by Amira Armenta
In Colombia there are many regions where poverty and the absence, or weak presence, of the state has facilitated the emergence of violence by armed groups. Among these are the Afro-Colombian communities of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó in the Urabá region
The Urabá is located in the Northwest of Colombia, near the border with Panama. It is a region of great biodiversity, rich in minerals, oil, water, and timber, amongst other natural resources. Urabá is also one of the regions with the highest poverty rates, and lowest rates of schooling in the country. The region is inhabited by many indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, who are the traditional owners of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land. Collective ownership of these territories is supported by Colombian Law 70 of 1993.
With the rise of drug trafficking in the country in the 80s, the region became a point of export of illegal narcotic drugs. At the same time, the illegal import of weapons soared to meet the growing demand of Colombian armed groups. Various increasingly powerful criminal groups (known as ‘paramilitaries’) began to invest money earned from their illegal activities in profitable lawful sectors such as the agribusiness – palm oil, bananas and cattle. In a few years Urabá went from being a marginal and sparsely populated region to a place where settlers converged, and multinational corporations and armed groups of all stripes were vying for control of territory and a stake in the business.
In this context, poor rural communities such as bold”>Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó were sucked into the violence unleashed between the different armed groups. As the collective ownership of land was an obstacle to the economic interests of the new sectors (farmers and landowners whose funds often had an illicit origin), these groups used threats and harassment to banish the native people and appropriate their land. This violence and banishment was possible given the state of marginalization of the population, totally unprotected by the central government. Large palm oil plantations installed since then in the area have been financed largely with the laundered drug money. They use land violently obtained by the forced displacement.
Since the 1990s, the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó communities have specifically been the target of violence and subsequent displacement. They have lost their few belongings and have helplessly seen the powerful economic groups systematically seize their land.
The Colombian government has recently begun a process of returning land to the inhabitants of the river basins of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó and reparation for victims of violence. The move is encouraging, but it might not be enough to solve the problems. The history of violence can repeat itself any moment, as long as the causes that led to the banishment and violence are not addressed and those responsible are not punished. Standards of justice must apply, not just to those still operating outside the law, but also to those who now operate legally but whose past is murky.
Whilst the Colombian government fails to fully develop social development programs (including education, health and infrastructure) and sustainable economic development policies to assist marginalised communities, the people of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó will remain poor, uneducated, vulnerable, and at risk of lose their territories once again.
Amira Armenta is a Researcher with the Drugs & Democracy Programme of the Transnational Institute (TNI), with a particular focus on Colombia.
Image source: Yuliam Gutierrez
Some Useful References
Murder in Curvaradó: http://www.cipcol.org/?p=682 Bajo Atrato
UNHCR on the situation of Colombian Afro Descendants: http://www.acnur.org/t3/fileadmin/scripts/doc.php?file=t3/fileadmin/Documentos/RefugiadosAmericas/Colombia/EN/Colombia_Situation_-_2011_International_Year_of_Afrodescendants
Alternative Developments, Economic Interests and Paramilitaries in Uraba : http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/brief27fin.pdf
El caso de Jiguamiandó y Curvaradó: http://www.lasillavacia.com/historia-invitado/22660/yamile-salinas-abdala/el-caso-de-jiguamiando-y-curvarado-estrategia-criminal
Coca y violencia en el Chocó BiogeográficoL: http://www.tni.org/es/archives/archives_armenta_cocachoco
Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – Jiguamiandó y Curvaradó: http://justiciaypazcolombia.com/-Consejo-comunitario-de-Jiguamiando-
Las tierra de Curvaradó de nuevo invadidas – Verdad Abierta : http://www.verdadabierta.com/paraeconomia/tierras/2944-las-tierras-de-curvarado-de-nuevo-invadidas
Bajo Atrato se resiste a la violencia y a la pobreza: http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/B/bajo_atrato_se_resiste_a_la_violencia_y_a_la_pobreza/bajo_atrato_se_resiste_a_la_violencia_y_a_la_pobreza.asp