In 2013, US Vice President Joe Biden visited Colombia and met with then-President Juan Manuel Santos to cement ties between the 2 international locations. Just a 12 months earlier than, a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) had been ratified between the 2 which proponents held can be helpful for each.
“The free-trade agreement is just the beginning,” Biden declared. “We’ve doubled visa validity from five to 10 years. As was pointed out, we championed the Colombian accession to the OECD. We are prepared to talk with Colombia about the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). We are anxious to continue to engage with and integrate the economies of the region. And it makes sense for everyone,” he added on the press conference in Bogota on May 27, 2013.
But, eight years on, social leaders, economists, and leaders of Afro-Colombian semi-autonomous group councils query if the US-Colombian FTA actually made sense for everybody.
Despite the National Infrastructure Agency’s giant port concessions to deal with the elevated trade – and Afro-Colombians often offering the low-cost labour for such port expansions – these dwelling in and across the port metropolis of Buenaventura haven’t shared within the wealth that elevated trade has produced. Furthermore, they proceed to undergo violence from new paramilitary teams which goal to seize authorized and unlawful rents.
As a part of this 12 months’s lethal, weeks-long National Strike in protest towards austerity measures that will have lowered fiscal deficits by taxing the poor and center class, residents of Buenaventura prevented cargo from getting into the nation, demanding higher dwelling circumstances for its 415,000 inhabitants – a lot of whom haven’t any operating water – and extra funding for the violence-ridden metropolis. Nationwide, a minimum of 80 individuals had been killed within the protests, a lot of whom had been Black. One police officer died. But these dwelling in Buenaventura are used to this form of state and para-state violence and really feel they’ve little to lose by collaborating in such protests.
A legacy of violence
During the Cold War, the US propagated “counterinsurgency” insurance policies in Colombia, particularly after the Cuban Revolution. In 1962 – two years earlier than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was based – American General William Yarborough instructed the Colombian navy to make “mixed units of civilians and militaries” to forestall the unfold of communism.
In the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s, paramilitary, or self-defence, forces elevated dramatically, culminating within the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), to struggle left-wing guerrilla teams such because the FARC. In the mid-2000s, “Bloque Calima” of the AUC terrorised individuals dwelling in Buenaventura to kick out left-wing guerrillas and guarantee a social management pleasant to worldwide funding.
Despite the official 2005 demobilisation of AUC paramilitaries by means of an settlement with the federal government – the Peace and Justice Law 975 – the violence has continued.
In 2014, civil society teams denounced the presence of chophouses, the place paramilitary teams dismember individuals alive as a method to make use of concern for social management. In February of this 12 months, there have been 30 days of firefights within the port metropolis of Buenaventura with the federal government claiming that these had been “turf war” disputes between rival gangs. Advocates for victims and those that work with group leaders, nonetheless, see a continuity between what has occurred this 12 months and former cycles of violence between unlawful armed teams hoping to grab management of territory.
“The turf war narrative is problematic because it diminishes the responsibility [of the state] and it makes it micro instead of macro. New problem – fixed the old one – so it’s not connected. But in reality, it’s all connected. Foot soldiers may change, but the whole dynamic is the same. Many different names of the groups but it’s the same issues,” says Gimena Sanchez from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a Washington-based NGO which advocates for human rights in Latin America.
Colombian human rights advocate Enrique Chimonja, who has been serving to to organise peasant, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities for many years, together with communities in Buenaventura, agrees. “In my judgement, it’s very simple, it’s to distract attention from what really is happening in Buenaventura. It is really a territorial displacement strategy to dismantle the principles of Law 70 [which safeguards the rights of Afro-Colombian communities], to evict people from collective lands,” he stated.
Chimonja sees the persevering with paramilitary group exercise as a method by non-public corporations to evict individuals dwelling on their collective lands as a way to accommodate port growth required not solely by the free-trade settlement with the US but in addition by the 16 different FTAs Colombia has signed.
Law 70 of 1993
Colombia has one of many largest populations of African descent within the Americas. The Afro-Colombian inhabitants has been in Colombia for the reason that arrival of the Spanish conquistadors within the sixteenth century and at present continues to be closely focused on the nation’s Pacific coast.
Slavery was abolished in 1852 and many of the previously enslaved individuals stayed within the communities they’d lived in since being delivered to Colombia, which gave method to the tradition and traditions of these areas that proceed to today.
