African Colombians and free trade

Publié le par hort


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Why Afro-Colombians oppose the Colombia Free Trade  Agreement

by Marino Cordoba, founder, Association of Internally  
Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES)
Wednesday, 27 February 2008


The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is considered a non-starter in the U.S. Congress because the country is the world's deadliest for union activists. Less known, but equally disturbing, is the systematic violence now confronting Afro-Colombians.

African descendants comprise 26 percent of Colombia's population. As with other African descendants, we face racial discrimination which results in economic hardships far worse than those experienced by the average Colombian. However, in Colombia, a vibrant 1980s civil rights movement won full recognition of our cultural rights and collective ownership and community control of our territories and natural resources. The 1991 Colombian Constitution and the landmark Law 70 explicitly enshrine these rights and recognize official democratic Afro-Colombian governance structures, similar to those of U.S. Indian tribes.

The administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has worked consistently to undermine our hard-won civil rights and our control of our territories. Systematic violence against our people and assassinations of our leaders continue unabated to this day.

At the end of 2007, angered by the strong opposition of the majority of Afro-Colombian communities to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Uribe created a new commission in Colombia that directly challenges our legal governance structure. Cynically dubbed the Commission for the Advancement of Afro-Colombian People, it would undermine our communities' ability to advance development strategies chosen by our people that  comport with our needs and that help level the economic playing field.

Obviously, our official governance structure and our grassroots organizations oppose this new commission. Despite this, President George Bush and other U.S. Uribe allies, such as Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and the vast array of lobbying firms hired by the Uribe government are now trying to tout this outrageous commission as evidence that Afro- Colombian concerns are being addressed as they push to pass the FTA.

Don't be fooled. President Uribe, the Bush administration and Congressman Meeks may not like what authentic Afro-Colombian representatives are saying, but our legitimate governing bodies vigorously oppose the FTA, as well as other efforts by Uribe to impose natural resource exploitation projects in our territories without our consent.

Because the Colombian law is on our side, wealthy interests have employed illegal means to physically remove us. Joint operations between the Colombian military and illegal terrorist paramilitary organizations like the "Operation Genesis" in the Afro-Colombian Choco region have targeted our leaders with assassinations while the Colombian military has aerially bombarded our communities.

Tens of thousands of us have been forced to flee. These attacks clear the way for the entry of oil palm plantations, logging operations and mining projects advanced by allies of the Uribe administration.  Colombia has more than 3 million internally displaced people. This kind of forced displacement is now occurring in port communities and other regions supporters of the FTA seek to develop. None of our lands have been returned to our control.

Accompanying these physical attacks has been a legal assault aimed at formalizing the theft of our land. The Uribe government passed new forestry and rural development laws and has amended the mining law to extinguish our rights and empower oil palm, logging and other companies that have utilized the services of paramilitaries to occupy our territories.

Our communities have vehemently opposed these laws as unconstitutional. Recently the Colombian Supreme Court ruled against the forestry law, which would have removed our control of the forests on our land. Our Supreme Court ruled that under international and Colombian law, the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that strongly opposed the law should have been consulted, which they were not.

The Colombia FTA is the same situation. It is a proposal that our communities oppose, about which our traditional authorities were not consulted, and which would lock in the paramilitary-financiers control of our land. Specifically, the FTA's expansive foreign investor rights would empower multinational corporations investing in these projects with protections that would make restoration of our lands extremely difficult, even when we win in our courts.

Recognizing our opposition, Uribe and his allies devised this new commission, which is stacked with Uribe supporters and individuals known to support the FTA, to feign "consultation" with Afro-Colombian communities and issue a determination that the FTA is good for us despite our communities' contrary conclusions.

Rather than a positive development, this new commission is a sophisticated ploy to undermine Afro-Colombian rights and is a part of a broader strategy to elevate unrepresentative and illegitimate pro-FTA individuals against the stated interest of Afro-Colombian communities themselves.

Congress can help Afro-Colombians by demanding that President Uribe respect the Colombian Constitution and terminate this commission that challenges our civil rights. Congress should also pass House Resolution 618 sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J.,  on the plight of Afro-Colombians.

Marino Cordoba is the founder of the Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES). He played a key role in the struggle to secure Colombia's progressive Law 70, which grants land rights to Afro-Colombian communities. After surviving many attempts on his life, Mr. Cordoba has been forced to live in exile in the United States.
 
