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Despite Cease-Fire, We Keep Dying: Afro-Colombian Activist

An activist for the progressive political movement Marcha Patriotica, Hector Marino Carabali from the Cauca province, went to Havana as part of a delegation of victims representing Afro-descendant communities that have been heavily affected by forced displacements, evictions, torture and murders related to the armed conflict.
“We did not expect at all the result of the plebiscite to be 'No',” admitted the activist from the progressive political movement Patriotic March, although he expressed optimism for the future of the country. The result was a "wake-up call" for the people of Colombia, he believed, as many have taken to the streets demanding peace since the vote.

He highlighted the role of former President Alvaro Uribe in the "No" win, as the right-wing senator led a “dirty” campaign against peace, sending "messages of confusion in the media," said Carabali, and avoiding as much as possible a concrete explanation of the points of the agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian government.

However, the peace deal represents a great step back for the rights of Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities, he warned, and for all Colombians. For instance, the peace deal included an agrarian reform allowing the “democratization of rural areas,” but the rebels also committed to respecting the principle of private property, he explained, and the peace agreement signed on Sept. 24 also made huge progress towards addressing inequality in the country.

“The peace deal eventually included the reaffirmation that the Colombian state must guarantee the principle of prior consultation before any development project liable to affect the survival or culture of ethnic people,” he added, referring to both the indigenous and Afro-descendent communities.
Hector Marino Carabali
Hector Marino Carabali from the Cauca province, went to Havana as part of a delegation of victims representing Afro-descendant communities that have been heavily affected by forced displacements, evictions, torture and murders related to the armed conflict.

Colombia has already signed the Convention C169 of the International Labor Organization that guarantees that right. However, Carabali pointed out that it was not well applied, hence the need to include that right during the implementation of the peace deal. Extractivist projects, including mining and oil exploitation, have been a major issue all along the Pacific provinces of Colombia.

Carabali admitted that despite common demands to protect their lands and cultures, the indigenous and Afro-descendent movements could have been better organized in order to push for reforms together, but different cultures and trajectories did not let both movements unite as much as he would have wished.

The agreement negotiated in Cuba also radically changed the way the international community supported peace, instead of war, as Carabali referred particularly to the role of the U.S. in funding Colombia's security forces for decades through the infamous Plan Colombia, which has been responsible for thousands of displacements and assassinations across the country. The international funds would have been directly assigned to mitigate social issues in communities under the agreement.

However, some conservative sectors have directly or indirectly benefited from the armed conflict over the decades, and have no interest in signing peace with the rebels, deplored Carabali.

In his opinion, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos is also largely responsible for the result of the plebiscite. “The government had committed to start a pedagogic campaign teaching peace in communities but never fulfilled this promise”—a factor that largely explains the high rates of abstention in rural towns, he added.

“The government was not required to have the peace deal approved via plebiscite, as the constitution guarantees Colombian people's right to peace.”

But in the end, “these are our sons who are sent to fill the ranks of military service, to the FARC-EP, this war has been an absurdity,” said the Afro-Colombian leader.

He also criticized the Colombian state for failing to protect its citizens, as the murders and death threats to campesinos leaders have not stopped since the bilateral cease-fire, “the rebels and the army stopped fighting, and yet our activists keep dying.” He denounced the resurgence of paramilitary groups in the areas where the FARC-EP demobilized and the numerous leaflets and graffiti with death threats that keep emerging in rural towns in the Cauca province.

“We will keep struggling for peace, including with the ELN,” he concluded optimistically, referring to the second guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, which is about to open formal negotiations with the government in the Ecuadorean capital.

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