Black Women's Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories Update on Suspended Negotiations
Towards the end of 2013 and throughout 2014, Black and Indigenous communities in the State of Cauca, attempted to remove hundreds of illegal excavators from their territories. These excavators invaded ancestral territories with the illegal compliance of military checkpoints, without the corresponding checks from fuel distributors, and without any environmental control for the massive quantities of Cyanide and Mercury used to process the stolen gold deposits.
The situation is so grave that the National Ombudsman’s office and the Governor of Cauca have declared a state of environmental emergency. Nonetheless, this declaration has not translated to integral responses to the crisis from the National Government. Instead, it has led to increased threats and displacements for communities leaders, including their daughters, sons, and parents.
Today, there are over 2,000 excavators destroying the Ovejas, Quinamayo, Palo, Timba and Cauca Rivers. The waters of the rivers are dying. We can no longer eat from the river. We can no longer bathe in its waters, wash our clothes, much less cook. We can already see the health effects on the skin of those who continue to bathe in it, and on the reproductive capacity of the women who once used to make their livelihoods from the ancestral gold mining.
In this context, we appealed to the Ombudsman’s office, the Governor, the Department of Justice, and human rights organizations, and there has been no response that would lead to a real change in the conditions in which we are obliged to live.
Our demands were the following:
Repeal of the mining titles awarded without Prior Consultation of the communitie
An end to the illegal mining operations
Enforcement of previous agreements
Popayan-Incoder Accords of 2013
Tragedy at San Antonio Mine accords of 2014
Constitutional Court Order 005 of 2009
Integral Protection Plan for Communities and Community Leaders
On November 17th, we embarked on a March from the community of Yolombó, in La Toma, Suarez and arrived in Bogota until December 11th. We walked with fear, but we were met by other women from Cali, Palmira, Tuluá, Buga, Armenia, and Cajamarca. In Bogota, the government officials offered us the best hotels and conditions, but they do not extend the same will in our territories. We had an audience with the Constitutional Court, and later declared ourselves to be in Permanent Assembly in response to the lack of valid answers from the National Government.
We recognize that this is the face of racism. Why hasn’t the Constitutional Court held the National Government in contempt in light of government refusal to adhere to court rulings? Why hasn’t the Ministry of Interior and other institutions denounced, much less started investigations of, the public officials who should be working to guarantee the agreements and court rulings?
Following four months of government officials showing up to meetings unprepared and without integral responses, the only thing that has changed is the level of danger; the scale of destruction of the possibilities of life in our territories; and the ensuing displacement. The government’s response is to attempt to impose protection measures without listening to our concerns and proposals.
While we occupied the Ministry of Interior, the guarantors reassured us that they would be following the process to ensure that the accords would be implemented. However, the guarantors themselves have not been given notice of meetings, and have had to file freedom of information requests in order to be able to ascertain the government’s action or lack thereof.
As a result, the Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories has suspended negotiations with the National Government. We will seek alliances with national and international organizations to increase political pressure on the government and to assist our struggle to remain and thrive in our territories.
The Situation That Eats Away at Me By Francia Marquez - Spokeswoman for the Black Women's Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories.
I am an Afro-Colombian woman. I was born in one of the mountains of the province of Cauca, one of the worst hit by the war in this country.My ancestors were enslaved in order to mine and farm for the Spanish crown, which to this very day maintains its reign.
For many years we have lived with our campesino and indigenous brothers and sisters, without conflict; nonetheless, this systematic war has always beaten us down.First there was colonization, the so-called “conquest”, which was nothing but the pillage of the wealth of these lands.
Then there was also a so-called “independence”, but in reality it was only the dividing of spoils left behind by the Spaniards. That is to say, it was a distribution of spoils amongst the heirs of the Spanish crown, which in this country added up to no more than 10 families, the same ones that still control this country today, and who benefit from the war.
Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself:“Do the lives of Afro-descendant, indigenous, and campesino communities matter for this country?”
