Agua Blanca, on the outskirts of Cali, is home to some of the more than 2 million displaced people in Colombia. They are forced to live in overcrowded makeshift plastic shelters, which offer little protection from the rain, whilst the tropical heat of Cali turns them into sweltering ovens during the day.
The overcrowding is so intense that often 5 families or more are forced share one of these tiny huts measuring less than 10 feet by 10 feet. A few have a mattress or covering on the ground, the majority are forced to sleep on the bare earth, which is often wet and waterlogged. The communities lack the basic materials to repair, or make watertight their shelters. One such community in Agua Blanca has only one tap for more than 5,000 people. The lack of water endangers the health of everyone. The children are malnourished and suffering from many of the diseases associated with extreme poverty and hunger. The entire community is suffering from the lack of food, medical attention and adequate shelter. In Uribe’s Colombia, displaced people are entitled to assistance for 3 months after registering as displaced. However the very organisation set up to help the victims of paramilitary terror has been infiltrated by the paramilitaries. The majority of displaced people are too scared to give their names and details to the very people responsible for displacing them. Some desperate people have resorted to telling the authorities that the guerrillas displaced them, simply as a way to protect themselves and secure a little food for their families; whilst in reality they have been displaced by paramilitaries looking to extend their control of strategically important regions, often those being fumigated under Plan Colombia.
The Colombian state both denies these communities their basic legal rights, and fails to protect them from further harassment. Many people are displaced more than once. State forces further harass these communities, raiding them, and forcibly evicting them. In March this year the community of Daniel Guillard were attacked by the police. They destroyed all their shelters and burnt their few possessions, including all the wood and plastic used to construct the shelters. Two members of the municipal human rights department witnessed the destruction of the camp. Not only did they fail to stop the burning of the community’s possessions, they also made no attempt to advise them or support them in gaining the shelter the municipality is legally obliged to provide.
The harassment of these displaced communities by the state and the paramilitaries is another horrific extension of the attempt to crush all forms of social protest and resistance by the government of Uribe Velez. We call for the abolition of Plan Colombia and other measures which have led to the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. We also call on the government of Colombia to provide for all displaced people the legal rights guaranteed to them by law. It is vital for the protection of these communities that they receive international support and accompaniment. They are also desperately in need of aid, especially food, medical supplies and building materials. Please contact the Colombia Solidarity Campaign for further details if you are able to help.