Tell the Congressional Black Caucus to hold the line against the Colombia FTA by Willie Thompson, founder and president of the Organization of African North Americans (OANA)

Colombia, South America, is an important part of the African Diaspora for African North Americans and other allies. Afro-Colombians comprise up to 40 percent of the Colombian population of around 42 million people. These Afro-Colombians are treated brutally by the government and the Euro-Colombians. Now, Colombian President Uribe needs the support of the Congressional Black Caucus to pass the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. So he accepts the proposal of some Afro-Colombians to create this phony commission for the "protection" of the 16 million Afro-Colombians.

More than a million Afro-Colombians have been displaced from their homes and communities. Afro-Colombians are killed and forced into exile if they resist the sale their land. The Colombian government provides very few services and infrastructure for the Afro-Colombian community and Law 70 that gives Afro-Colombian rights to their ancestral lands is not implemented and the paramilitaries under President Uribe are driving the Afro-Colombians from their land.

Congressional Black Caucus member Gregory Meeks of New York and member of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) deceived Congressman Bobby Rush of Chicago and caused him to write a letter of support for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and have it signed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It was only the intervention of Marino Cordova, an exiled Afro-Colombian, that caused Rush to withdraw the letter of support.

The Congressional Black Caucus is refusing to support the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and needs our support. Please call or write your congressperson and tell him or her to continue to oppose the Colombian FTA and support the Afro-Colombians. By the way, the U.S. has given more than $5 billion to Colombia for mostly military aid which is used against the Afro-Colombians.

Willie Thompson, president of the Organization of African North Americans, is professor emeritus of sociology, City College of San Francisco. Email him at willliemackthompson@msn.com
 
AFRO-COLOMBIAN

GENERAL INFORMATION AFROAMERICA XXI

Rosalba Castillo

Afrocolombia@yahoo.es
Rosacv2003@yahoo.com
(57-2) 8854676
(57-2) 441-8898 Fax
Federación Nacional de Organizaciones No
Gubernamentales para el Desarrollo de las Comunidades
Afrocolombianas - AFROAMERICA XXI
AFROAMERICA XXI, Coordinadora Nacional
Cali, Colombia

The following information used was taken from the Poverty Alleviation Program for Minority Communities in Latin America: Communities of African Ancestry in Latin America-History, Population, Contributions, & Social Attitudes, Social and Economic Conditions. This was realized by members of and organizations of AFROAMERICA XXI.

Approximate Total Population 40,262,000
Total Ethnic Groups 4
Approximate Afro-Colombian Population 10,468,120
Location -Departments of the atlantic coast: Córdoba,
Bolívar, Cesar, Atlántico y Sucre
-Other locations: Cartagena, San Basilio, San Onofre,
Puerto Caballos
-Ciertos barrios de Barranquilla y Santa Marta
-departments of the pacific coast: Choco Valle,
Nariño, Cauca.
-Three cities: Cali, Tumaco, Quibdo y Buenaventura.
Languages Spanish

SOCIECONOMIC PROFILE

Population and its Distribution

The Pacific coast is predominantly Black, most of its residents living in thirty-three  municipalities in the departments of Chocó Valle, Nariño and Cauca on the littoral. Seventythree (73 percent) percent live in three cities of Tumaco, Quibdó and Buenaventura.Cali also has a large proportion of Blacks and the surrounding towns are typically Black, Afro-Europeans and zambos.

Economic Profile: Rural Activities

In rural areas, Afro-Colombians are small peasant producers of plantain, cotton, rice and food crops. In plantation areas, they load bananas to/from boats and are the fruit cutters in farms. In Cali, they are responsible for the sugarcane harvesting to this day. The Pacific considered only in the context of being a producer of primary raw materials for export to Colombian and foreign markets. The local population on the Pacific, mostly Black, has not benefitted from the economic program led by the government. There is little investment in infrastructure to benefit an economy that could be generated and managed by locals. Mining of various minerals has always generated an important source of income for many residents of the Pacific Coast. Mining concessions enjoy uninterrupted rights to exploit thousands of acres and a cheap labour market. The dredging of the river beds by foreign companies to extract gold sediments have created irreversible harm to the edges of some rivers, polluted the waters with mercury, and destroying subsistence agriculture and a food source for many Pacific coast people.

However, one benefit of the presence of gold is that the population is relatively expert at jewellery making and creating pieces of great beauty. However, these manufacturers presently rely on an unstable local market and have little access to training or marketing assistance.

