An african legacy of leadership in the middle of the Colombian Conflict
For many years, the inhabitants of the Guajuí River Community Council lived trapped inside of a war. The strong presence of armed groups in their territory - especially the FARC - meant they had to surrender control of what constitutionally and ancestrally is theirs. With the demobilization of the guerrilla group, a new opportunity is now open for the community to once again take the leadership of its territory. However, materializing this opportunity will not be easy in the midst of a context of extreme poverty, corruption, state abandonment and the remains of a war that refuses to leave the territory altogether.

says a community member of El Carmelo, one of the 8 that make up the Community Council. Despite being surrounded by enormous natural wealth, impressive landscapes and having a strategic location near the Pacific Ocean; the reality of Guapi - municipality of which the community council is part of - is very difficult.

“We don´t live. Here, we merely survive”

86%

of Guapi inhabitants live in multidimensional poverty.

28,5

of every

1000 kids

die during their infancy 

30.000

people that live in Guapi, do not have adecuate drinking water supply.

*According to Colombia Plural / 2017

*According to DNP / 2014

In addition to this, most Community Council communities do not have a constant supply of electricity, despite the fact that, according to the residents, the mayor's office receives money from the government in the form of a energy subsidy to rural areas. Its mayor, Danny Eudoxio, was arrested on February 2 for alleged acts of corruption in the judicial system and was released on March 1 while the investigation against him carries on. The health posts inside the communities today only provide welfare to the spiders that have found a home in the abandoned structures.

The Community Council is a figure present in the Colombian constitution under Law 70 of 1993 that recognizes afrodescendant communities autonomy over some delimited territories. They are characterized by operating under collective titles and with internal regulations written and thought by themselves to regulate their living in their territory. The Community Council of the Guajuí River has 35,735 hectares and 7118 square meters in which about 7,000 people live.

*Mapa aproximado con fines ilustrativos

Traditionally, the economy of these communities has revolved around fishing, mining - carried out under ancestral techniques - and agricultural crops. However, it has been traversed by the dynamics of illegal economies that have promoted mining on a larger scale, growing coca plants and fishing with explosives. This has transformed the lives of many inhabitants who now have been forced to be part of the illegal economies to survive. "Nowadays fishing is a waste of time, you will die of hunger," said a miner from the community of El Carmelo, while working deep in the jungle, hand in hand with his sister and son, trying to get at least one gram of gold that would guarantee them around 80 thousand pesos ($28 USD) for the 12-hour work. On a bad day, they may not even find that to support their whole family.  

1

2

3

(1) In the punt, the miners begin to filter the earth in search of gold. (2) A section of the mine (3) Camp that the miners assemble to spend the day, here the family cooks their meals and seeks shelter from the sun during a workday that leaves very little time for rest.

"We are aware of the damage we do to the environment (with mining), this destroys everything, but we are here full of debts, committed to fuel, family, food ... What does one do? The people are fighting. "

Armed Conflict and "Conviteros"

The armed group with the most control over the Community Council was the guerrilla group "Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia" (FARC-EP). The war in these territories caused ruptures inside the communities that surrendered their territorial control. In large part, this lack of autonomous control was what allowed the invasion of illegal economic practices that have been harming the environment, the harmony among the populations and the cultural integrity that has characterized the people of this area in their social and spiritual expressions. "

"If our culture disappears, we disappear. We would not make sense"

- Mario Castro, convitero from Guajuí

"COMMANDER JORGE BRICEÑO, ALWAYS FULFILLING" says the graffiti that is at the entrance of several communities of the Community Council in reference to the late commander of the FARC "Mono Jojoy".

This makes the work and role that the conviteros of Guajuí are seeking to pursue even more important.  Conviteros are ancestral authorities that are in charge of exercising territorial control and organizing the community.  This involves collective actions of cohesion and resolution of internal conflicts.  Conviteros reside in the community and are chosen by the people for periods of 3 years.  All 8 communities from the Community Council of the Guajuí River have conviteros that make up the general assembly.  Conviteros basically make up the democratic system that afrodescendants inside this community council have established to live under.  Beside these functions inside the community, conviteros still have to provide for their families and work like any other community member.

The general assembly, made up of 86 conviteros, is the highest authority of the Guajuí River Community Council. Unfortunately,  this notion has been relegated to paper; in the midst of a community that became accustomed to associate power and authority with weapons.

 

According to Alicia Pradera, Cauca official in PAS, "A community with fortified conviteros could autonomously regulate their economic activities, their education, their way of life and even have the power as a Community Council to sign contracts and make alliances to boost their progress. stop excessive mining, excessive fishing and seek support to promote an economy like the one they really want, however, today, this is just a utopia, a utopia for which, nevertheless, we have to fight. "

"I want to send a message to the world, if we conserve biodiversity with the work of conviteros, it´s good for the whole world, we are on a planet that does not have excess or lack of anything, we would help maintain this balance for all."

-Mario Castro, convitero from Guajuí

Since the departure of the FARC - following a dynamic that has been taking place at the national level - new armed groups have arrived in the region and others that were already present have been strengthened in an attempt to take advantage of the armed control vacuum left by the guerrilla, a vacuum which the State has not been able to fill.

 

If we add to this that a large part of the population and even a significant number of conviteros do not know their internal regulations, nor the powers granted by Law 70, the challenge of achieving autonomous, effective and positive control of the region begins to escalate. Seeking to overcome this, PAS-PI promotes - in coordination with the Coordination of Community Councils and Grassroots Organizations of the Black People of the Pacific Coast of Cauca (COCOCAUCA) -  a proposal that aims at strengthening capacities.  It also seeks to improve the protection and self-protection tools of the conviteros so that they can exercise their work with greater conviction, knowledge and confidence within the communities.

This process has an interdisciplinary support, articulating different collective protection tools with Afrodescendant approach.  

 

"Here on the ground, we know what are our problems and how to handle them, if someone comes from the outside and intends to rule here, he will not understand how this works. We do understand it, and that is why we need to empower ourselves and take charge of our community"

As days go by, conviteros struggle to build the community they dream of.  A community in peace.

Text and pictures: Santiago Londoño S / Revised by: Alicia Pradera, Juliette Schlebusch, Cristian Cuero

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