Colombian Peasants Continue To Suffer Displacement Due To War
June 14, 2010 By Mike Samras
WASHINGTON – Displacement of peasants by armed groups continues to plague Colombia, with the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) reaching 4.9 million at the end of 2009, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Marco Romero, president of Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES, in Spanish), spoke in Washington on the status of IDPs in Colombia and what their government could do to assist these vulnerable populations.
His proposals included subsidized housing for people now living in the city, as well as providing for the relocation of some back to the rural areas where they are from. “It’s important to take into consideration that the large majority of the displaced are rural peasants, and their livelihood is rural,” Romero said in Spanish, adding that these peasants can experience trouble “fitting in” in the cities.
Returning to their land is complicated by the realities of the drug war that have led paramilitary forces, guerrilla groups, and even the government to take over or sell the land once these populations have left. “When they return, their land is destroyed or occupied,” Romero said, emphasizing the importance of the government assuming the responsibility of finding land for them.
“It’s imperative that these high-up agencies take responsibility for these people,” Romero said.
The timing of Romero’s remarks coincided with a change in leadership in Colombia; the second round of the presidential election is to take place on June 21. Romero criticized the increase in the number of IDPs under the past eight years of the Álvaro Uribe presidency. Uribe’s former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos won 46 percent of the vote and is widely expected to win the presidency in the second round.
Romero cited his own organization, CODHES, saying that two million more Colombians were displaced during Uribe’s eight years in power. The government questions such assertions, stating that that many fraudulent claims of refugee status are made in order to receive the economic and food aid the government provides for IDPs.
“Forced displacement unfortunately continues,” Romero, adding that “the government hasn’t come up with a satisfactory explanation” for these increases. Romero expressed doubt about Santos’ commitment to addressing the problem, citing military abuse of civilian populations during Santos’ tenure as defense minister.
Romero was in Washington in part to raise awareness of displaced Colombians and support legislation in the U.S. Congress “recognizing and honoring the important work that Colombia’s Constitutional Court has done on behalf of Colombia’s internally displaced persons.”
House Resolution 1224 seeks to demonstrate American solidarity with these Colombian populations. The resolution, which cites CODHES data on the number of displaced persons in Colombia, has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Supporters of the resolution rallied in 30 cities across the U.S. on May 24 to pressure Congress to support Colombia’s Constitutional Court.
“We thank you in the name of these displaced persons and the cause of human rights,” Romero said, speaking of international support he and his organization have received.
Romero’s talk was sponsored by the Washington Office on Latin America, the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES USA), the U.S. Office on Colombia, the Center for Justice and International Law, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, TransAfrica Forum, Witness for Peace, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights.
Image: Inmigrante a media jornada @ Flickr.
About Mike Samras
Mike earned degrees in political science and journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduating from college in 2006, Mike joined the Peace Corp and spent two and half years living and working in El Salvador. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in political management at George Washington University.