National Strike in Buenaventura by Esther Ojulari
The city of Buenaventura on Colombia’s Pacific coast is home to the country’s main international port through which billions of dollars of imports and exports pass every year. Yet due to decades of abandonment form the government, the mainly Afrodescendant and indigenous community of Buenaventura does not have access to adequate health services, education or running water. Further, neoliberal development projects to expand the port threaten the very existence of communities as traditional fishing livelihoods are destroyed and whole communities violently displaced from their ancestral lands.
Since last Tuesday 16th May the community of Buenaventura (along with communities in the Chocó region of Colombia) has been on general strike demanding that the government fulfils basic human rights to water, education, health, culture, land and freedom from racism and violence. Businesses were closed, road blocks were set up at several points along the main road and peaceful protestors chanted, sang, danced and banged cooking pots to call attention to the desperate situation. On the first day along the Chamber of Commerce reported the strikes had caused up to 10,000 million pesos (about $3.5 million USD) in losses.
For three days there was a sense of joy and hope as the Civic Strike Committee entered into discussions with the government. But unfortunately due to lack of consensus the discussions were suspended and on Friday 19th the national government sent the ESMAD (riot squad) to repress the protestors and violently remove the roadblocks. The crowds and communities were attacked with tear gas throughout the day and into the night of the 19th causing numerous injuries. Tragically in the community of Punta el Este, located at the end of Buenaventura’s main bridge to the port and city centre, Puente Piñal, a baby was suffocated from the gas causing outrage and indignation throughout the community. The ESMAD had one aim here, to open the road for the trucks to leave the port and allow the global capitalist machine to clunk back into action. Once again private business interests were prioritised over the lives of the black and indigenous community.
On Saturday the government installed a prohibition on public demonstrations and a curfew in response to looting of supermarkets by some people, although many have claimed these actions were instigated by outside forces. Nevertheless the peaceful protestors have remained firm in their objectives and calls for a satisfactory response to their demands. On the 20th March over 30,000 people put on white shirts and marched to the city centre to demonstrate that the strike would go on, and on the 21st, National day of Afro-Colombian Heritage, we estimate that up to 200,000 marched to the outskirts of the city. Up to 200 people have been detained by the authorities accused of participating in looting and rioting and while the freedom of some has now been secured many have ongoing legal processes.
Today as the Committee returns to discussions with the government the people of Buenaventura continue to strike and continue to march under the calls “el pueblo no se rinde carajo” (the people won’t give up…), and “pueblo unido, jamás será vencido” (a united people will never be defeated).
In solidarity with the struggling people of Black Colombia and in defence of fundamental human rights, the Black Alliance for Peace calls on the people in the United States to sign the petition below, but also to circulate information on this situation through your networks since it is being “whited out” by the corporate press. We are also asking that you send statements of solidarity to Charominarojas@gmail.com