Like many other women, young and old, as well as men and hundreds of thousands of families, a few months ago I had to flee my home because my two sons and I were declared military targets by armed groups.My sons had to leave their studies, as well as their classmates with whom they grew up, learned to fish, to swim, to work the land, and to mine [gold], among so many other things.
We have had to endure all of this because of our love for our land, our love for seeing a plantain tree blossom, of enjoying a sunny day for fishing, to have our families nearby; because we have defended our right to remain in the place where we grew up and we don’t want to leave because this land is of our grandmothers and grandfathers, and it can also be of our granddaughters and grandsons.Our land is a place to dream of a dignified future.But we had to secretly flee, even though we owed nothing to anyone, simply because we dared speak up against the daily abuse that we black, indigenous, and campesino communities of the Norte del Cauca endure due to the economic interests in our territories.Armed groups declared us military targets, and that’s why we had to abandon the organic plantain, sugarcane, and greens that we sowed.They have all dried up now, that effort has died; I had felt proud of it, because together with my sons and my partner we were showing the community that we could live a peaceful life in our land, growing our own food.
Maybe that’s why they persecute us, because we want an autonomous life rather than a dependent one; because we want a life where we don’t have to beg, where we don’t have to be victims.
And now I have been displaced, and I seem to have lost my way, and more so knowing that that going back will not be easy, more so given this absurd war, which began not 60 but 400 years ago, and that for all our efforts, will continue filling our rivers with blood, with the blood of those of us who have been kept down.
When we arrived in this concrete jungle, my sons were amazed and exclaimed, “NOOOO! Mami, that plantain costs one thousand pesos! That is too expensive!”Because they know that when we were on our land, eating a plantain was free, at least in monetary terms, and if a neighbor had plantain, he would give us some, even a whole bunch if he had it.
The day before yesterday I felt profoundly frustrated.I couldn’t sleep at night, I kept thinking: What can we do to stop the war?What more must we endure?I wonder how the people who live in the highlands of my mountain are doing?
I mourned for the death of the soldiers, because unfortunately they are our brothers, or cousins or nephews who couldn’t go to college or get a job and whose only choice is to go fight a war that is not theirs, and who don’t even know their own origins.Many call it defending the homeland, but I ask myself, “what homeland?”Whose homeland are they talking about if since slavery until today the same 10 families who think themselves heir to the Spanish crown have held the economic power of this country and have shown no regard for our lives?They have called us savages, slaves, uncivilized, minorities, hillbillies… and all of that has helped justify their war.
This is why all day yesterday we heard about the patriotic heroes on the media, who in reality are campesinos being used to guard the economic interests of those 10 families.Many people are saying, with a deep, deep hate emanating from their hearts, “Mr. President, you must order bombardments [against the FARC].”
But I think it’s very irresponsible to demand that those territories be bombarded; those territories are not empty.Little boys, little girls, women, elderly folk, young folk, and families live there, all of them people who have nothing to do with this absurd war.But of course the people who [call for bombardments] live in the cities and they have never been caught in crossfire; they have no idea what it’s like to have helicopters shooting rounds above your house.They are people who don’t know what it’s like to go to your farm to do your weeding and feel your plow pulling on the chord of a landmine that had been buried there and that will end up blowing your life into pieces, just like happened last year to a campesino in Alsacia.They are people who don’t know what it’s like to live in an area without electricity, without drinking water, without phone lines, and constantly be confined.Those are the people who say, “Mr. President, you must order the bombardments.”
War is war, no matter where it comes from.We should be demanding real peace in our territories.Cauca has been hit hard by the violence, sometimes by the FARC, sometimes by paramilitaries, sometimes by the state, and no one cares.No one has stopped long enough to realize that we blacks, indigenous, and campesinos end up paying the price.
There will be no peace with institutional corruption and forced displacement; there will be no peace with death threats to communities and their leaders;there will be no peace with bombardments in our territories; there will be no peace with large-scale gold mining. The engines of development only generate misery, hunger, pollution, war, and death.There will be no peace with the media providing dis-information.And having the largest jail in Latin America, in Jamundí, will also not bring peace.
