What You Need to Know About the Afro-Colombian Protests in Buenaventura

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For almost a month, residents of Buenaventura, an Afro-Colombian port city, have held peaceful protests and strikes calling for an end of neglect and need for basic services.

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The government has responded violently, killing at least one demonstrator and injuring several more in a crackdown that has been criticized by Amnesty International and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ahead, more on the underreported protest.

The protests started in western Colombia, with demonstrations in the department of Chocó and the city of Buenaventura. Last month, residents of the western province of Chocó and neighboring Buenaventura embarked on major anti-government protests demanding an end to abandonment, corruption, crime and conflict. After 11 days, Chocó reached an agreement with President Juan Manuel Santos, and ended the demonstration, but resistance continued in Buenaventura.

Buenaventura is Colombia’s largest port city. As much as 60 percent of Colombia's sea-going commerce is processed through Buenaventura, generating much of the country's overall wealth. In fact, the city sends about $55 million in royalties to Bogotá, the country's capital, daily.

However, the people are impoverished. Sixty-four percent of the city's 400,000 Afro-Colombian residents live at or below the poverty level. There's an unemployment rate of 60 percent, and half of the inhabitants don’t have access to potable water. Even more, a lack of government oversight has left Buenaventura without a hospital and with a struggling education system.

The National Afro-Colombian Peace Council says many in the community have also long experienced violence. The group states that residents are dealing with assassinations, kidnappings, threats, torture and mass displacement by extraction projects.

They’re now peacefully resisting. Tens of thousands of people, of all ages, have taken to the streets in Buenaventura, and many others are on strike. About 200 trucks are currently entering and leaving the port daily, compared to the usual 3,000.

The government has responded violently. There have been several reports of extreme police violence during the protests, with officers aiming grenades at unarmed protesters, shooting teargas into people’s homes, injuring dozes – including children – and killing at least one.

The state’s violent response is receiving international criticism. The Organization of American States (OAS) is urging the Colombian government to investigate the claims of excessive police violence and adopt "urgent and reasonable measures to fully guarantee the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression." Amnesty International also condemned the response, saying, “the right to peaceful protest must be protected, even more so when demonstrators include children and elderly and disabled people who are legitimately demanding their rights.”

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The strike's organizers are calling for emergency funds and national oversight of the city's humanitarian crisis. While an agreement hasn't yet been made, protestors and the government have agreed to use social dialogue to come to a solution.