A guest blog by Sheila Gruner
The caravan arrived in Tumaco last night and today the streets filled up for 3-4 hrs with Afrodescendents, Indigenous people, campesinos along with students, urban activists and a host of other allies. Chants of companero Genaro Garcia – Presente! Presente! Presente! rang through the ally ways, entered windows of schools, shops and offices and resonated against graffitied walls with messages for peace and the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict.
There was an entirely cohesive voice as this mass of people, many of whom had only recently met, and perhaps never did get a chance to speak directly, moved through the streets in an act of solidarity and outrage and celebration of a possible new society. It was the voice of those who have suffered such loss themselves and understand the urgency to denounce and to be present in a way that still celebrates life and what has been achieved so far, in the defense of collective well being and the deep ties to land that were referred to throughout the days of the caravan.
Without the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC the march may not have been possible. The police presence was limited, although did trail the caravan and coordinate with the organizers. The some 200-250 people were marshalled by the Guardia Cimarrona and organizers from the Congreso de los Pueblos who left a sense of complete dedication to the task, many being disciplined and dedicated young people who lead and flanked the crowd until it reached its destination in the public space where the culminating political and cultural event took place.
The march itself started at Tumaco’s City Hall and moved through many neighbourhoods, sending a clear message of support for the family and community affected by the loss of Genaro and to make a statement that the invisibility and violent and longstanding silencing of Afrocolombian communities of the Pacific and elsewhere, the attempted erasure of their historical vindications and attacks on social organizations, is deeply unacceptable and can not be tolerated.
It has never been more evident that peace negotiations that involve elements related to issues affecting territories as well as urban communities, such as in the Afrocolombian and Indigenous communities of Narino, Cauca, Choco and up the Pacific coast through the Atlantic and to the interior, can not move ahead without the legitimate representation of Afrodescendent and Indigenous organizational voice.
A lasting end to the conflict can’t be achieved without the right to autonomy and participation being fully implemented, so that those most affected by the violence, imposed by both legal and illegal players, gain the hard fought recognition that they are the legitimate ethical governing force in their ancestral regions.
It is yet a long road. The issues of illegal mining and the drug trade will not easily disappear. Nor the presence of the 7 U.S. military bases in the country aimed at securing multinational and U.S. national and geopolitical interests in the country and broader region. The challenges facing the peace process are present indeed but perhaps more pressing are the implications of the post accord period…for if Guatemala is any indication, the end to the conflict could mean much greater extractive development and new forms of violence within and directed against those communities systematically excluded from any real decisions regarding the processes of wealth production.
The clamour today was how it should be in response to the loss of any and all such committed leaders, activists, peaceful defenders of land and the rights of communities. The violence committed against Genaro Garcia was perpetrated against humanity, and as the Personeria stated public ally today, was a crime of lesser humanity. It was an affront to the collective process and to all who work in defense of human dignity.