Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African ancestry. They constitute about 26% of the Colombian population today, about 11 million people. However, 20% of the Afro-Colombian population self-identifies as having African descendants according to the PERLA (Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America) study.

They make up the second largest African descendant population in Latin America, after Brazil.  Afro-Colombians have impacted immensely on Colombian culture and the general socio-economic milieu. The largest populations of Afro-Colombians live in the departments on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where they constitute as much as 80% of the populace (DANE, Colombia: una nación multicultural). Afro-Colombians are the African descendants whose diverse culture reflect almost every black African ethnic group.

Nevertheless, as anthropologist Nina de Friedemann argues, Afro-Colombians remain ‘invisible’ in national public life, their self-affirmation as a group complicated by numerous long-term historical, cultural and geographic factors. This invisibility also extends to spheres of cultural production and self-representation, where Afro-Colombians have either occupied reified positions or lived an absence as presence in the national cultural imaginary.Notable Afro-Colombians include Colombian scientists like Raul Cuero, writers like Manuel Zapata Olivella and politicians: Piedad Córdoba, Paula Marcela Moreno Zapata, and Luis Gilberto Murillo, Miss Colombia 2001 winner and fashion model Vanessa Alexandra Mendoza Bustos, first Olympic gold medal winner for the country Maria Isabel Urrutia, and Major League Baseball player Edgar Rentería.

Afro-Colombian dance troupe from Bogota

Despite their significant contributions and population numbers it was not until 1991 that Afro-Colombians were, for the first time, recognized as an ethnic group by the Colombian Constitution through Transitory Article 55 of 1991 (T55). Afro-descendants can be found in regions such as Choco, Buenaventura, Cali, Cartegena, San Andres Island, and throughout the country.

Afro-Colombian scientist Dr. Raul Cuero, Ph.D in Microbiology, President and Research Director of international Park Of Creativity. International Consultant on Sciense and Biotechnology. (From 1988 through 2012 he was a professor at Prairie View A&M University researching biological resistance to ultraviolet light. The work was supported in part by NASA and led to at least one publication and patent. During this period, Colombian media portrayed Cuero as "one of the greatest scientists in the world"  who was internationally acknowledged as one of the greatest Colombian inventors, stated he had over 100 publications in scientific journals,)
Afro-Colombian Edgar Enrique Rentería Herazo, nicknamed "The Barranquilla Baby," is a Colombian former professional baseball shortstop. He threw and batted right-handed;

Black people in Colombia are difficult to define. Colombians do not define race as black or white, but degrees of Black, White, and Indian, with numerous constructs in between. Blacks in the island of San Andres, Providencis, Santa Catalina are oriented to Caribbean cultures. The term "negro" is rarely used in Colombia and can be taken as disparaging. Moreno (brown), gente de color (people of color), libres (free people), costeno (coastal dwellers) are terms used to describe Afro-Colombians. After increased political gains in the 1980s the terms Afro-Colombiano, La Comuniado Negras ( black community) are used by the government. 61% of Afro-Colombians live below the poverty line,

The country’s African diaspora is descended from slaves that began to be brought to what was then called Nueva Granada in the early sixteenth century. Enslaved Africans were made to toil in industrial sectors ranging from plantations and ranches to gold mines and commercial fishing boats. 'The Colombian government through its National Department of Statistics (DANE), has identified four representative groups of Afro-descendants in the country: Afro-Colombians from the Pacific who mainly are peasants, fishermen, and traditional miners mainly located on collectively owned territories; Raizal communities from the Caribbean Islands of San Andres and Providence; Afro-Colombians from the “palenque” of San Basilio in the Bolivar Department; and Afro-Colombians living in municipalities and Colombian cities."
Historically, Afro-Colombians have been socially marginalized and politically excluded. Beginning in the early 1500s, African slave labor was applied to cattle raising, transportation, construction, and domestic service (Arocha 1998, p. 73-4), with a later a focus on gold and platinum mining. Due to the scattering of slave concentrations throughout the country, ethnic reconstruction was limited until the early 1900s, when the rise of sugar plantations sparked consolidation efforts for enslaved Afro-descended populations –though it is still difficult to trace ethnic identity formations. Arocha notes that Afro-Colombians were made invisible by the Christianization of African slaves, wherein names were altered or replaced to match masters’ family names. Additionally, a shift towards a new caste system abandoned racial terminology, instead tying in whiteness directly to authenticity and “rationality”. The concept of progress became inextricably tied to race, with Afro-Colombians at the far end of the spectrum. To this day, some academics and political officials still consider Afro-Colombian history as being “fake” or invented when compared to that of indigenous peoples, mestizos, and Spanish inhabitants. It should be noted that in Colombia, Afro-descended populations outnumber indigenous populations, and have been living in the country since the sixteenth century. Out of the roughly 15 million Afro-descendants living in Colombia, over one million reside in the Pacific coastal region, the majority being in Quibdó, Buenaventura, Tumaco, and Guapi with around forty percent living in smaller, more rural areas.

