Community Councils of Afro-Colombian Communities

Community Councils of Afro-Colombian Communities

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Communities of African descent in Colombia have faced not only the violence of the armed conflict, but also the structural violence of poverty and the original violence of slavery. Therefore, these communities present a special case in the struggle for reparations. The 1991 Constitution of Colombia sought to address these specific cases through a constituent assembly that brought together representatives from different sectors of the population. While Afro-Colombian communities were not at that time sufficiently organized to present their case as one unified voice, they were later able to build off of the precedent set by legislation pertaining to indigenous groups to advocate for legislation to address concerns specific to their communities. Law 70 of 1993 created a “differentiated focus” that protects and strengthens Afro-Colombian identity by recognizing the traditional characteristics of these communities and making room for them to be fully protected by law. For example, many Afro-Colombian communities in areas such as Chocó settled on undeveloped government land, without formal land titles. In one of its most important achievements, the law 70 created the option for alternative organizational and territorial management structures as these communities engage with the government, such as collective land ownership.

The Community Council is the organization that facilitates collective land ownership within a community. Members of the community can still sell land privately, but all decision-making must be passed through the council. This type of community ownership strengthens the community’s autonomy, is supported by the government with special productive projects, and makes displacement by outside corporations or large land-owners more difficult. Any council that forms can be recognized by a municipality, but in order to be recognized at the national level, the council must put forward an official application and go through a process of recognition by the Interior Ministry. In addition, the Community Council now facilitates the community reparations process as part of the Law Decree 4635. In 2011, the Law Decree 4635 was passed as a parallel legislation to the Victims’ Law, addressing the specific concerns of Afro-Colombian victims of the armed conflict, including measures for collective, holistic reparations.

While the law 70 and subsequent legislation includes all Afro-Colombian communities, the language used to conceptualize the legislation was based in the realities of majority-Afro-Colombian regions, such as Chocó. This wording creates an extra obstacle to accessibility for the Afro-Colombian communities of the Caribbean coast where Sembrandopaz works. Identity politics in this region are more focused on mestizo and campesino communities. Therefore, Sembrandopaz is currently working to increase historical and political awareness among Afro-Colombian communities of the coast to take full advantage of the existing legislation for community-driven development and reparations. In this process, Sembrandopaz accompanies the communities of Berruguita, Libertad, and Mampujan, networking relationships among these communities as part of their mission to create spaces of greater community participation within the existing political structures.