Afro-Colombian protesters in Cauca denounce racist intimidation by police and smear campaign in the national media

Cauca protests - declaration
Cauca protests

Afro-Colombian protesters in Cauca denounce racist intimidation by police and smear campaign in the national media

On Friday April 5 (2019), protesters lifted a 27-day peaceful blockade of the Pan American Highway in Colombia. This was done as a good-will gesture in the framework of negotiations between the Colombian government and the indigenous, afro descendent and other popular and social movements that were taking part in a mass protest labelled the Southwestern Minga (collective action) in defence of life, territory, democracy, justice and peace.

Participants in the Minga are calling on the government to comply with commitments made by state officials earlier this year in relation to public resources in the national budget needed to guarantee rights, respect ethnic territories, ensure security for social leaders and human rights defenders, and advance implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreements. Social organizations mobilized peacefully to exercise their constitutional right to protest, after other efforts to persuade the government to fulfill its commitments failed.

Although the highway blockade has been lifted, the Minga continues with protesters occupying the Permanent Assembly, where a few days ago they awaited the President of Colombia, Ivan Duque, to engage in a political debate on April 9. Regrettably, the President did not respect the collective requests of the Minga, and instead requested a private meeting with a few leaders. He did not attend the Minga gathering.[1]

In Cauca, protesters complained that their public protests had been unjustly stigmatized as being infiltrated by terrorist interests in an effort to justify a violent response from the police and illegal armed groups. During the Minga, there were several threats from paramilitary groups against the protesters,10 indigenous deaths, and 88 Mingueros “protesters” wounded. 

Besides the stigmatization of legitimate and peaceful protest, the fact that the protesters were mainly indigenous and afro-descendant has led to racist statements from state officials and the media. 

The Black Communities Process (PCN) and the Palenque of Human Rights, ethnic and cultural integrity, has denounced members of the riot police who arrived in Cauca to harass and threaten mingueros, calling their leaders "resentful blacks," "black faggots," and "cowardly blacks”. At the same time, national and regional media have run a series of stories that have sought to delegitimize the struggles of ethnic minorities, ignoring the historical discrimination they have suffered in Colombia. Some columnists openly pointed to the mingueros as "savages" and "delinquents”.

These discriminatory media messages fail to recognize the important environmental protection work and defence of key water sources made by Colombian indigenous and afro-descendant peoples. Instead, they are portrayed “an obstacle to development”, or as “landowners who have unproductive land” - unaware that most of their land is customarily managed as traditional conserved areas or places for low intensity sustainable use by communities. The media messages seek to delegitimize just protests and propagate a false idea that indigenous peoples pretend to be "above the law", enjoy privileged rights and just "want more", and thus, that they have no legitimate reason to protest.

[1] See  https://youtu.be/rm6JimPpSRw

Cauca protests - declaration
Cauca protests