PBI-Colombia visits Buenaventura following attack on social leader Carlos Tobar
On August 10, the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project tweeted that Lars Bredal, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Colombia, visited the Isla de la Paz neighbourhood in Buenaventura to learn about the serious risks experienced by ethnic communities and members of the Comité del Paro Cívico.
Recently, a member of the Comité del Paro Cívico (the Civic Unemployment Committee) was wounded in an attack.
On July 26, Semana reported that just hours before the “marches for life and the defence of social leaders” in Colombia, several armed men entered the home of Civic Unemployment Committee coordinator Carlos Tobar and shot him several times.
PBI-Colombia’s tweet notes that the visit to Isla de la Paz by the Deputy Head also involved the Black Communities Process (PCN) and the Association for Social Research and Action (NOMADESC), which is accompanied by PBI-Colombia.
PCN and NOMADESC have noted, “Isla de la Paz is mostly composed of people who were forcibly displaced from rural areas by the political violence of the late 1990’s and early 2000s, primarily from the Naya, Raposo and Yurumangui river communities, after the occurrence of barbaric acts such as the massacre of the Naya.”
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has explained, “In the dark annals of violence in Colombia, the Naya massacre occupies a special place. During Holy Week [April 10-13, 2001], a group of 400 paramilitaries entered this remote jungle area. …Scores of people were murdered in the most gruesome ways.”
Buenaventura also has a recent history of resistance and repression.
New York-based NACLA has commented, “In May 2017, Buenaventura residents held a 22-day civic strike to protest ongoing investment in its port instead of investing in local residents. In an impressive show of organizational capacity, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities and organizations united to shut down the city, blocking the port and flooding the streets. Residents demanded resources to invest in building a local hospital, more economic opportunities, and potable water.”
In June 2017, Telesur reported, “Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos responded to the protest by sending in armed anti-riot units in an attempt to control protesters. …Human rights organizations raised alarms over the treatment of protesters in Buenaventura at the hands of ESMAD, Colombia’s riot police.”
Canadian organizations have worked in solidarity with the leaders of that strike.
In October and November 2018, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and other unions and organizations organized a cross-country speaking tour in Canada with three of the Buenaventura civic strike leaders.
PSAC highlights, “The strike—which the visiting leaders are careful to note was suspended, not ended—won an agreement containing important concessions from the government to improve public services, including community housing, health services, roads, the justice system, and a new framework agreement to protect the rights of port workers.”
But it also adds, “Yet, since May 2017, threats against strike leaders have continued as plans go forward to expand and modernize the port, while the government fails to implement its agreement with the strikers.”
And while Carlos Tobar will hopefully recover from his attack, another human rights defender was shot to death in Isla de la Paz in January 2018.
Both PCN and NOMADESC have denounced the murder of human rights activist Temistocles Machado (who was known as Don Temis).
The groups explained, “With an incredible level of commitment, Don Temis defended his community and resisted the expansion of port installations in Isla de la Paz, as well as infrastructure mega-projects and the pressure of armed groups to control the territory.” He was also involved in “litigation to prevent the systematic dispossession of the community’s territorial space and guarantee the restitution of the territorial rights of the community.”
In a September 2018 article in The Guardian, Father Alberto Franco of the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace, another organization accompanied by the PBI-Colombia Project, commented that the construction of a freshwater port in Buenaventura region was a factor in the displacement of indigenous people from the lower stretches of the Calima and San Juan rivers.
That article highlights, “Buenaventura, where many displaced rural people end up, is one of the most dangerous cities in South America for local people, especially from the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, who face racial discrimination.”
PSAC reminds us that despite the signing of the peace accord in 2017, “violence, land grabs and dislocation” have not stopped in Colombia and that “regrettably some of these violent incidents are also associated with Canadian companies that have been emboldened by the 2008 Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.”