Afro-Colombian communities in the past year have faced increasing threats of displacement and violence. On September 21st, LAWGEF joined the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and other partner organizations in organizing a public event in DC where Clemencia Carabali Rodallega, a prominent Afro-Colombian leader, spoke about the dire situation that many communities are in today. The following video and quotes were taken from that event.
Clemencia Carabali Rodallega has worked as a defender of Afro-Colombian territorial and human rights since 1997. She belongs to the Municipal Association of Women (ASOM), an organization that is made up of women’s groups from twelve towns in the Buenos Aires municipality. Buenos Aires is one of the ten municipalities located in northern Cauca, a resource-rich and strategic zone due to its geographic location.
“In the entire Pacific region of Colombia, as in the other regions where Afro-Colombians live, there is a grave crisis of human rights violations. This has to do with political and economic actors that want to gain access to the natural resources of the region. Our water, forests, gold and all other resources have awakened the desire of investors and foreign multinational corporations to create projects there.
“Right now, we have a grave situation in the community of La Toma, in the municipality of Suarez, which is a municipality close to Buenos Aires. An eviction notice by the Ministry of Mining and Energy is ordering 2,700 families to leave their territory to make way for a private investor.
“In the case of northern Cauca, the Organization of Black Communities in Colombia (PCN) is one of the organizations behind mobilizing people to claim the rights of the Afro-Colombian population. We, as the Municipal Women’s Association in Buenos Aires, work to gather information and train women to have the tools that allow us to effectively defend our rights. We also do other types of trainings on different topics like inter-family relationships, self-esteem, and learning to think of ourselves as capable and to maximize our contribution to the development of our country as well to find peace for Colombia… The role of women has been and continues to be crucial because many of our sons and husbands have been forcibly recruited, threatened, or killed by armed actors. Many of the women we work with have lost their husbands and sons to the war that we are living in.
“In the last year there were two massacres in our area. One was in April, when seven people were killed and one was seriously injured. In July, five people were killed in a community in Buenos Aires. But in addition, on a permanent basis, every one to two weeks a youth is killed with the pretext that we are opposed to development, simply because we demand that laws be applied by the government that created them and that multinational corporations respect communities and inform them of their plans and projects which affect our territories and environment.
“Four women from my organization have been threatened since April of last year. We received written messages at the office and voice messages on our cell phones telling us that we were military targets and that we should be careful or else we would be assassinated. They broke down the door to our office and went through our computer. I had to move houses and leave Buenos Aires to find a safer place, and the office had to be moved as well.
“The case has been presented before the District Attorney, who should investigate who is behind these threats. But, until today, we have had no response, even though the case was presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights here in Washington last November.
“For us, it is very important that you all are here today because this type of information does not make it in to the mass media, written nor on television, and much less reflected in government reports… We are very worried about the support that the United States government gives to Colombia. We were extremely frustrated when we recently found out that the State Department certified that the Colombian government was meeting the human rights conditions [connected to the military aid the U.S. government gives to Colombia yearly]. At first, I did not understand it. If they have been given very real, concrete evidence of so many human rights violations, why would they certify? After being here, I now understand that this was a political move and has nothing to do with the facts.
“It is important that you all are here today because you could play a critical role since you pay taxes that go to finance Plan Colombia. I think it is very important that you demand accountability for what is being done with your money.”
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