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| | |-+  Colombia declares war on its own Black citizens
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« on: July 31, 2003, 12:11:47 PM »

Colombia declares war on its own Black citizens

Colombia declares war on its own Black citizens

African Colombians demand U.S. support

by Willie Thompson

The Colombian government has declared war on its own citizens of African
descent by labeling the activists among them as guerillas or terrorists.
Repeated massacres, the latest during a June 14 invasion on the
Anchicaya River, where paramilitaries assassinated five and wounded many
more, have targeted African Colombian community organizers exercising
their constitutional right to own and control their own resource-rich
territories, defending them against developers determined to cut down
their forests, extract their oil and uranium and steal their land for
the construction of ports, highways and hydroelectric projects.

Last week, June 21-27, 11 delegates from Afro-America XXI, an alliance
of organizations representing the 253 million people of African descent
in 43 countries of the Western Hemisphere, visited Washington, D.C., to
report on crises in Colombia and several other countries and demand
support. They came armed with the powerful though little known fact that
African descendants comprise 30 percent of the 822 million people who
live in those 43 countries.

I accompanied the delegates, who come from Colombia, the Dominican
Republic, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, the United States and
Uruguay, to meetings with the Inter-American Development Bank, the House
International Affairs office, United States Agency for International
Development, Lutheran World Relief and the Bert Corona Institute. The
delegation also met with the World Bank, Inter-American Dialogue, the
Inter-American Foundation and representatives of the Congressional Black
Caucus. They are scheduled to travel to New York to meet with United
Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, representatives of African
countries and the Honduran consulate.

Their message on the crisis in Colombia is expressed in this email I
received from the African Colombian leader Harak Olof Ylele, also known
as Hamilson Aragon Renteria, who calls himself “just another human
being.” In his message, which he titled “When They Slaughter Us” and
which captures the feeling of desperation and commitment to die
struggling reminiscent of Claude McKay in his poem “If We Must Die,”
Harak writes:

“Since the first Afro-Colombian National Conference, ‘Working Together
to Live (Una Minga por la Vida),’ in November 2002, African Colombian
activists have been branded guerillas/terrorists.

“We wish to categorically state that we are not guerillas/terrorists,
so, if and when they kill us, they cannot use this deception to fool the

“When they slaughter us, I want the world to know that they will have
done so because we are Blacks who refuse to accept the state of affairs
to which we have been subjected. We do not agree with a government that
is perfectly capable of guaranteeing a decent life for all its citizens
but plainly and simply won’t do so and allows our communities to
disintegrate. We cannot be a part of a world order that does not
guarantee a life of dignity for all humanity, in harmony with the rest
of nature.

“When they slaughter us, we want the whole world to know that they are
doing so because we are idealists striving for Blacks, Colombians and
humanity as a whole - not just the few - to enjoy a decent life.

“Now, convinced of the relevance of our work, we will not hide nor will
we desist. Death will have to take us by surprise as we continue to

Harak’s email concluded: “They may kill the few of us whose
consciousness has been raised and who are laboring so that we can LIVE
IN DIGNITY, HARMONY AND HAPPINESS. But they cannot kill the seed that
has been sown, and someday the vast majority of people living in
shameful conditions will awaken to this realization as well. We will
change the rules and put in place others that celebrate diversity, so
that we can live a life of dignity, harmony and happiness.

“God willing, they will not kill us and we will continue our struggle
and help build another world where CONSENSUS reigns, not imposition.”

The war in Colombia, fueled by U.S. tax dollars, has voided all
affirmative action and made survival a priority. African Colombians make
up 40 percent of Colombia’s population of 42 million.

Colombian law provides land tenure for African Colombians, but claiming
their land can mean death. So many African Colombians have been driven
from their homes that they make up 70 percent of the country’s 1.8
million displaced persons and one of every 12 African Colombians.
African Colombian leaders have become targets of armed factions,
including the government.

In Brazil, people of African descent make up 85 percent of the 173
million Brazilians, but only 6 percent identify as African Brazilian.
Wanda Engel Aduan, a panelist at the Inter-American Dialogue forum and
technical coordinator of the Network of Policy Makers on Poverty
Reduction and Social Protection at the Inter-American Development Bank,
reported that Blacks on average have two years less schooling than
Whites. The infant mortality rate for Blacks is almost twice what it is
for Whites. Both gaps are widening. Discrimination also takes place in
the anti-poverty initiatives, with programs designated for African
Brazilians often going to poor white Brazilians.

Father Glynn Jemmott Nelson, an African-Trinidadian living in Mexico,
reported that about 2 percent of the Mexican population is Black, but
they suffer from invisibility, lack of development programs and denial
of the African Mexican reality. In Nicaragua, according to Robbin
Tobbie, African Nicaraguans are not permitted to participate in
business. Solange Pierre of the Dominican Republic, winner of Amnesty
International’s 2003 Human Rights Ginetta Sagan Fund Award in
recognition of her work on behalf of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian
descent, reported that there are severe problems of racism and rejection
in the D.R.

Most delegates believe that the problems are similar throughout the
region and demand urgent attention. Agency representatives engaged in
the dialogue used the designations African-Latin, African-Caribbean,
African-Colombian, etc., a recognition only recently achieved after
years of denial and refusal to acknowledge the African roots of half the
region’s population.

To support the demands of the delegation, especially an immediate end to
the targeting of African Colombian leaders as terrorists, readers are
urged to call or write the U.S. State Department, your Senators and
Congressmember and the Colombian government. To contact the president of
Colombia, write Presidente de la República de Colombia Alvaro Uribe
Vélez, Palacio de Nariño, Carrera 8 No. 7-26, Santafe de Bogota,
Colombia; fax 00 57 1 286 7434/286, 68 42/284 21 86; email auribe
@presidencia.gov.co or rdh @presidencia.gov.co. To reach the High
Commission for Human Rights in Colombia, fax (+57 1) 313 40 50 or email
oacnudh @hchr.org.co.

Willie Thompson is emeritus professor of sociology, City College of San
Francisco. Email him at willliemackthompson @msn.com
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