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  August 22, 2016

Afro-Colombians Place Hope in the Peace Process

After over 50 years of civil war, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas are closer than ever to signing a final peace deal which is supported by much of country's black and indigenous populations
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NARRATOR: After over 50 years of civil war, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas are closer than ever to signing a final peace deal.

But some people in the country support the peace process more than others, mainly the country’s black and indigenous populations – Those who have been the most affected by the decades of fighting.

DARLY POSSU DIAZ (Spanish): The war… more than 60 years in war, us, the only thing we know is violence. And it’s time for these new generations to know peace, to live peacefully, to not have fear.

NARRATOR: The violence has been particularly strong on the Pacific Coast, where Afro-Colombians have been systematically displaced or killed through the ongoing violence.

This includes not only fighting between the government and the FARC, but also paramilitary groups, narco traffickers and local gangs.

The town of Puerto Tejada – like most other towns that surround the city of Cali – has long been in the middle of this fighting.

WEIMAR POSSU DIAZ (Spanish): Look, I’ll tell you something, on the theme of the armed conflict in Puerto Tejada, the paramilitaries arrived here in January of 2002. And between January of 2002 and June of 2006, they killed in over 1,112 youth. That’s a genocide.

DARLY POSSU DIAZ (Spanish): Paramilitaries came to our community, and armed the youth and promised them easy money. And these kids started to kill each other, and then kill anybody that the paramilitaries said ‘him. give it to him.’

NARRATOR: But in addition to violence, residents in Puerto Tejido – which is 98% Afro-Colombian – are also fighting a second battle against immense poverty and lack of state resources.

Social inequality has long been an issue in Colombia, which is one of the most unequal countries in the world, according to the World Bank.

Afro-Colombian communities have poverty rates over 50%, even though the national average is 8.1%, according to UN numbers. These communities also have limited or no access to schools and hospitals.

DARLY POSSU DIAZ (Spanish): So, they left us with this conflict, and we see that we’re alone. Cause there is no (social) investment, there’s no investment.

NARRATOR: In Puerto Tejada, this problem was amplified after large agribusiness converted thousands of acres of surrounding land into sugar cane fields, which has largely killed the once rich soil. Local factories have also contributed to polluting and depleting the local river, the town’s main source of water and fishing.

MARIA ALEXANDRA CASTILLO DIAZ (Spanish): The river used to be up to the top. And then the contamination and the drought started to happen, and then this undergrowth appeared and the river stayed low and dry. But in reality, the flow of the river was huge, it covered practically all of this area.

A canyon. Unfortunately, now it’s a canyon.

DARLY POSSU DIAZ (Spanish): Now, the people who fished in that river don’t fish anymore. And from there, many people would feed themselves. So, what does this generate? More hunger, more injustice, more violence, and it also creates displacement.

NARRATOR: But people in this region are also some of the biggest advocates for the peace process.

A final peace deal could reduce the violence in the region, but it could also force the government to invest in rural development projects and alleviate poverty in the countryside. This was the first point that the two sides agreed to in the peace negotiations, which started over 4 years ago.

DARLY POSSU DIAZ (Spanish): So, as the peace process approaches, which is hanging over our heads, we need to know what is going to come beyond the peace process? And what will happen to our communities?

NARRATOR: Several communities have recently been organizing and preparing how to make sure the government stays true to its commitments.

Just north of Puerto Tejada, Afro-Colombian women from all over the region meet twice a month to learn about human rights, and the details of the peace process. They also learn how to be more politically active in a system that they say has historically ignored them.

SPEAKER (Spanish): As black people, we still carry with us the stigma from slavery. And us now, that’s exactly why we’re doing this human rights course, because we want to empower ourselves, to know our rights and enforce them.

NARRATOR: The classes have been organized by Dr. Javier Fayad, a human rights professor at the Universidad del Valle in Cali.

The classes started after the government and the FARC guerrillas agreed in June to a bilateral ceasefire, which many have called the beginning of the end of the war.

The ceasefire will be implemented after a final peace deal is signed, and Colombian’s decide to accept it through a national vote – both of which are expected to happen in the next months.

The move could finally bring the country one step closer to peace, which many generations of Colombians have never known.




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