Peace means respect for life and for the ancestral territories of the Afro-descendant, indigenous, and campesino communities.It means that Colombia has the largest university in Latin America where students are not kicked out of classrooms when they can’t afford to pay tuition.Peace means that in Bogotá and in all of Colombia we won’t be killed for being black or indigenous.Peace means that our politicians do not steal the funds from the health care system, that women’s rights are respected, and that we are not tortured and sexually abused.It means autonomy, and respect for difference and for ancestral knowledge.It means a transformation of the development model which, at the end of the day, is the cause of so much war, not only in Colombia but across the world.
 Subsistence or small-scale farmers, typically of mixed ancestry.
 Northern region of the Cauca province in southwest Colombia.
 On April 15, 10 soldiers were killed in what was reported to be an attack by the FARC guerrillas, apparently breaking a unilateral ceasefire (from launching offensive attacks) as part of on-going peace negotiations. See more here: http://colombiareports.co/10-soldiers-killed-in-southwest-colombia-farc-attack/
Black Women's Movement Suspends Negotiations with Colombian Government
Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories
Suspended: Negotiations between the Black Women’s Movement and Colombian Government
April 24th, 2015
To the women who defend their territories like they defend their daughters and sons
To those who defend a Dignified, Simple, Unified Life.
We are angry, we feel tired, groped by this Government that does not honor its word. By this National Government that disrespects us and treats us like second-class people, like beggars. We are angry at a National Government that parades the discourse of Peace, and forgets that there is no Peace if it is incapable of defending Life, if it fails to put Life above transnational interests. True Peace would mean that last year’s deaths at the San Antonio mine, and the following ones in Santa Rita, Rosal and Magui Payan, truly matter. But the lives of those of us who live in community don’t matter. It would seem that our lives are a too high a risk, and are highly appraised in stock market; the less we live, the higher the profits for a few here and there. In light of the failures of the National Government to honor its agreements, we, the black women who approached the government with concrete, actionable proposals, have come to realize that the National Government does not want to accomplish our proposals. We know, therefore, that we are only valuable if we are dead.
People from all over the world know that in November of last year Black Women – ancestral miners from Northern Cauca – embarked on a mobilization to share the path leads to the defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories. We mobilized to tell the world that unconstitutional mining and illegal mining is taking our families away, that it is tearing out our roots, stealing the possibilities of continuing to live where our elders planted our placentas.
People from all over the world know that we walked to Bogota, and that we occupied the Ministry of Interior’s Casa de la Giralda. Millions throughout the world know that we were asking why economic interests are above our rights and why there is greater investment and protection of private interests than our lives.
The Government’s failures are systemic, the agreements are simple. Do you remember? First: That the Government cease all illegal and unconstitutional mining in the State of Cauca. To this day, the illegal excavators have not left Cauca. On the contrary, now they have moved on to other river basins, such as the Palo River in Guachené. They have told us that we would have to go to Court if we want to suspend the mining titles awarded without Free, Informed, Prior Consultation. Second: That the government honor past agreements it had failed to resolve such as the Popayan-Incoder Accords of 2013; the Santander de Quilichao Accords of May 7th, 2014; and the agreements of the Black Women’s Mobilization in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories. Key among these accords was the Government’s implementation of the Constitutional Court’s Auto 005 of 2009. Between January 21st and January 23rd, our communities assembled in Santander de Quilichao and created a plan of implementation. However, according to the National Government, there is no State budget for that plan; there are no resources to defend Life, and there is no political will. There is however, a budget and the political will to implement its war against our territories.
The situation with the Integrative Attention Plan is the same. We created proposals by coming together through a lot of hardship. We created proposals that have not been read, and much responded to by the National Government. The Plan includes proposals for the legal study of the sociocultural and socioeconomic damages caused by gold mining. Instead, they send us a clear message that we have to get used to the idea of living with concern of not knowing how to deal with nor how to repair the poisoning of our rivers with cyanide and mercury. The waters we are currently drinking, the waters in which we bathe, cook our meals and wash our clothes. The waters full of mercury and cyanide pumping through our veins.
