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House Resolution Draws Attention to Afro-Colombians

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Take Action! Ask your representative to stand with Afro-Colombians demanding their rights by co-sponsoring H. Res. 618. To be connected to their office, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Visit our website at www.lawg.org/countries/colombia/alert_09-12-07.htm to find out if they’re already a co-sponsor of this important resolution.

During the August recess, Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) introduced House Resolution 618, which recognizes the importance of addressing the plight of Afro-Colombians. Although this resolution is non-binding, it will provide much-needed moral support to a community caught in the crossfire.In Colombia, Afro-descendents are harshly affected daily by extreme poverty and racial discrimination. The statistics are truly astonishing. Although they often live in regions rich in natural wealth, 76% of Afro-Colombians live in extreme poverty. Chocó, the department with the largest Afro-Colombian population, receives the lowest per capita government investment in health, education and infrastructure of any department.

Whether they are “caught in the crossfire” or specifically targeted, Afro-Colombians are often forced to leave their communities and ancestral lands behind. As a result, Afro-Colombians now constitute a disproportionate amount of Colombia’s 3.8 million internally displaced. At a recent event here in Washington, Alba Maria Cuestas Arias, a displaced Afro-Colombian and board member of AFRODES, explained how displacement is used as a weapon of war: “Towns are destroyed, lives are destroyed. The social fabric is also destroyed. People are forced to leave that which they have been constructing for years and years.” Meanwhile, aerial spraying is destroying many of the food crops traditionally grown by Afro-Colombians, leading to further displacement and insecurity.

H. Res. 618 will bring attention to the plight of Afro-Colombians and will show that the U.S. Congress stands behind them. Along with recognizing the Afro-Colombian contributions to Colombian society, the resolution calls on the Colombian government to end racial discrimination and protect Afro-Colombians’ constitutionally guaranteed lands. The resolution also rightly encourages the U.S. and Colombian governments to consult with Afro-Colombian groups when developing policies that will affect them. In the words of Alva Maria Cuestas, “When the government talks about displacement in Chocó, they simply say that either it doesn’t exist or that if it ever existed, it has now been dealt with.” Perhaps Rep. Payne’s resolution will help change this situation by ensuring the voices of Afro-Colombians are heard by policymakers in both countries.

—Benjamin Natkin