The Pacific coastal region of Colombia covers ten million hectares, eighty percent of which is still covered by tropical rainforests. The region is isolated from the rest of the country by the Western Andean mountain chain, with little more than three roads leading to the area. In the early 1990s, paramilitaries had yet to infiltrate the Pacific coast (Asher 2007, p. 13). In fact, the government had considered Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups on the coast to be “guardians” of the rainforests. However, the idea of protection that was prominent in the early 1990s was soon transformed by the intrusion of paramilitary forces seeking to establish African palm oil plantations (Oslender 2007, p. 758). Since then, thousands of Afro-Colombians have been driven out by armed groups. The first in a series of violent attacks happened on December 20th, 1996. Under the pretense that they were combating FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the Colombian army and paramilitaries carried out an offensive attack in the area of Northern Chocó. It is important to note that the national media outlets and journalists never addressed nor confirmed the impetus behind this offensive. As a result of these attacks, over twenty thousand Afro-Colombians were forcibly displaced from their homes during January and February of 1997. The purported reasoning behind the attacks is misguided at best. Evidence found in the wake of the offensive points to displacement as a development strategy for African palm oil production, which flourishes in the bio-diverse region of the Pacific coast. Because of paramilitary encroachments, Afro-Colombians have become one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world.
The Evidence of Africa in Afro-Colombian culture can be visibly seen in their music. In Colombian music there are many evidences of African heritage. It is understood that currulao, abosao, champeta, bullerengue and mapale are African-based musical genres, but there is evidence of Africa in other music genres. The word cumbia comes from the Bantu word nkumbi, which means drums. Porro comes from a secret society in western Africa. Bambuco has a format that resembles music from the Bambuko region in Senegal. Villancicos are musical adaptations of African chants. In vallenato two of the rhythms have pronounced African influences. Merengue brings its name and rhythm from the Muserengue, an African culture in Colombia. Puya, the most difficult rhythm in vallenato, is surely structured on African rhythms.

Palenquera in Cartagena, Colombia

All Black people in Colombia speak Colombian Spanish. Others speak  San Andres Creole and Caribbean English. In certain areas, such as the Pacific region, there are specific features of accent, vocabulary, and syntax that make the Spanish spoken there distinctive.
Celebrated Afro-Colombian doctor, anthropologist, folklorist, diplomat and gifted writer, Manuel Zapata Olivella (Santa Cruz de Lorica, Córdoba, 17 de marzo de 1920 - Bogotá, 19 de noviembre de 2004) 

In Palenque de San Basilio, a single village in the Caribbean region, palenquero is also spoken (often as a first language); migrants from this village to other areas may also speak it. It is a Spanish-based creole language with African and Portuguese elements; in the early 1990s the Ministry of Education began to finance an ethno-education program aimed at reversing the apparent trend toward the loss of palenquero.

Female stylists from across Colombia celebrated the 9th annual Afro-Colombian hair contest on Monday, May 13, 2013 to commemorate black culture. [Photo:]