Timber mining and other forestry concessions have been granted to national and international firms. The product of these concessions are taken out of the region. Blacks have limited employment in the industry and are poorly paid. The work is backbreaking and results in incapacitation of many men by the time they are in their late thirties and early forties. Over one million hectares of land have been devastated, including almost all mangroves and caoba.

Economic Profile: Urban Activities

Prestige Occupations

Discrimination against Blacks in white collar jobs is frequently reported. Prestige occupations in the Black community tend to be limited to Afro-Colombians of mixed racial,particularly white, ancestry. Typically, Blacks have difficulty obtaining jobs in which they are visible to the public, jobs such as clerks and sales persons. Neither stores nor the ecotourism industry will hire them. In the case of Cali and Cartagena, one observes many light-skinned mulattoes working as secretaries, clerks, bank tellers and bank managers -- occupations which do not include Blacks of dark skin. This also appears to be the case in Bogota and Medellin. The lighter the skin colour the better the position. For example, in the Port of Buenaventura, candidates for higher management positions are still recruited outside the city.

There is a noticeable lack of participation of light-skinned Blacks as well as of their darker relatives in positions of prominence within Colombian society. There are no Black few have held positions in the diplomatic corps. Blacks are under-represented in the supreme court, high offices of government, ministries and the like. Their successful participation in electoral politics has occurred only in areas where they constitute the local majority of the population: Chocó, Buenventura, and the cities in the Pacific coastal region.

The Afro-Colombian professional class is quite small, if one were to exclude the light-skinned class of Cali, Cartagena and Medellin and of the other important cities such as Quibdó, Baranquilla and Santa Marta. Darker-skinned Blacks enter the fields of teaching, law, dentistry, police force, and medicine in comparatively small numbers. They are limited by economics from entering higher education, particularly the country's best educational  institutions.

Street Vendors

A large number of Blacks of both sexes are involved in the informal sector, particularly in as ambulantes (itinerant vendors) and are to be found in the markets, business districts and working class neighbourhoods of the cities. A number of young men in Cali and Bogota who sell fruit have complained of harassment by business people who say that the police and itinerant vendors are blocking their businesses and taking businesses away. Blacks tend to concentrate in this activity because:

• they have experience in food preparation and a reputation for being good cooks;
• the activity requires little capital investment;
• Blacks have access to the "raw materials" such as fruit, fish, plantains;
• it is the only option left when all formal sector opportunities are closed.

Education

For the Pacific coast, PLAIDECOP indicates that illiteracy at the urban and rural levels is twice the national average. (43 percent of the rural population and 20 percent of the urban population is illiterate compared to the national average of 23 percent, 4 percent and 7.3 percent respectively.) Less than half of the region's children attend primary school, and the majority of these children do not complete their primary education.

Informants reported that Black school children had high drop-out rates at all levels and had difficulties in attending school because of various factors, including cost and transportation. In Turbo, for example, for every 100 students in primary school, 20 enter secondary school and only one graduates.

Conclusions

Black populations in Colombia are abandoned by society and their government despite their major demographic, economic, and cultural importance to the country. Colombia, like others in Latin America, is embarrassed about the degree to which it is Black, and it penalizes those who would interrupt an unconscious modern ideal of whitening. This has resulted in a lack of infrastructural investment in Black communities to directly benefit Black populations.  Thus,  Afro-Colombians are limited in the roles they play in the economy and society by their poverty and the prevailing social attitudes. Because Law #70 was promulgated, Colombia has embarked upon a series of programs to change the inferior status of Blacks. The country’s Minister of the Interior has stated that “Colombia owes its Black citizens a debt” and notes that the Black population is perhaps nearly 40 percent. The country has advanced much further than other Latin American countries in admitting the problems of the Black population.

Programs such as the development plan for the Black communities, however, have failed to accomplish a broad vision of the potential political and economic power of the Black population. The planning limits its projections to the Pacific coast which has a, where a small fraction of Afro-descendants live, in spite of their strategic importance.

On the Pacific coast, there is an immediate need for more systematic land titling efforts to protect the few remaining areas and to develop adequate programmatic remedies to alleviate poverty.

Overall, immediate assistance requires (a) credit for agricultural activities; (b) microenterprise training and credit, especially in urban areas; (c) government action to reduce invisibility and discrimination; (d) reduced harassment for those whose only source of income is the informal sector; (e) a concerted effort to eradicate the violence which plagues Black communities, and, (f) appropriate training for all sectors of the society.
 25 Jul 2006 by Administrator
 

Publié dans African diaspora

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