On September 28, 2018, MADRE staff were meeting with our partners in Colombia, strategizing ways forward to advocate for the rights of Afro-Colombian women and their communities. We had learned of an Afro-descendant protest encampment, led by women, in front of the city of Cali’s government headquarters.
With our partner organization, Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), we discussed dispatching a small group to investigate and offer help. PCN leader Charo Mina Rojas had a better suggestion: “What we’ll need is a bus.” The next night, the entire conference of thirty people went to offer support.
The protesters, organized by Afro-descendant women leadership, were members of the Afro-Colombian community of Brisas del Cauca in Cali, Colombia, and they had been camped out there for more than 80 days. They told us the story of the community they had planted and nurtured for years, on the banks of the Cauca riverbank – step by step, often building their homes by hand. Many had fled Colombia’s decades-long civil war and were grateful to find a place where they felt relatively safe and connected to friends and family.
That all changed two years ago. The government claimed that to reduce the risk of flooding along the Cauca River, they needed to rebuild a dike, right there where the Brisas del Cauca community stood. So started the government’s daily forced evictions and bulldozing. People were given little time to gather their belongings or to protest. They were simply pushed out, left standing in the road as their homes were torn down.
When we arrived at the encampment, we began documenting testimonies of human rights violations, and some of PCN’s leadership led a ceremony with the encampment members to call for respect, reparations, and healing. The community members took us to see firsthand the destruction and what little was left of the community. Today only 305 families remain out of the original 1,110, the rest displaced into different communities. The remaining Brisas del Cauca community is demanding the right to be resettled and rehoused with dignity.
They have faced violence and discrimination from the government, and they have responded with protests, legal action, and have had several confrontations with governmental actors that erupted in police brutality. On the worst occasions, police have shot and injured unarmed community members.
We’re mobilizing to protect this community’s rights. On October 29, 2018, MADRE sent letters to Special Rapporteurs at the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We informed them of the situation, requesting that they make a public statement condemning these wrongful evictions and encourage the Colombian government to:
- to investigate and hold accountable police involved in violence against community members;
- to ensure reparations for victims of state-sponsored violence;
- to uphold the self-determination of Brisas del Cauca community members as an Afro-Colombian Community Council;
- and to ensure community members are resettled in adequate housing.
Our grassroots partners understand local priorities and demands, and our nimble and strategic advocacy model amplifies those demands to turn them into concrete policy action. That’s why we spring into action when we encounter crises like the one Brisas del Cauca is facing. And through our ongoing grassroots partnerships, we’ll continue to track this situation and use local and international law to protect people’s rights.