Much remains to be done to protect and promote Afro-Descendant communities’ rights and development in Colombia, according to the panel discussion hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue, the Gender and Diversity Unit at the Inter-American Development Bank, and Phelps Stokes on May 20, 2011. Although Colombia has made steps in the right direction, current policies need to be reinforced. It was also suggested that Afro-Descendants work together across countries and communities to better envision a common purpose and to strengthen their political influence.
Antonio Murillo, Professor at Howard University, opened outlining the high poverty and discrimination against Afro-Colombian communities. Murillo pointed out that over 10 million Afro-Colombians suffer from “conditions of marginalization, discrimination, and misery.” He posited lack of a national common purpose in this issue and the frailty of the ethnic movement as primary causes of public policies’ failure to promote Afro-Colombians’ development and to adequately protect their human rights.
Marino Córdoba, spokesperson and legal representative for the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians expressed frustration over the marginal impact that public policies have had in “transforming the structural problems that our communities face.” Forced displacement of Afro-Colombians continues to be a serious human rights issue. Despite the 1993 law, addressing the right of Afro-Colombians to collectively own and occupy their ancestral lands, forced displacement still occurs at alarming rates; according to Córdoba, the public policies in place have not been able to prevent the displacement of “over one million Afro-Colombians.”
Paula Moreno, the former Colombian Minister of Culture, recognized the serious challenges still facing Afro-Colombians, but suggested that Afro-Colombians have made considerable gains, putting the movement on a better plateau to surpass obstacles. According to Moreno, because Afro-Colombians are not an isolated minority in Colombia, their prosperity largely impacts Colombia’s development overall. She said that Afro-Descendants must reframe the debate to bring to light the broader consequences of Afro-Colombian development and that Afro-Colombians must reach across communities and countries to better advocate for their rights.
The discussion revealed that a larger Afro-Descendant movement is gaining momentum worldwide. Participants suggested that the Afro-Colombian struggle is not a unique one and that building solidarity among Afro-Descendant communities within and across countries would be a vital tool in forwarding Afro-Descendants’ rights and development. For Colombia, speakers agreed that a strategy for Afro-Descendant development must span politics and administrations to achieve sustained advance.