Despite their semi-isolation from the remainder of Colombia, the communities on the Pacific coast had been nonetheless topic to the identical legal guidelines created by the centralised state in far-away Bogotá the place Afro-Colombian communities had been seldom even an afterthought following emancipation and when laws was written.
This modified with the 1991 Constitution, a results of super social upheaval and a peace settlement between the Colombian authorities and varied left-wing insurgent teams. The authorities had signed an settlement with the M-19 guerrilla organisation in late 1989, which required constitutional reforms to be carried out. In early 1990, these reforms did not cross within the congress, resulting in a political disaster, and the coed motion “seventh ballot” emerged, which referred to as not just for constitutional reform however a complete new structure.
Aside from the M-19, which was already within the strategy of demobilisation, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) and the Quintín Lame Armed Movement (MAQL) additionally went by means of demobilisation processes so they might take part within the Constitutional Assembly.
The 1991 constitution positioned a particular emphasis on the rights of ethnic minorities in Colombia and in 1993 was codified for Afro-Colombian communities in Law 70.
Law 70 (PDF) granted Black communities on Colombia’s Pacific coast the best to collective possession of lands they’ve already occupied for greater than 300 years. It formalised their proper to take care of their distinctive life-style and tradition whereas aiming to advertise financial and social growth.
Article 5 of the legislation facilitated the creation of “community councils” in Afro-Colombian communities, liable for the interior administration of collective land titles. Community councils delimit and assign the boundaries of the collective lands, and are liable for the conservation and safety of the collective territory, safety of cultural id and the election of their authorized consultant.
The legislation goals to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities obtain actual alternatives which might be equal to the remainder of Colombian society. It additionally provides them the best to session if the federal government or non-public trade wish to use their land for financial growth tasks. This proper is supposed to ensure the autonomy of a group council’s management over how collective land is used.
In idea, this offers traditionally marginalised communities management over their lands, which they usually use for small-scale agriculture. Unfortunately, this doesn’t all the time occur in follow. Francia Marquez, who received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 for defending her land from mining and who just lately introduced her candidacy for the presidency, wrote her undergraduate thesis on violations of earlier consultations in Afro-Colombian communities within the Cauca division, which borders Buenaventura.
Displacement of Afro-Colombian communities
In the Afro-Colombian group on the Naya River, which types the border between the departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca, armed actors brutally benefitted from the world’s isolation on the top of the armed battle within the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s, in line with Rodrigo Castillo, a member of the Naya River Community Council. The FARC first arrived within the Eighties, adopted by the Cuban impressed National Liberation Army (ELN) within the Nineteen Nineties, which used the river to develop coca crops and as a route for drug trafficking. The right-wing AUC moved in in April 2001 and killed greater than 100 individuals they claimed had been sympathisers of the guerrilla organisations. More than 3,000 individuals had been displaced to city areas in Buenaventura and neighbouring Cauca.
The arrival of the battle to the area pushed out giant numbers of individuals whereas concurrently bringing coca cultivation and unlawful mining to the territory, a first-rate supply of funding for unlawful teams in Colombia from right-wing paramilitaries to FARC dissidents who refused to disarm. The displaced now discover themselves in cities which might be very completely different from the agricultural areas in Colombia’s Pacific coast river communities, which pressured them to adapt to a brand new, harsh and sometimes violent actuality of poverty, financial exploitation, and crime in Buenaventura, Cali, and different giant cities.
For María Miyela Riascos, a group chief in Buenaventura, the distinction in life between the river communities and the city space is stark: “Before 2000, we lived in our territories in extreme neglect from the Colombian state with the state failing to provide adequate healthcare, education, and a way to make money. Nobody gave us anything but we had our own seeds and knowledge. We worked together as a community. Everyone had something to eat from what we produced. Our river was clean and there were abundant natural resources.”
Privatising the port of Buenaventura
Law 70 and the group councils within the rural areas close to Buenaventura stand in stress with the coverage of financial opening-up, which has been state coverage for the reason that late Eighties. This is marked by low tariffs, a discount in state subsidies and privatisation.
Afro-Colombian group councils are based mostly totally on small-scale agriculture and artisanal fishing, through which the preservation of the setting is an integral half. The “economic opening” is a mannequin of growth based mostly on the exploitation of pure assets for the era of revenue; below this mannequin, utilizing the land extra effectively is prioritised.
