Strengthening Mechanisms of Protection in Buenaventura

Mar 9, 2023 | Displacement and Land Issues, News

Workshop with the AINI Women’s Association in the Naya river

In February, we visited our accompanied communities in Colombia’s Pacific region to start a collective process to analyze and identify vulnerabilities, capacities and strategies of resistance and defense in order to strengthen mechanisms of protection and self-protection.

We held the first workshops with the AINI Women’s Association in the Naya River between the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca, with the indigenous communities of Valledupar and Santa Rosa de Guayacán from the Calima and San Juan river and with the LGBTQIA+ community of Buenaventura.

During these visits we were accompanied by Kati, former FORPP accompanier, former board member and now co-investigator in this participatory research.

The indigenous communities of Valledupar and Santa Rosa de Guayacán have been displaced for more than 1 year now. We also visited these communities during the humanitarian caravan that took place in January, as part of the agreement reached between the ELN rebels and the government to generate immediate humanitarian relief. Today, there are still no clarities about how these humanitarian reliefs will look like and the communities insist in the urgency of the implementation of a humanitarian corridor to guarantee their social, cultural and human rights instead of focusing only on humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian Caravan

The third week of January, delegates from the government and ELN (National Liberation Army – currently the largest Guerrilla in Colombia) spent five days visiting the communities of Bajo Calima and Medio San Juan in the Pacific region, areas where the humanitarian relief pilots – agreed during the first round of the peace dialogue – will be carried out. We accompanied the communities during the peace caravan.

Many of the communities visited are also accompanied by FORPP, including the indigenous community of Santa Rosa de Guayacán, forcibly displaced since November 2021. From the shore of the Calima River, as we approach, Santa Rosa de Guayacán appears like any other town in the jungles of the Pacific. But it is enough to stop for a moment by the wharf to understand that this is a ghost town: there are no dogs barking or roosters crowing, nor do children run out to greet visitors, nor are there clothes drying in the sun on the windows. Santa Rosa de Guayacán is a dead town or, better, it is a town from which life has withdrawn. The houses, which have already begun to lose some of the zinc roof tiles torn off by the wind, have been empty for a year and two months, since the fighting between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gaitanist Self Defense Forces (AGC) forced the 28 Wounaan indigenous families to flee to Buenaventura. Like this one, there are many other communities on the Calima River.

The displacement to temporary urban shelters, says the community, is one of the most painful dramas for the Wounaan people: their children grow up far from the river, some have never seen it. The territory, that concept that encompasses the life, history and beliefs of these communities, has been replaced by the shelter, an unfamiliar and strange place where survival depends on charity, donations or humanitarian aid from agencies and governmental institutions.

The Humanitarian Caravan, part of the agreement reached last December between the ELN and the Government to generate “immediate humanitarian relief”, followed the route of these shelters throughout one of the regions most affected by the confrontation.

The caravan is the first concrete gesture since talks with the ELN began on November 21, 2022. It is also the first time that a mission took place with delegates from the negotiating table to document the human rights situation and advance in a partial agreement on relief in the region.

During the mission, conversations with local communities resulted in several concrete requests, which will be presented at the next round of peace talks that will begin this month in Mexico:

“We want the territory free of armed groups, both illegal and legal, because both have affected our rights,”

one of the community leaders said, and added:

“We want a territory with holistic non-armed security, basic services such as health and education, effective participation during the peace negotiations as victims of the conflict and a permanent accompaniment in the territory”.

During the workshops, community elders expressed their concerns about children growing up far from the river due to forced displacement, causing a disconnect between traditions, culture and territory, and younger generations. For these territories, it is precisely their connection to the river that reinforces ties to community history and solidifies beliefs about life. Forced displacement, however, has replaced homes with urban shelters, and traditional foods with humanitarian aid kits.

You can read more about this reserach here.