The origin of the slaves brought to the Virreinato de Nueva Granada (Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador) is hard to determine as no records were kept to identify African slaves’ origins. For colonial authorities, keeping records of Africans origin was irrelevant as they were mainly considered objects - “tools for physical work and non-carriers of culture” (Nina Friedemann, 1993, 20, citing Roger Bastide).
However, historical analyses of colonial slave trade documents show that the slaves brought to Cartagena to be distributed among the Virreinato de Nueva Granada came from every zone involved in the African slaves’ trade: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Congo, Carabali (Efik/Annang/Ibibio/Nigeria), Arara (derived from Allada city in dahomey includes Ewe, Fon, Mahi), Mina (Elmina/Fantes/Ghana) and Angola; and belonged to several African ethnicities such as Angol (Kingdom of Kongo ethnic groups), Carabalies (Efik/Igbo/Ibibio/Annang), Congo, Bambaras, Minas (Akans), Mandigas (Mandinga/Mandinka), Yolofos (Wolofs), Luangos (Ambundu, Ovimbundu, Umbundu) among many others.
Friedemann’s review from well-known works of historians and linguists observes Africans brought to Colombia came from seven regions in Africa: Senegambia, Pepper Coast, Gold Coast, Benin Gulf, Biafra Gulf, Central Africa, and West Africa; and belong to more than twenty different African ethnicities.
Enslaved Africans first began being imported into Colombia by the Spaniards in the first decade of the 16th century. By the 1520s, Africans were being imported into Colombia steadily to replace the rapidly declining native American population. However, Afro descendants not only arrived to the colonies as a result of slave trading and illegal trafficking through the Colombian Atlantic and Pacific coasts, they also came as part of the Spanish conquers’ expeditions to the “New World.” These Africans, known as “negros ladinos,” were born under Christian Spanish and Portuguese owners and were familiar with the conquers’ culture and language.
The negros ladinos, who were a combination of free blacks and slaves, were the only people, apart from the conquers, allowed to enter the colonies. For instance, in the 1501 instructions from the Crown to Nicolas de Ovando, Governor of the Indias, the colonies were forbidden to bring moros, Jews, heretics, and the recently converted. It is unknown how many negros ladinos arriving to the colonies were slaves, and how many were free blacks (Friedemann 1993, 34).
By 1520`s number of about 100,000 slaves were imported to Colombia. It did not take long before this slaves began bloody uprisings against their masters for wrongful treatment. The first slave revolt in Colombia occurred in Santa Marta in 1530. The town was completely burned down by the slaves. Rebuilt in 1531, it was burnt down again in another revolt in 1550. In 1545, a group of mining slaves in present day Popayán, escaped from the mines and took over the town of Tofeme. They killed twenty whites and carried off 250 Indian hostages to the mountains. In 1555 and 1556, Popayán also experience revolts. A Popayán revolt in 1598, had a devastating impact on Spain. 4,000 slaves destroyed the gold mine of Zaragoza, one of the most profitable and productive mines. In 1557, an expedition led by Juan Meléndez de Valdés retook the mine, and slaves who were recaptured were executed. 
In the seventeenth century, due to the expansion of mines and “haciendas” and once the indigenous population had considerably diminished due to harsh treatment, extermination or fallen victims of European’s diseases, slaves replaced indigenous workforce in livestock and farming haciendas and mining.
During this century, the demand for African slaves increased and became critical to support new forms of social and economic organization in the colonies. This shift from indigenous work force to African slaves work force marked at the same time the end of a colonial socio-economic system supported by indigenous societies and the beginning of a new colonial system supported almost exclusively by slavery.
Author Anthony McFarlane explains this transition as follows:
“…the decimation and destruction of indigenous societies (…) was paralleled by the emergence of new forms of social and economic organization designed to meet Spanish needs and aspirations. Two basic patters emerged. One was a rural economy in which arable farming combining with cattle raising to meet the basic needs of Spanish settlers; the other was a mining economy that extracted gold, essential for trade with Europe” (MacFarlane 1993, 16)."
In Colombia, the pacific rural regions of Cauca, Bolivar, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia and Chocó had the greatest concentration of slaves. Mining, sugar production, cattle, among others economic activities, were concentrated in the region, where economy heavily depended upon exploitation of African slaves - “the slaves, arriving to Cartagena who were fit to work in the mines were taken in small groups throughout the Magdalena and Cauca rivers to their destinations in Santa Fe, Antioquia, Cali, Popayan y Chocó”.
Thus, colonial economy relied almost exclusively on slave work force. Slave work force was present in both the rural and the urban sectors. However, their presence was heavily concentrated on the rural areas working primarily on mining, agriculture and livestock. “In the seventeenth century, the economy in the Nueva Granada was unthinkable without the blacks. Over their shoulders rest the development of mining, agriculture, livestock, crafts, commerce, domestic work and pearls extraction in the Caribbean” (Friedemann 1993 citing Jaramillo Uribe, 59).
