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Assessment for Blacks in Colombia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Blacks in Colombia, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a6ac.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Colombia Facts
Area:    1,138,910 sq. km.
Capital:    Bogota
Total Population:    38,581,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Two factors increase the likelihood of future black protest in Colombia: (1) territorial concentration and (2) reaction to government culpability in war crimes committed against black Colombians. Two factors favor the containment of rebellion: (1) a recent history of democratic government and elections, (2) lack of serious armed conflicts in neighboring countries.

Despite a strong regional identity and significant grievances, particularly with respect to the government's failure to prevent the civil war's victimization of innocent people, black Colombians, lacking a history of significant mobilization and beleaguered by the ongoing civil war, are unlikely to engage in future protest at levels higher than verbal protest.

Analytic Summary

Colombia's black population is concentrated in the Choco region along the Pacific Coast where they represent 95% of the population (GROUPCON = 3). Colombian blacks also inhabit urban centers and the Caribbean coastal region. They are distinguished by ethnocultural traits (ETHNOG = 1), religious traditions combining Catholicism with African customs (RELIG = 1), and polygamous family structures (CUSTOM = 1).

Black Colombians are the descendants of African slaves brought to Colombia in the 1700s to serve Spanish colonists, primarily as laborers (TRADITN = 1). The abolition of slavery in the years after 1850 coincided with the displacement of black laborers by an influx of non-blacks seeking employment in the mining, commerce, and timber industries then developing in black areas. Consequently, many blacks were forced to look for labor in urban centers such as Medellin and Bogota, where they work today primarily in domestic service and various low-skilled labor positions. Black labor continues to drive Colombia's labor-intensive industries, notably the coffee plantations of Antioquia and the mines and trade services of the Choco. The long-held practice in Colombian society of blanqueamiento, or the dis-identification with blackness as expressed through the encouragement of race-mixing and the societal privileging of lighter skin, carries the legacy of discrimination and disadvantage Colombian blacks have endured since slavery (ATRISK1 = 1, ATRISK2 = 1).

Colombian blacks experience demographic stress in the form of deteriorating public health, migration to urban centers and abroad, and the dispossession of land by militant groups engaged in Colombia's civil war (DEMSTR00 = 6) Discrimination and social exclusion limits access to the civil service and high office as well as general economic opportunity (ECDIS03 = 3, POLDIS03 = 3).

Black Colombians' principal demands include: greater political rights in their own communities, greater participation in decision making at the central state level, equal civil rights and status, greater economic opportunities, and protection of land and jobs used for the advantage of other groups.

Colombian blacks are represented primarily by umbrella organizations (GOJPA03 = 1). The National Movement for the Human Rights of Black Communities in Colombia (Cimarron), which is modeled after the U.S. Black Panther and Nation of Islam movements, uses pamphlets and bulletins to mobilize smaller groups and organizations throughout the country. The Center for the Investigation and Development of Black Culture (CID), once funded by UNESCO, models its platform on the ideals of the U.S. civil rights movement. Annual seminars for black teachers and the publication of black literature are the organization's primary activities. Among the smaller, more transient black Colombian organizations reported to be recently active are: Asociacion de Campesinos, Integral del Atrato, Asociacion Juvenil Nortecaucana, Equipo Misionero Medio, Fundacion Civica, Fundacion de Vida, Grupo de Mujeres, Hermanas Compania de Maria, Moviiento Investigativo Sinesio Mena, Organizacion de Barrios Populares, and Organizacion Regional Embera Wawnana. Though the concentration of blacks in the Choco region gives Colombian blacks a strong regional identity and there has been no reported intragroup conflict, the practice of blanqueamiento may have limited the extent to which black Colombians identify as a group. Black Colombians receive no direct support of significance from transnational actors.

Black mobilization since 1990 has included: Cimarron's 1990 campaign to include reforms in the new constitution (PROT90 = 1), a 1992 petition to lobby for the implementation of property rights and cultural protections provisionally granted by the new constitution (PROT92 = 1), a 1994 protest outside the Colombian Institute of Anthropology calling for the fulfillment of legally-mandated studies of the black population (PROT94 = 3), a 1995 demonstration, organized by the Regional Indigenous Organization Embera Wounaan (OREWA), against the development of land on which black Colombians live and to include blacks in land demarcations in the Choco (PROT95 = 3). More recently black Colombians have voiced opposition to under-representation in the national census and to anti-narcotic fumigation of black regions (PROT00 = 1). The greatest adversary of the black population continues to be the bloody civil war waged by military, guerrilla, and paramilitary forces—all of which share responsibility for killings, disappearances, and land displacements in black communities (INTERCON00 = 1). More recently, in May 2002, during a fight for control of the Afro-Colombian fishing village of Bellavista (located on the Middle Atrato River in the municipality of Bojayá) FARC launched a bomb at AUC, which had holed up around the catholic church of St. Paul the Apostle. The bomb, made from a propane gas canister packed with explosives and shrapnel, hit the church instead, killing 119 (45 of whom were children) and injuring 108 of the 500 people who had taken refuge inside. The attack wiped out 10 percent of the village. Due to continued fighting in the area, more than 5,000 people fled the Bojayá region, the town of Bellavista, and the town across the Atrato River, Vigía del Fuerte. It took the Colombian army six days to reach the village, after fighting eight battles with the FARC or the ACCU in the jungle environment to regain control of the River.

References

Cordoba, Amir Smith. Vision Sociocultural del Negro en Colombia. Bogota. Centor para la Investigacion de la Cultura Negra en Colombia. 1986.

Espinosa, Manuel Jose Cepeda. Ethnic Minorities and Constitutional Reform in Colombia. Presented at the Woodrow Wilson Center Latin American Program. November 15, 1994.

Lexis-Nexis news reports. 2001-2003.

Solaun, Mauricio and Sidney Kronus. Discrimination Without Violence. New York. John Wiley and Sons. 1973.

U.S. Department of State. Colombia Human Rights Practices. March 1995. 2001-2003.

Wade, Peter. The Cultural Politics of Blackness in Colombia. XVIII LASA International Congress. March 1994.

Wade, Peter. Blackness and Race Mixture. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.

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