Eight United States lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in which they say that ongoing Afro-Colombian rights abuses show that “Colombia is not in full compliance” with human rights policies required to receive US military aid.
In the letter, coordinated by House Representative Hank Johnson’s office and signed by seven other members of Congress, the US politicians expressed “grave concern” over the human rights situation in cities on the Pacific coast, where the majority of inhabitants are Afro-Colombians.
Tumaco and Buenaventura crises
“We are of the opinion that immediate action should be taken to stop the human rights crises in Tumaco and Buenaventura, including by taking all steps to stop the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable,” the letter states.
Noting that more than 80% of the inhabitants of Buenaventura are Afro-Colombians, the letter mentions the crimes committed by paramilitary successor groups include the dismembering of victims in “chop-up houses” and sexual violence against women and girls. More than 30,000 residents of that city were displaced last year, the letter also notes.
Congressmen who signed the letter
The representatives mention the widespread abuses committed by neo-paramilitaries and the FARC rebels in the majority Afro-Colombian city of Tumaco group, where “impunity is the norm.” They note just seven convictions have been obtained in the 1,300 homicides cases that have occurred since 2009.
The letter reminds the US Secretary of State that a “portion of US military aid to Colombia is conditioned on the government’s respect for Afro-Colombian communities’ rights.”
Based on what they say are “credible” reports from groups like Human Rights Watch and other organizations, the Colombian government is “failing to protect” those rights and thus “conclude that Colombia is not in full compliance with these policies.”
“We urge you to ensure the Colombian government is meeting the conditions to receive US military aid by closely monitoring the situation in Buenaventura and Tumaco,” the letter concludes.
“One of the most violent places in Colombia”
The longstanding human rights crisis in Buenaventura has been fomenting in the city for years.
The port-city lies on Colombia’s Pacific coast and has been the stage of an increasingly aggressive turf war between criminal gangs fighting for control of illegal drug trafficking routes.
The country’s two largest neoparamilitary groups, Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos — the latter working through its local “La Empresa” offshoot — have been fighting for control of Buenaventura’s increasingly profitable drug trade since just after the demobilization of Colombia’s AUC paramilitary bloc in 2006.
The two criminal organizations, which incorporate elements from the AUC and Colombia’s more traditional cartels, move drugs from cultivation areas to the port by river and, from there, ship them to Central American smugglers and to the growing Asian market.
In April this year Human Rights Watch (HRW) held a special briefing for US Congress members to discuss the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura, which they refered to as “one of the most violent places in Colombia.”
Here the director of HRW had asked congress members to ensure that US aid to Colombia is dependent on the Colombian government’s protection of human rights for the citizens of Buenaventura.
The United State government has provided billions of dollars in military aid since 1999, most of it through a program known as Plan Colombia. This stated purpose of this aid was to suppot the Colombia government’s fight against drug trafficking and armed rebel groups like the FARC and ELN.
As the conflict has lowered in intensity, aid has slowly diminished, though hundreds of millions of dollars in military and police aid are still provided every year, according to Security Assistance Monitor.
- Congressional letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry
- Colombia (Security Assitance Monitor)