Between 1620 and 1670, the first gold explorations took place in the Pacific coast. Groups formed by African slaves and Indians under the command of a Spanish conquer, “cuadrillas,” went in search of gold along the rivers in the region. The “cuadrillas” were usually formed by a group of up to 30 men living in camps along the rivers (Leal 2008; Friedemann 1993). Miners’ camps were established along the rivers due to easy access to food -fish, mollusks, manatees, veal, and wild boars. “Thus, the miners’ camps were built along the following rivers: Santa Maria del Puerto that later would become Barbacoas, over the waters of Telembi, Quibdo (Citara) and Lloro, at the borders of the Atrato, Novita and Tado, on the border of the San Juan river. The routes of the expeditionaries moved north by navigating the Atrato and from Antioquia over land, throughout the valley of Urrao; and in the South, from Buenaventura towards the San Juan. The camps also spread throughout the gaps of the mountains of the west ‘cordillera’ ending in Popayan, Cali and Cartago…”. Again in Popayán, in 1732 fugitive slave formed a palenque near the town of Castillo. The local government was unable to destroy the palenque so they declared amnesty, providing no new fugitive slaves were accepted. This requirement was ignored. Because of the latter, in 1745, an expedition was launch to destroy the encampment. The dwellings were destroyed, but the ex-slaves escaped and founded another encampment.
By the eighteenth century, mining became the most profitable colonial activity. African slaves from the Pacific region became the major labor force for developing not only the mining but also the agricultural sector. In the urban areas, African slaves were also an essential part of the economy as they supplied the labor in micro economic niches in cities such as Cartagena. African slaves performed a wide range of occupations from artisans to street vendors (fruit, food and sweets), transported goods along the Cauca and Magdalena rivers, worked in port and cargo activities, and were also commonly found as household servants responsible for domestic work.
Despite their importance to colonial economy, African slaves at the time had fewer rights than indigenous who enjoyed some legal protections. The colonial “black codes” from the Spanish Crown, apparently written to “protect” slaves, were a legal framework to institutionalize slavery as a socio-economic system, and served as a legal tool to segregate Afro population. As a result of these colonial laws, African slaves were segregated and relegated to agricultural labor and other rural activities. The codes also “prohibited the access of blacks and pardos, until the fifth generation, to the sciences”. African slaves were legally banned from education further condemning them, for generations, to occupy low places within society and without the possibility to economic advancement to maintain their position on the bottom of the social ladder.
The Pacific coast mining economy stimulated haciendas economic expansion where large scale production of sugar cane, plantain, tobacco, and cattle became the norm (Gonzalez Sevillana 1999). The need to haciendas became a repository of African labor for sustaining mining activities. Gonzalez Sevillana explains that mine owners were dependent on slaves as their workforce and some large mines exploited up to five hundred slaves at the time to meet production targets. In addition, mine owners’ foods demands to feed the slaves increased, and the “platanares,” which were small portions of land around the mine for slaves’ food production, became insufficient. Mine owners then realized the need of haciendas’ large food production to sustain mining economy. 
As a consequence, it was common to find mine owners in the Valle region who were also hacienda owners: “in the eighteenth century the development of gold mining on the Pacific lowlands injected a new dynamism into Cauca’s economy. Sugar cultivation, using slave labor and often organized by “hacendados”, who were also involved in mining and who transferred their slaves between agricultural and mining activities, now became the most profitable aspect of agrarian economy”.
The Path to Emancipation
During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, slaves had few opportunities to escape to freedom. As slaves were the core of the colonial economic system, slavery was aggressively enforced by the Spanish Crown and harsh punishments were in place to suppress slaves’ intent to seek emancipation. However, at the same time, the Crown over the centuries, and with the support of the Catholic Church, issued a series of mandates, known as “ordenanzas” to protect slaves. Although mainly directed to fiercely and legally enforced slavery, the “ordenanzas” included articles to protect slaves from excessive punishment and to secure slaves’ proper alimentation and clothing (PUND 2011).
Contrary to what one might think, the mandates issued by the Spanish Crown as early as 1556 (PUND 2011) were never an intent to humanize the practice of slavery. These primarily were a legal instrument to regulate, control and protect slavery workforce, which was essential to colonial economy. However, in many instances, African slaves used the mandates to negotiate better conditions, moved from abusive owners and even to obtain freedom. Despite the challenges imposed by the colonial system, some slaves were able to gain freedom before slavery was formally abolished by either escaping to “palenques,” which were black independent communities formed by runaway African slaves in remote territories, or buying their freedom from the owners.
In the Colombian Pacific, and thanks to the mining economy, more slaves were able to exercise the right to buy their freedom by paying their owners with gold powder extracted from the mines, where slaves were allowed to work on their free day, which was usually Sundays (Leal 2008). Contrary to other colonial territories such as the Colombian Atlantic or the Caribbean coast where African slaves seeking freedom would usually ran away to the “Palenques” as it was the only option, in the Colombian Pacific once slavery was abolished only 10% of the region’s black population remained slaves (Leal 2008 citing Aprile-Gniset 1993 and Almario 2003).
Ever-beautiful Afro-Colombian iron-lady, Piedad Esneda Córdoba Ruiz, a Colombian lawyer and politician who served as Senator of Colombia from 1994 to 2010. A Liberal party politician, she also served as Member of the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia for Antioquia from 1992 to 1994.