In regards to the Integral Protection Plan, the response has been the same as before: there is no budget. They have gone so far as to say that we are making up the death threats we have received.
It’s more than 4 months of Government failure to implement the accords; its years and years of delay that the government fails to push forward. We ask ourselves, Why so much resistance to our proposals? Why doesn’t the desire and will that the government talks so much about manifest itself in our territories and in our lives? Our reality is that now we live constantly on edge and in fear for hour daughters and our sons, for our mothers, our fathers, our sisters and our brothers.
We have had 6 meetings with Government officials since signed the last accords. We’ve left our families and other responsibilities behind because we believe in the words that committed of Minister of Interior Fernando Cristo, and the other vice-ministers in the Ministry of Mining, Ministry of the Environment, Defense, and Vice Minister of Interior for Human Rights Carmen Ines Vasquez. Vice-Minister Carmen Ines Vasquez fails to assume her responsibility to uphold our rights as Black Peoples, but is happy to go to the United States to talk in about Colombia’s supposed campaign against racism in the context of the UN’s Decade of Afro-descendants. We ask ourselves “Isn’t the refusal of State institutions to protect us from the systemic violation of our rights as Black Communities racism?
These meetings are usually called and typically delayed from one day to the next. The Government attends without being prepared, without the proper context of the mobilization and its agreement, without integral responses to our proposals. To us, this demonstrates a clear lack of interest, and political will. As such, we have called on the various guarantors to oversee this ongoing process.
The National Government presents its endless foot-dragging as progress, while the situation for our communities gets worse. We declare that progress would be to live the changes that would allow us to regain the life of our territories. That is why we get up, fed up of so many lies. We will only return to the negotiating table when the Minister of Interior, de Vice Ministers of the Environment, Mining, Defense, and Justice – the latter of whom agreed to advance the investigations regarding the violation of our rights, including death threats and forced displacements – give us real answers to the concrete changes in regards to their duties to guarantee our rights, the reason our mobilization.
We are well aware that the government’s disrespectful treatment of our negotiations is also its response to many people throughout the national territory.
It seems that the Country’s plan is a future without Black Communities, without Indigenous Communities, without Peasant Communities, without Grassroots Communities. It seems that the Country’s plan is to use us as a pretext in their business deals, so long as we remain in misery.
That is why it is up to us to create the present that we desire. For that reason we should organize ourselves and mobilize together. Every organization: unions, students, environmental, women, indigenous communities, black communities, peasant communities, teachers, and every person that loves and defends Life. We must construct the possibility of Real Peace. That is only possible by generating the transformations that allow a dignified Life for everyone. Real Peace is possible if we do not allow death to be the price of the rampant, seemingly untouchable mining interests.
TERRITORY IS LIFE AND LIFE IS NOT FOR SALE, LIFE IS TO BE LOVED AND DEFENDED!
Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories Marches For Peaces
April 9th 2015
On Thursday, April 9th, Colombian Society mobilized to support the ongoing Peace Talks between the Colombian State and the FARC Guerrilla’ s taking place in Cuba. The Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and Ancestral Territories and other Black Organizations participated in marches throughout the nation. These are their words:
The Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories march to demand Peace in Colombia.
Their voices say that it is not possible to achieve Peace with the displacement of Black, Indigenous, and Peasant communities.
That it is not possible to achieve peace with the ongoing death threats to community leaders, the destruction of the territory through illegal and criminal mining.
That it is not possible to achieve peace while awarding unconstitutional mining titles, with torture sites in Buenaventura, with forced disappearances, with the racist and exclusionary practices of public employees and politicians.
Their voices say that it is not possible to advance true and lasting peace with engines of development that only generate violence, misery, poverty and destruction.