Sheila Gruner is in Colombia marching with the Caravan for Peace “Genaro Garcia”. The following is a guest blog about the march.
A Caravan for Genaro – guest blog by Sheila Gruner
The Caravan for Peace to Tumaco “Genaro Garcia” is currently underway, starting in La Maria Piendamo, to Popayan, Pasto and on to Tumaco, engaged in diverse actions and expressions of solidarity with the family, community and Afrodescendent movement of slain activist and leader Garcia.
Genaro Garcia was a tireless human rights defender, working on behalf of displaced people and the Black communities of the South Pacific coast in Colombia. The legal representative of the AfroColombian community council “Alto Mira and Fronteras”, Genaro defended the territorial and political rights of his community, including the rights to autonomy and self determination and to live free from the impositions of external armed groups vying for control of his region. He was highly recognized at the national level as well as by international organizations (link to IAHRC article).
I met Genaro at an encounter organized by the Black Communities process (PCN) and the Indigenous Authorities Gobierno Mayor in December 2014, a meeting aimed at developing a collective inter-ethnic position regarding the effects of the peace process and how to ensure the rights and well being of Afrodescendent and Indigenous people are not undermined in the process – but rather maintained and strengthened.
There were so many problems identified at the encounter: threats and violence against leaders like Genaro, lack of adequate protection for them and their families and communities, as well as many unfulfilled government promises, underfunded local governments, poverty, illegal mining, megaprojects, land mines, narco industry, to name a few. This is mixed with the ongoing presence of paramitaries, and ‘bacrim’, guerrilla, the army …with communities caught in the middle, stifled, pressured and silenced. During that meeting there was an accident at one of the illegal mines nearby, where the injured were swept away to the hospital and forced to state they were in a car accident. It highlighted the complicated situation when stating the facts of such events is considered a threat to powerful and invisible players that make their wealth off of the silencing of truth.
Genaro was assassinated on August 3, 2015 within the complex context where the war continues to play out in the ethnoterritorial (Afrodescendent and Indigenous) regions, territories that stand to be deeply affected by the peace negotiations in Havana. The local unit of the Farc in his region carried out a terrible and cowardly act against this leader, despite the Farc having declared Unilateral Ceasefire as part of the talks. He was shot in the head and legs, after they demanded he drop to the ground with his hands behind his head. He had been threatened previously and was under state protection. His only real weapons and defense up to that point were his words, his commitment to his people, the ethical and moral higher ground and organizational capacity of the movement he belonged to – in face of the ongoing violent victimization of groups vying for territorial control, control of the drug trade and the resource wealth in the region.
The FARC eventually recognized responsibility for this terrible “error” (link to statement) that would be dealt with, although it is to be seen what kind of sanction or action will result. This violent loss was felt deeply throughout the AfroColombian movement and in agrarian and ethnic sectors that face similar violence against social leaders for their organizational capacity, effectiveness and rights gained over numerous years of legal, political and social struggle.
Leaders like Genaro are viewed as obstacles, often by paramilitaries and groups aligned with state and business interests, to control over capital and illegal productive processes that wreak havoc on people and the environment but are highly lucrative (drugs, mining, etc). These interests continue to play out in the context of the peace negotiations. Who will be the ones to effectively win in the territorial battle over the lucrative geostrategic stakes along the Pacific coast?
The fear is that despite rights gained in the Constitution of 1991 to define and be consulted on development, Afrodescendent communities will see an increase, against their will, of megaproyects and other aggressive legal and illegal forms of capitalist production that will benefit others to the detriment of their own people.
The Caravan “Genaro Garcia” is made up of some of the 2000 Social and political organization members including indigenous people, Afrodescendents, campesinos, students, youth,women, and urban activists who met in La Maria on August 28-30. Some of the Main organizations include the PCN (Black Communities Process), the Anafro, the congreso de los pueblos- Cumbria agraria campesina y popular, various community councils and the Cimmarona Guard (link to description) who are accompanying the caravan. The decision at the La maria event was to have a diverse group of people and movements to accompany the community of Tumaco and Garcia’s family at this critical period, and to join efforts at a critical time in the peace negotiations in Havana where a scant month or so remains in the current unilateral ceasefire process. The question is whether the brutal taking of the life of a Black activist counts in the so-called ceasefire and if it does, will it lead to concrete steps forward in the establishment of an Interethnic and social commission as part of the peace negotiations themselves.
While negotiations of armed conflict involve the deescalation and ending of violent actions between those wielding armed power (guerrillas and the colombian state in this case) as the territories of ethnoterritorial groups are key elements of the content of negotiations (among many other elements) such a commission is necessary.
As the caravan moves towards Tumaco these questions will continue to be raised, actions planned, spirit shared and the voices of those most affected by such violence will not remain silent despite the deeply chilling loss of Genaro Garcia.