Letter to President Juan Manuel Santos on the 17th anniversary of the promulgation of Act 70 of 1993.
(Translated by Nancy Beiter, a CSN Volunteer Translator, and edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN Volunteer Editor)
Esteemed President Juan Manuel Santos:
We are a group of academics, intellectuals and students of the Pacific Region of Colombia and of Afro-Colombian culture. We come from different parts of the world, different disciplines, but we are united in our concern about the grave situation in the region and its effects on the black and indigenous communities and on the region’s biodiversity. We write to you to share our concern and to call upon you and your government to develop an integrated approach to addressing these problems in an expeditions and constructive way.
The 1990s were very important for the Territory of the Pacific Region and to the rights of its black communities. This decade was marked by two particularly important milestones: the recognition of cultural diversity in the 1991 Constitution and the passage of Act 70 of 1993, which together heralded the emergence of a general awareness of the value of the Pacific region in terms of biological and cultural diversity, both for the country and for the planet. These policies of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development implemented by the government are also notable for the crucial participation of ethno-territorial organizations of the region in their formulation and implementation.
Sadly, the situation has been very different during the last decade, which has seen a marked increase in the ritual destruction of the tropical rain forest, on the one hand, and the abrogation of the rights of those of African descent throughout the country, on the other. In the Pacific Region, this has been caused by a number of factors including mining activities, armed conflict which expanded far and wide into the Region after 1996, conventional development strategies, policies that ended up becoming threats to the territories’ biodiversity and cultures, and the increase in the cultivation of coca for illicit purposes. Among the most important problems associated with these issues are:
• the increase of mineral and gold mining activity in many of parts of the region;
• fumigation of the entire territory – truly a form of biological and chemical warfare – which not only fails to control the expansion of coca cultivation, but also kills nutritional crops traditionally grown by the locals and poisons the rivers;
• the militarization of much of the territory by the increasing presence of armed actors which often leads to the repression of local organizations;
• development macro-projects, such as promotion of palm oil for biofuel production, the expansion of ports and the construction of pipelines and highways such as the Ánimas - Nuquí highway or the Transversal de Las Americas highway - most of them without the required consultation with the affected population and without many guarantees that the social, environmental and cultural damages will be mitigated, compensated and repaired;
• the constant threats to local leaders and activists, including massacres and assassinations, principally by paramilitary groups and insurgents;
• the frequent complicity of state agencies with the abuses and environmental destruction perpetrated by many of the above groups.
These events have caused massive displacement of ancestral collective communities, corralling populations and using them as human shields. Their livelihoods have been destroyed, they have lost their land, their local organizations have been dismantled and their rights as articulated in international treaties have been violated. Local organizations and human right activists are endangered. The cumulative effect of this can be characterized as not only crimes against humanity but also ecocide and ethnocide. The situation is aggravated by a lack of attention by the government and by the impunity with which these acts are treated.
The foregoing illustrates that many of the important successes that stemmed from Act 70 are being rapidly dismantled often through the use of force and arbitrary administrative measures at variance with the Constitution, Law 70, the Decision 005 of 2009 of the Constitutional Court, and international treaties such as Convention 169 de la OIT. In recent years, the situation has reached crisis proportions in many areas of the South and North Pacific Regions and in northern Cauca, as in the case of the Afro-descendant community of La Toma in the town of Suarez and the communities of the Communitarian Council COPDICONC-formerly known as Palenque El Castigo - or in the rivers such as the San Juan, the Baudo, the Atrato, the Mira, the Tapaje, the Satinga, the Patia and the Naya, among many others.
These communities, among the oldest and most symbolic for free Afro-descendents in the Americas, are being sacked and destroyed by national and international actors as well as by armed actors of various types who are interested in extracting the gold and other natural resources in the regions.
We believe this situation requires action on multiple fronts:
• on the cultural front, to safeguard conditions for the exercise of identity and cultural practices of indigenous and black communities;
• on the social front, to insure respect for communal rights, including communal rights to their land;
• on the political front, to provide protection of ethno-territorial organizations and the lives of their leaders, and to strengthen communal forms of government;
• on the ecological front, to reduce biodiversity loss and deforestation of the rainforest and mangrove ecosystem and restore the territorial integrity of the Region. This includes the right of communities to develop and sustain their ecological systems in and ways that are culturally appropriate and sustainable;
• on the judicial front, to ensure access to justice and to provide guarantees against impunity, to ensure a right to the truth, to provide reparations to these communities and to guarantee that there will be no repetition of crimes and human rights violations.
We believe a substantial change in the politics of the State is required and a new round of attention needs to be given to the Pacific regions similar to what took place in the decade of the 1990’s when this region was discovered to be one of the most biologically diverse areas of the planet. We call on the government to develop a special holistic strategy for the Pacific regions and for these critical Afro-descendent populations, capable of halting the current trends so destructive to biological and cultural diversity, and to return to the Territory Region-and to the country-the assurance that another development model is possible. We insist that, as in the 1990’s, this new strategy be developed with the full participation of the local communities and their organizations. This should be a real participation of grassroots communities and organizations which are truly representative, not groups who manipulate the situations to pursue only their own interests, as has unfortunately been the case over the past eight years. This is the only way to ensure the success of this important social, cultural, political and ecological project.
We express our best wishes for your work as President during the four years that are just beginning.
