Colombia: Truth and Reparation in the Face of Ethnic Genocide and Afro-Ethnicity

Piedad Córdoba

Four years after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement between the Colombian State and the FARC-EP, non-compliance and perfidy on the part of the National Government have predominated, leading to the continuation of the armed conflict and even its intensification in various territories of the country. The definitive overcoming of the war and the construction of the necessary complete peace requires from the beginning a process of truth and reparation beyond the jurisdictional, that begins by the recognition of the complexity of the conflict, of its historical causalities and of its diverse forms of victimization that exceed not only the effective normativity of Law 1448, but that must include non armed forms of affectation on the communities.

From this perspective, I have proposed to the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth (CEV) that it address the ethnic genocide against the Afro-Colombian communities and the consequent ethnocide, recovering these categories of international law. The acts of victimization and affectation against this population are well known and documented, though it is difficult to obtain new data. By systematizing the abundant information on the pain of the black people, my contribution to the truth in this case hopes to overcome the characterization as a mere “humanitarian crisis” of this genocide that today continues unabated and seeks recognition as a serious war crime. Consequently, I ask the SIVJRNR to declare the Black, Raizal, Palenquero, and Afro-descendant peoples to be the collective victims of the extensive social armed conflict, so that their rights to autonomy and sovereignty, to truth, justice, and collective and comprehensive reparation are guaranteed, as guarantees for non-repetition and the achievement of national reconciliation within the framework of a stable and lasting peace.

President Duque is mistaken in his search for fever in the sheets. Drug trafficking is not the sole genesis of all the ills of Colombia, nor is it the essence of the cause of the current violence. This reductionist and simplistic vision will not allow us to stop the massacres, but if we insist on the stubborn punitive anti-drug policy dictated by the U.S. DEA, we run the risk of perpetuating the violence. The case of the Afro-Colombian communities demonstrates how, before the insertion of our country into the transnational market of illicit drugs, historical exclusion and structural racism were part of the historical causes of political and social violence, and that only their removal can be the basis for a stable and lasting peace.

Where Duque only sees bandits, what operates is capitalist expansion and accumulation by dispossession over territories that for centuries have formed part of the periphery of the economic model, but that now seek their violent expropriation for profit by legal and illegal mafias. Where isolated events are seen in African territories and qualified with euphemisms, I see a genocide denied, as even today continues to be historically denied the African diaspora of colonial slavery.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948 and the Rome Statute of 1998 are instruments of international law that criminalize genocide by establishing a framework of protection for national, ethnic, racial and religious groups. The definition of genocide in the aforementioned United Nations Convention (1948), which was ratified by the Statute of the International Criminal Court, is as follows:

“Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: a. killing members of the group; b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c. intentionally inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d. measures intended to prevent births within the group; e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (UNITED NATIONS, 1948).

It should be noted that genocide has serious legal implications as it requires the punishment of those responsible, formal recognition of crimes committed with weapons or legal order, and reparation for victims. The Colombian State, as a signatory to these international norms, is obliged to investigate and punish the responsibility for the victimizing acts. Thus it is established in Ruling C-291 of 2007, the Constitutional Court gives the status of jus cogens to the prohibition of genocide. Likewise, Ruling C-488 of 2009 incorporates the 1948 Convention and Article 6 of the Rome Statute into the constitutional bloc.

In this regard, I would only like to underscore the judgment of the Trial Chamber of the Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in the Blagojevic and Jokic case, with respect to the intention to destroy a human group specific to genocide, which establishes that the purpose must be the destruction of the group as a separate and distinct entity. This is not the physical elimination of all its members but rather their disintegration as a community through violence directed against them.

In 1981, UNESCO published the Declaration of San José de Costa Rica on Ethnocide and Ethno-Development in Latin America. In it, it is clearly expressed:

“Ethnocide means that an ethnic group, collectively or individually, is denied its right to enjoy, develop and transmit its own culture and language. This implies an extreme form of massive violation of human rights, particularly the right of ethnic groups to respect for their cultural identity, as established by numerous declarations, covenants and conventions of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, as well as various regional intergovernmental bodies and numerous non-governmental organizations”.

“We declare that ethnocide, i.e., cultural genocide, is a crime under international law as is the genocide condemned by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide since 1948. (Declaration in San José, Costa Rica, December 1981)”.

Genocide kills the bodies of peoples, ethnocide kills them in their spirit.

In both cases, death is undoubtedly involved, in different and complementary forms. According to the above, I believe that what the black, Afro-descendant, Raizal and Palenquero communities have suffered corresponds to ethnic genocide, given the systematic physical violence inflicted on their members and territories, seeking their disappearance as a people. Derived from this physical extermination, they have been victims of an ethnocide that seeks the immaterial and spiritual extermination of the Afro-descendant culture and identity. The facts that corroborate these international crimes abound.

