Since early 1997, the Colombian Pacific coast department (state) of Chocó, 90% Afro-Colombian and the most impoverished region of the country, has been beset by paramilitary offensives and the ensuing forced displacement of thousands of rural inhabitants. The displaced have concentrated in towns such as Quibdó, Turbo, Bocas de Atrato, San José de Apartadó, and Pavarandó face dire circumstances. There have been grave violations of the human rights of black and indigenous communities of Chocó who have been forced to flee their homes by the paramilitaries. These communities claim neutrality in a war between the left-wing opposition groups and the military/ paramilitary. The people of Chocó who have been displaced are seeking help. In a communique released March, the displaced in the municipal stadium of Quibdó denounced that though they have turned to many people for help, all of whom have promised aid in the form of money, water, or food, virtually no aid had been delivered to them. Their frustration has been with the former governor of Chocó, the mayor of Quibdó, the Red Cross, and the minister of education.
The communique from the displaced in Quibdó included the following poem on their plight:
Qué es lo que pasa en Quibdó
que no nos quieren servir
lo que pasa es que ellos creen
que vinimos a pedir.
que no tienen corazón
ellos siempre han querido
es cogerla por montón.
As a result of the conditions in which the displaced are living, there have been numerous outbreaks of malaria, cholera, and hepatitis. Of the displaced in Quibdó, as of March 22, 1998, 327 people have died and 3,231 are ill.
The people of Chocó are asking that we assist them to attain respect for their basic human rights by sending letters to the Colombian government demanding that it acknowledge and take responsibility for the situation of the displaced in the city of Quibdó, and demand humanitarian aid pursuant to Article 17 of Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. They ask that the rights of the black and indigenous communities of Chocó to their ethnic identities, land, culture, and autonomy be respected. They request services for the emergency epidemic affecting the Embera. They request that the work being done by the persons working as advisers to the diocese, the displaced, and Sembrar to help the people of Chocó be respected. They also ask that the government find a way to help the displaced of Chocó return home safely.
The conflict in Chocó between the paramilitary and the citizens continues. On June 11, two people were killed in the municipality of Carmen de Atrato by paramilitaries. 350 people were then told to leave there homes within 24 or hours or they would be killed.
Please see urgent actions for government offices to contact to voice concern for the displaced of the Chocó. In addition, please send communications of support to:
Comunidad Desplazada Asentada en Quibdó
Coliseo Municipal de Quibdó
This article is based on information received from Sembrar and from the Diocese of Quibdó.