Territorial dispossession, silence and resistance in Bajo Calima

By Jessica García


On April 9, as members of Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, we visited the communities that form part of the Community Council of the Lower Calima River Basin (San Isidro, Trojita, Las Colonias, Ceibito, Guadual, Las Brisas, La Esperanza, Villa Estela, La Estrella, El Crucero), in the rural area of Buenaventura,Valle del Cauca. There we saw and felt the shocking silence in the communities. Homes are now empty as a result of the forced displacement that is slowly tearing apart the territory of Bajo Calima. This violence takes place under the indifferent gaze of the State.


Visit to El Ceibito: the community that lived here has been completely displaced.


Since November 2021, at least three Black communities (Ceibito, La Esperanza and Guadual) and one Indigenous community (Santa Rosa de Guayacán) of the Lower Calima River Basin have been completely displaced from their territory. Areas that make up the communities of Las Colonias and San Isidro have also suffered forcible eviction. The families who live there face a foreboding risk of violent displacement from their ancestral territories as armed confrontations between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) escalate. Despite the responsibility of Colombian state institutions to ensure the communities' rights are protected, their international, constitutional, and community rights are violated without any consequence.


Visit to Las Colonias: graffiti of armed groups present in the area.


Unfortunately, these forced displacements are part of a long-standing pattern in Colombia, where the expulsion of the population is one of the common strategies of terror that has intensified in recent years. According to the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and November 2021, at least 72,300 people were forcibly displaced in 159 massive emergency events, which represents a 196 percent increase in the number of displaced people compared to the same period in 2020. The departments that make up the Pacific region have been the most targeted and affected.


In the case of the Bajo Calima communities, this is not the first time they have fled their homes and territories to protect their lives. Some of the currently displaced families have been forced to leave their land not just once but even two times before in past years. Since the signing of the Peace Accords between Colombia’s national government and the FARC-EP in 2016, this is the second mass forced displacement in this region. However, these are not the only instances of eviction;There have been other times when communities have had to leave their territory to safeguard their right to life. While these facts are alarming, it is worth remembering that, at the end of 2020, Colombia continued to report as the country with the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world. According to the UNHCR Colombia reports a total of 8.3 million people who are internally displaced.


Tour of the Calima River: view of the now-empty community El Guadual, due to forced displacement


Although the communities of Bajo Calima, together with the rural communities of the San Juan river area, have been the most affected by forced displacement in recent months, other rural communities in the region, such as Yurumanguí, Cajambre, and Raposo, have been affected by confinement due to the violent confrontation between armed groups present in the region in addition to forced migration.


It is worth asking: what is the reason for the constant forced displacements in the rural area of Buenaventura and the lack of preventive measures on the part of the State?


At the end of 2021, at the same time that the forced departures from the territory began, the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (PARES) warned that the rural area of Buenaventura was experiencing a new process of the reconfiguration of disputes between illegal armed actors- that is: new types and terrains of confrontation, as well actors. In several cases, Cauca and Chocó, bordering departments where the so-called disidencias or post-FARC armed groups, the AGC and the ELN regularly confront each other, claiming many lives in order to appropriate territory and exercise social control. These territories are ones in which there are significant multinational corporate interests and war economies like mining, drug trafficking, and their respective trade routes through the Pacific Ocean. However, there was no preventive action by the Colombian government to guarantee the permanence of the communities in their territory.


Buenaventura, due to its strategic geographic location and the capacity of the maritime industry to move goods, plays a central role in the territorial dispute. In 2020, a PARES report, reports on the relationship between the growing violence in the Pacific and cocaine trafficking, which has not ceased, but on the contrary, has been worsening. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the main destination for cocaine remains the United States.


It is precisely the dispute for territorial control by the armed groups present in the territory that is the most visible cause of the exodus of the Black and Indigenous communities. What is the reason for trying to dispossess them from their collective territories? What does it mean for p to have control of this territory empty of its population? Is the trafficking of cocaine the main motivation for the territorial dispossession?


We cannot answer these questions, but what is evident is the systemic forced eviction to which the Indigenous and Black communities of the rural zone of Buenaventura are being subjected, as well as the resistance to these actions. Both the communities of Bajo Calima, as well as the communities mentioned above, continue to fight for their permanence in the territory and will continue to do so as they have done historically, in the face of the indolent gaze of the Colombian State.