Afro-Colombians at a demonstration in Colombia

In Colombia, Black Lives Also Matter!

Gruesome reports have emerged of systematic repression in various cities in Colombia since the April 28 call for a national strike to protest U.S.-ordered neoliberal changes in the Colombian tax system. In response to the strike, the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD, or Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron)—the Colombian riot police—and regular police units have been beating, shooting, tear gassing and murdering people across the country.

For the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP), it is important that as the public is just becoming aware of the situation in Colombia, they understand two elements. First, the context of the strike in Colombia had been shaped by decades of right-wing government actions in the forms of vicious state wars against the people using paramilitary structures and death squads, all in service of the national and comprador Colombian bourgeoisie and their capitalist masters in the United States and Europe. And secondly, along with Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians have disproportionately suffered during the 60-year-long armed conflict and paramilitary terror in Black-held territories.

This last point is particularly important as the Colombian conflict is being reported in the corporate press in ways that have almost erased the reality of Black Colombia, the third-largest group of African people outside of Africa after Brazil and the United States.

The violence unleashed by ESMAD has taken place where large numbers of Afro-Colombians reside, most of whom already were internally displaced because of the armed conflict in other parts of the country. 

That component of the strike actions must be considered to correctly understand what is unfolding in Colombia.

Black people in Colombia have been displaced because the government did not provide protection to Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. Why do they deserve these rights? Unlike in the United States, where the legal system only recognizes African/Black people as individuals, Afro-Colombians are recognized as a people. Both Afro-Colombian people and Indigenous peoples occupy resource-rich lands. That is why the violence increased in the territories where Afro-Colombians lived, despite a “peace process.”

And what interests benefit from the violence that caused dispossession? U.S., Canadian and European transnational companies, along with elements of the Colombian ruling class.

So, while BAP stands in solidarity with the workers, campesinos, women and Indigenous peoples in their fight against neoliberal capitalism and U.S. imperialism, we will not allow the realities and physical presence of African peoples in Colombia to be erased.

We note with some degree of irony that the international community has showered Colombia with deserved attention and mobilizations in solidarity, while they are relatively silent on the Haitian people’s struggle.

And we ask: Why the difference?

BAP will not make distinctions. We stand against imperialism in all its forms, including its white-supremacist, ideological expressions that violate the spirit of solidarity and anti-imperialism.

We recognize effective anti-imperialist struggle requires an organized opposition in the United States that is connected to radical and revolutionary forces throughout the so-called “Americas” region. This is not an easy task that can be accomplished tomorrow or only through dramatic mobilizations.

We are sure to hear all kinds of calls for various kinds of reforms coming from groups and individuals who just yesterday discovered the struggle in Colombia and who will move on to the next popular mobilization tomorrow. However, we say for those who are serious and want to support the people of Colombia, they should ground themselves in understanding how the struggle in Colombia relates to Venezuela, Haiti, the southside of Chicago and all of the radical struggles unfolding in the Western Hemisphere. And we ask them to be prepared to fight like their lives depend on it. Because for the oppressed and colonized, it does.