


*Yesenia Barragan* <http://www.aaihs.org/contributors/yesenia-barragan/> 
is a historian of race, slavery, and emancipation in Colombia, 
Afro-Latin America, and the Atlantic/Pacific worlds. She received a 
Ph.D. in Latin American and Caribbean History from Columbia University. 
She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow 
<http://www.dartmouth.edu/sof/fellowships/postdoc.html> in the Society 
of Fellows at Dartmouth College. Follow her on Twitter @Y__Barragan. 

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