The first “palenques” for slave colonies were established in the sixteenth century along the Atlantic coast, close to northern Caribbean city of Cartagena: Tofeme, La Ramada, Malambo and Ure. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries’, the numbers of “palenques” multiplied extending along the Atlantic through the Pacific coast, from Cartagena to the Patia river. However, very little is known about the lives of the cimarrones, as African runaway slaves were known, in the palenques: “there is a deep lack of data about the daily lives of the peoples’ in the palenques …”.
According to McFarlane’s article cited by Gonzalez Sevillana, “Cimarrones y Palenques en Colombia: Siglo XVIII,” en Revista Historia y Espacio, No 1, the first runaways slaves were from the Atlantic region and the palenques were formed directly by African slaves as autonomous societies with African traditions. After the seventeenth century, other palenques spread to other regions that became more easily integrated with other colonial populations (Gonzalez Sevillana 1999 citing McFarlane). Among other contributions, palenques played an important role in the conservation of African traditions and culture. For instance, the San Basilio Palenque, in the Atlantic coast, has survived for centuries. It a has also been the subject of various historic, anthropologic and linguistic studies documenting cultural and historic aspects of the African tradition, culture and history in Colombia as well as social and cultural structures maintain within the palenques.
The Carolinian Code
The Carolinian Codes or Black Spanish Code of 1784 (Codigo Negro Carolino) were one of the most significant and comprehensive mandates dealing with slaves produced by the Crown. As previous mandates, the Carolinian codes were focused on prohibitions directed to strictly control slaves, but they also contained provisions to regulate owners treatment of their slaves -from food and clothing to type of acceptable punishments. African slaves in the colonies used this particular code to buy their freedom, negotiate with their owners to gain better conditions, and to benefit from their owners “merci,” who in exchange for loyalty or a lifelong service freed their slaves (Gonzalez Sevillana 1999). This process, known as manumission, also benefited women slaves, who were forced to become whites’ concubines, and with whom their owners, in many cases, had children as a result.
The Republic: Abolition of Slavery
In the nineteenth century, the crisis of the slavery system in Europe, and frictions in the colonies between the colonial dominant elites, Spaniards and the “criollos,” as were known the Spaniards’ descendants born in the colonies, also influenced the African slaves’ path to emancipation. 
The independence wars of the nineteenth century became an opportunity for the slaves to achieve freedom. African slaves were actively involved during colonies’ battles fighting on one side or the other pursing their only interest - freedom. Spanish and Republicans leaders, desperate to enlist as many slaves as possible into their armies, offered slaves freedom. Furthermore, the Spanish even offered land and official titles. The Republicans in response offered “absolute freedom” (Lievano-Aguirre cited by PNUD 2011).
 In 1819, Símon Bolívar began recruiting slaves in Colombia. Five thousand were recruited for battle. Símon Bolívar initially refused to allow blacks, mulattos, and zambos into the independence army, but seeing that he could not win without those population, he conceded. To Bolívar the slave was a child. In addition, because of the high white casuality in the Venezuelan war, he wanted to reduce the latter casualty count so more whites would enjoy the fruitage of independence and diminish the black population. The white elite was in constant fear of a large black population taking over or pardocracia. Bolívar harbored that fear. To him a revolt by blacks would be "a thousand times worse than a Spanish invasion." Although he received military aid from Haiti's president Petíon in return for ending slavery, he never openned formal diplomatic relation with the country. Bolivar feared Haiti was "fomenting racial conflict." 
On August 7, 1819 the independence army defeated the Spanish army in New Granada (Colombia), in what is known as the Boyacá Battle, fought near Bogota, for the final battle of independence. Once freed from the Spanish rule, the Republicans, also known as “criollos,” established a provisional government headed by Independence army general Simon Bolivar, as President, and Francisco de Paula Santander as a vice-president.
In 1821, the Republican congress, dominated by the liberal party lead by Francisco de Paula Santander, initiated talks regarding slaves’ freedom. This discussion produced the “Womb’s Freedom Law” (“Ley de Libertad de Vientres”), which was a law that would gradually provide children of slaves freedom. A junta de manumisión was formed to enforce this law and collect taxes to purchase the freedom of slaves born before July 21, 1821. This action was the process of gradual emancipation, favored by the elites, rather than outright freedom, since the economy of Gran Colombia was overly reliant on slavery. Unfortunately, the law was plagued with provisions to favor slaves’ owners and served to legally prolong slavery for 30 more years. Although the “Womb’s Freedom Law” mandated immediate freedom for children born after the law’s approvals date, these children would only obtain freedom once they had turned 18 years old. Until that time, they were to remain under their custody of their mother’s owner, and were required to work for them to cover the expenses incurred by the owners while in their possession for food and shelter. "So in the end the free womb laws were never enforced. Masters extended the terms of the manumiso, making them still slaves. The Junta de Manumisión was packed with slave owners, who completely ignored the law. The Junta de Manumisión only collected funds to free 461 slaves."
In 1830, the Republic of Gran Colombia broke into civil war. After the war in 1832, the slave plantation class held the upper hand and proceed to exclude all laws of manumission from Colombia's constitution. In 1839, another civil war broke out. This war plus slaves rebelling in the goldmines of Cauca and wreaking havoc and destroying the mindfields, caused many of the slaveholders to request permission to sell their slaves to Peru for a profit. Eight hundred slaves were sold to Peru. 
In 1840, after the liberal government lost the power to the conservative party, slaves’ trafficking and export was again legalized. The meteoric rise of anti-slavery politician Jose Hilario Lopez, influenced by the revolutionary thoughts and ideals of Europe and contributed in hastening of an end to slavery in Colombia. The liberal party headed by Lopez regained government’s control in 1849. Lopez as a president immediately pushed for emancipation by compensating slave owner for manumission. Some slaver owners began to release their slaves in 1850. On May 21, 1851 all slaves were ordered freed.