Signed (en alphabetical order):
Mauricio Adarve, Anthropologist
Adolfo Albán Achinte, Professor, Department of Intercultural Studies, University of Cauca
Tatiana Alfonso, Doctoral Student in Sociology, University de Wisconsin-Madison
M. Gonzalo Andrade C., Associate Professor, ICN, Vice President of the Research Advisory, National University of Colombia
Juan Ricardo Aparicio Cuervo, Assistant Professor, University of the Andes
Jaime Arocha Rodríguez, Professor of Anthropology and Director, Afro-Colombian Study Group, National University of Colombia, Bogota,
Kiran Asher, Professor of International Studies and Women’s Studies, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts
Anthony Bebbington, Professor of Geography, Clark University, Massachusetts
Mario Blaser, Professor of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada
Marisol de la Cadena, Professor of Anthropology, University de California, Davis
Juana Camacho, Anthropology, University de Georgia
Roosebelinda Cárdenas, Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
Camilo Castellanos, Attorney, Fedes
Miriam Cotes Benítez, Independent consultant in the area of communication and education, Medellin
Esperanza Ceron Villaquirán, Physician and Independent Consultant, Cali
Gustavo de Roux, Independent Consultant, Cali
Rafael Diaz, Historian, Javeriana University, Bogotá
Arturo Escobar, Professor of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania
Margarita Flórez, Environmental and Ethnic Researcher, Bogotá
Juliana Flórez, Professor of Psychology, Javeriana University
Ramón Grosfogel, Professor de Ethnic Studies, University de California, Berkeley
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Author and Professor of International Law, Birkbeck College, University de London
Eduardo Gudynas, Director, CLAES (Latin American Center for Social Ecology), Montevideo
Ernesto Guhl Nannetti, Director, Institute for Sustainable Development, QUINAXI
Charles Hale, Professor of Anthropology, University de Texas, Austin
Julianne Hazlewood, Researcher, Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Denise Humphreys Bebbington, Researcher, School of Law and Environmental Mediation, University de Manchester
Søren Hvalkof, Director, Solstice Foundation y Senior Advisor, Rainforest Foundation, Norway
Gladys Jimeno, Independent Consultant
Joseph Jordan, Director, Center for Black Culture and History and Professor of African-American Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Sara Koopman, Doctoral Candidate in Geography, University de British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Yukyan Lam, Attorney, Bogotá
Agustín Laó Montes, Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies, University de Massachusetts, Amherst.
Claudia Leal, Professor of History, University de los Andes
Enrique Leff, Professor of Political Ecology, National Autonomous University, México, D.F.
David López Rodríguez, Anthropologist
Lars Lovold, Director, Rainforest Foundation Norway
Betty Ruth Lozano, Independent Consultant, Cali
Martha Luz Machado, National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and Its Legacy, NiNSEE, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Amsterdam
Nelson Maldonado Torres, President of the Caribbean Philosophical Association and Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Rutgers University, New Jersey
Joan Martínez Alier, Ecological Economist, Autonomous University of Barcelona
María Isabel Mena, Profesora, Department History, District University
Joaquín Molano Barrero, Geographer, National University of Colombia
Alfredo Molano Bravo, Sociologist and Journalist, Colombia
César Monje, Doctoral Research, Latin American Study Group, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain
Jaime Moreno Quijano, Environmentalist, High School of Public Administration
Claudia Mosquera Rosero-Labbé, Professor, National University of Colombia, Bogotá
Martha Cecilia Navarro Valencia, Anthropologist Ph.D, Spain
Angélica María Ocampo Talero, Professor, Psychology Faculty, Javeriana University, Doctoral Candidate in Development Studies, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
Oscar Olarte Reyes, Writer, Colombia
Natalia Orduz, Attorney, Bogotá
Ulrich Oslender, Professor of Geography, Florida International University, Miami
Alejandro Parellada, International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, IWGIA, Copenhagen, Denmark
Adriana Elisa Parra-Fox, Deparment of Geography, University de California, Davis
Tianna Paschel, Doctoral Candidate in Sociology, University de California, Berkeley, and Founder, Afro-Latino Working Group
Alvaro Pedrosa, Environmental Designer, Professor University of Valle, Cali
Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Professor of Music, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, USA
Joanne Rappaport, Professor of Literature and Anthropology, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
Eduardo Restrepo, Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, PENSAR, Javeriana University
Jaime Rivas Díaz, Indpendent Consultant
Tatiana Roa Avendaño, Environmentalist, Censat Agua Viva
Manuel Rodríguez Becerra, Professor and Administrative Faculty, University of the Andes y President, National Environmental Forum
César Rodríguez Garavito, Director, Observatory of Racial Discrimination, Colombia
Cristina Rojas, Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Jeannette Rojas Silva, Independent Socail Consultant, Cali
María del Rosario Rojas, Biologist and Environmentalist, National University of Colombia
Amanda Romero, Consultant and Doctoral Candidate in Education, National University of Pedagogy
Rocío Rueda Ortiz, Professor, Doctor of Education, National University of Pedagogy
Jhon Antón Sánchez, Doctor of Social Science, Professor and Researcher, FLACSO, Sede Ecuador
Luz Marina Suaza Vargas, Research Group on Education and Cultural Politics, National University of Pedagogy, Teacher at the Iberoamerican University
Michael Taussig, Professor de Anthropology, Columbia University, New York
Astrid Ulloa, Professor, Department of Geography, National University of Colombia, Bogotá
Peter Wade, Professor of Anthropology, University de Manchester
Tukufu Zuberi, Professor of Sociology and Director, Center for African Studies, Universidad de Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Cc : Dr. Angelino Garzón, Vice President the Republic
Dr. Germán Vargas Lleras, Minister of Justice and the Interior
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