Buenaventura was an early instance of those new financial insurance policies when Colombian President Cesar Gaviria privatised the state-run port, Colpuertos, in 1994, and the brand new Sociedad Portuaria de Buenaventura modified its technical capacities to make port actions extra capital-intensive fairly than labour-intensive. The new, non-public homeowners launched “labour flexibility” measures. These modifications lowered the labour power from 10,000 in 1990 to 4,200 in 1996, and the typical wage of a port employee fell by 70 p.c. Furthermore, the non-public port usually introduced employees from outdoors Buenaventura for higher-wage jobs, making a separation between the non-public port and the group dwelling in Buenaventura.
Colpuertos, then again, had supplied working-class bonaverenses with steady jobs and good advantages, enabling them to assist their households. Eight port labour unions shaped throughout the operation of Colpuertos, making a bond between the communities dwelling across the port and the port itself. Privatisation hollowed that out.
Deepening the financial opening, Colombia signed its Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2006, however the US Congress held up ratification till 2012 due to Colombia’s poor document on labour rights. Proponents held that the free-trade settlement would enhance Colombian exports and entry to worldwide markets, leading to financial development for the nation as a complete.
Despite these guarantees, since 2012, Colombia has gone from a trade surplus to a trade deficit, and its dependence on main materials exports – oil, coal, espresso, bananas – has elevated. The FTA lowered tariffs on imported items, making them cheaper than these produced domestically. In truth, productive sectors of the financial system comparable to the commercial sector, have decreased as a proportion of GDP.
Food sovereignty is one other subject. In 2012, US corn represented 5 p.c of the market share in Colombia, however by 2018 it represented greater than 97 p.c of the market share. The US’s superior infrastructure, know-how, equipment, genetically modified seeds, and state subsidies give US corn a aggressive benefit.
“The FTAs have been disastrous for Colombia. They have flooded Colombia with products and the Colombia that we dreamed of and built, that my parents and grandparents had built… all this disappeared with the FTA,” Riascos says.
Prioritising trade over individuals
As a results of the FTAs, Buenaventura has seen a 42-percent growth in worldwide trade throughout the decade of 2010 to 2020. It has additionally undergone plenty of port expansions together with a $200m mega-project, the Buenaventura Containers Terminal (TC Buen), which has additionally displaced individuals from surrounding neighbourhoods to make method for development.
Four hundred households from the Santa Fe neighbourhood had been affected by the development of the TC Buen however had been refusing to depart. A mysterious hearth began in 2013, burning down 25 properties exactly the place TC Buen was being constructed and displacing 196 households. Other households claimed there was strain from paramilitary teams to depart. Port leaders, nonetheless, denied any form of wrongdoing.
Many of these displaced by the venture had additionally been beforehand displaced from the semi-autonomous Black communities on Colombia’s Pacific coast.
Snyder Rivera, an economist with the Colombian organisation Cedetrabajo, which displays the implementation of free-trade agreements, says superior port logistics have been prioritised over the wants of the individuals dwelling collectively in and round Buenaventura.
“The port has improved and is considered competitive but in the areas around Buenaventura, there is a lot of poverty, scandalous levels of wealth inequality, a high level of criminality. This has to do with the historical debts of the Colombian state not only to Buenaventura but to the whole Colombian Pacific,” Rivera says. He is referring to the dearth of funding and a focus the central authorities has given the port of Buenaventura, mirrored within the excessive ranges of poverty, lack of entry to water and healthcare, the continuing presence of unlawful armed teams, and excessive unemployment.
In 2017, subsequently, individuals in Buenaventura organised a common strike demanding higher circumstances. Overall in Buenaventura, almost 17 p.c of the inhabitants nonetheless have unmet basic needs. By comparability, in Bogotá, the capital, solely 3 p.c of the inhabitants stay in these circumstances.
Riascos additionally believes that worldwide trade has been prioritised over individuals. “I’ve been to the port of Vancouver and its technology and functioning is comparable with Buenaventura, Buenaventura has nothing to be jealous of. The difference is how the people live in Vancouver and how people live in Buenaventura, there, there is a difference,” she says.
In Buenaventura, the form of growth by those that envision and implement the free-trade agreements and the wants of rural, agrarian group councils and Indigenous communities stewarding the land are in battle.
Ultimately, Riascos says, the federal government and highly effective worldwide financial pursuits have solely benefitted from the displacement of Afro-Colombian individuals from their conventional lands. “What they [the government and paramilitary groups] do in the name of neoliberal economic development is criminal. And they go through whoever they have to, whatever they have to, to achieve their perverse goals that hurt Buenaventura, consolidating structural racism and displacement.”