The authorities accept that atrocities were committed, but reject that there was a systematic intent to destroy Afro peoples. They recognize individual Afro-Colombian victims, but deny the link between their victimization and their ethnicity.

To continue to characterize the tragedy of the Afro-Colombian black people as a simple humanitarian crisis is problematic because it refers to an episodic event without those responsible, almost accidental. It makes no mention of sixty-plus years of armed conflict, appearing as a fact, without systematization, a serious error in which the Colombian State continues to incur. The transgressions of the fundamental guarantees enunciated above, of the violation of human rights and crimes against humanity, have not occurred in an isolated and sporadic manner, but on the contrary have been the systematic and continuous practice against Afro communities and peoples.

In Colombia, the process of accumulation through dispossession includes the expropriation of the territories of Afro-Colombian communities, which guides the genocide and ethnocide against these people, given that their appropriation and relationship with the territory is at the same time an essential part of their identity and a denial of the process of expansion of capitalist accumulation. Stopping genocide and ethnocide is about the protection of ethnic peoples, the defense of their territories, their cultures, their institutions, their rules and procedures. Stopping ethnic genocide and ethnocide means putting a stop to the insane extractive economic model.

Territoriality, the right to defend one’s territory, the formation of territory, knowledge associated with health, education, socialization, and the management of rivers, the sea, and the mountains, as well as the social, spiritual, and productive dynamics of Afro-Colombian families, create not only a social fabric, but also a matrix of cultural practices for the well-being of Afro-Colombians, understood as the satisfaction of needs in the use and management of the environment for ethnodevelopment and knowledge of natural resources and their uses. That is why the defense of the territory is fundamental against the de-territorialization and ethnocide, promoted by big capital and the State, which puts at risk the sustainability of the cultural features that define the particularity of the Afros as a people. The territory as the basis of identity and cultural integrity, includes cultural, natural and material dimensions, is the source of life, of physical existence and of Afro-spiritual creation, constitutes our essential core to advance the struggle for self-determination as a people, with autonomy of self-government, as a black nation.

These lines would become endless listing the profuse cases in which this ethnic genocide has been carried out, always raised from the capitalist ambition of accumulation by dispossession to appropriate the African territories according to their projects. It is only worth remembering as an example among so many episodes of violence and dispossession against the Afro people the role of Maderas del Darién- Pizano S.A. in Chocó since the beginning of the last century, the incursion of the oil palm mega-project in Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó, the paramilitary action in the Montes de María, including San Basilio de Palenque, the dispossession of the Afro-Colombian communities in Cesar and La Guajira in benefit of the Drummond coal exploitation, the so-called process of Colombianization and expropriation of the raizales in San Andres and Providencia, the articulation of the port of Buenaventura with the overflow of violence in the city, or the unspeakable theft of the lands of Chambacu in Cartagena.

In the face of this and so many other episodes, Colombia and the world need to know the truth.

It is unethical for a country to seek to overcome armed conflict and structural racism when tributes and apologies are still being paid to the slaveowners, and the architects of the Afro genocide and ethnocide are being kept in impunity and silence. It is no coincidence that the official university of this government honors a slave-driver without this causing great indignation.

From this platform I ask the Special Peace Jurisdiction to open the macro case on ethnic genocide and ethnocide. I also invite participants and direct witnesses of this holocaust against the Afro-Colombian communities to appear before the Truth Commission, CEV. I request that CEV, using its powers, call to account for the truth about ethnic genocide and ethnocide, including Fernando Araújo Perdomo and the Araújo Rumié family, Luis Alberto Moreno, and others involved in the Chambacú de Indias S.A. consortium. We would also like to thank Reinaldo Escobar de la Hoz, Luis Germán Cuartas Carrasco, Víctor Buitrago Sandoval, Álvaro Acevedo González, Víctor Manuel Henríquez Velásquez, Javier Ochoa Velásquez, Juan Diego Trujillo Botero and Jorge Alberto Cadavid Marín, as well as U.S. citizens Dorn Robert Wenninger, John Paul Olivo and Charles Dennis Keiser; all linked to the case by financing Chiquita Brands Colombia to paramilitary groups; Jens Mesa Dishington, president of Fedepalma and Fredy Rendón Herrera, El Alemán, former paramilitary commander of the AUC’s Elmer Cárdenas Bloc; Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, Jorge 40, former paramilitary commander of the Northern Bloc; Juan Carlos Martínez Sinisterra, former senator of the Republic; Maderas del Darién de Pizano S. A. and Jean Claude Bessudo, owner of Aviatur; retired generals Rito Alejo del Río and Publio Hernán Mejía, who appeared before the JEP, as well as the management of Drummond-Prodeco.

Four years after the signing of the Agreement, the Afro people and the victims demand truth and reparation. I await you at the Truth Commission.
Translation by Internationalist 360°