Witness for Peace is gravely concerned about the use of US munitions--specifically teargas and rubber bullets--in the violent state repression of the ongoing general strike (Civic Strike) in the historically abandoned, impoverished, and conflict-ravaged Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura.
On Tuesday, May 16th, 2017, approximately 89 civil society organizations, joined together under the umbrella of the Civic Strike Committee (Comité del Paro Cívico), began an indefinite general strike in Buenaventura. On Friday, May 19th, the National Police and Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) attacked a peaceful blockade, using teargas, helicopters, stun bombs, and rubber bullets against children, pregnant women, young people, and elderly individuals. Tragically, on Tuesday, May 30th, our Colombian partner organization The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission also reported that, in the context of this intense repression, two residents of Buenaventura were murdered by the Gaitanista paramilitary group. And at least six people have been reported injured since ESMAD reportedly began shooting at civilians with firearms, beginning in the early morning on Wednesday, May 31st.
Following the May 19th attacks, Witness for Peace called on officials within the US State Department and congressional leadership to pressure the Colombian government to reach a peaceful solution to the genuine problems raised by the Strike.
Unfortunately, though, as violent State repression has continued, the Colombian government has repeatedly denied the Civic Strike Committee’s request to declare an economic, social, and ecological emergency. And reports have proliferated of ESMAD using undue force, including teargas and rubber bullets, against the Afro-Colombian community peacefully demonstrating in the streets, as well as against community members (children among them) in their homes. Sadly, this violent repression is effectively being used to facilitate the continuation of private interests profiting by use of the port. Tell Congress this must stop!
Photos of tear gas canisters collected from these attacks show that they're inscribed with the insignia of the Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) line of US security products company Combined Systems, Inc. (CSI). (*Scroll below the signature for more on CSI, as well as US arm sales and security aid to Colombia.)
Ongoing protests in the Afro-Colombian port of Buenaventura underscore that US aid to ESMAD directly conflicts with the $20 million allocated under the Economic Support Fund for FY 2017, that Congress mandated assist Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. US aid would be better spent addressing the demands of the demonstrations, instead of repressing them.
In spite of the repression by the Colombian State, demonstrations of community unity have continued, and talks have moved forward between the Civic Strike Committee and government representatives. On May 29th, negotiators agreed to create a special fund to help address the social, environmental, and economic problems within the region. But the repression must stop for any real progress to be made.
We are in solidarity with our Colombian partners who put their lives on the line in defense of their communities and regions: tell your representative to stop aid to the repressive ESMAD now!
Witness for Peace