Afro-Colombian actress Indhira Rosa Serrano Redondo. She was  born in 1976, in Barranquilla, Colombia and is a well known Colombian actress and model. She participated in grand telenovelas such as "La Traición" and "El Clon" of Telemundo.

 The congress hammered the nail to slavery by declaring on January 1, 1852 all servitude in Colombia, abolished. This change in status, among others socio-economic and political aspects, triggered a relocation of mine and slave owners from the Pacific coast to the closest urban areas in the region - “the large slave owners of the Pacific coast experienced a crisis due to loss of workers, and a subsequently critical situation from a depression of the mine industry along with the outbreak of political conflicts provoking the civil wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century. These negative factors finally compelled former mine and slave owners to abandon gold mining and to move to cities such as Cali, Popayan, Pasto, Tumaco and Medellin”
After the independence wars, peasant families and free slaves settled in vast unoccupied state lands (Cauca valley), practicing subsistence agricultural production with some cash sale for markets. This new economic practice gave rise to a new rural social class. Within this new social sector, land was communal and farmers had right “to farm, hunt, gather forest products, and pan for gold”. This economic strategy has been practiced over generations for Afro-Colombians in the Cauca Valley. Another sector of ex slaves left behind the haciendas and the mines and made their way to the Pacific coastal jungle and to the lands along the rivers being exploited by huge mine owners, Mazamorras or Troncos. During the colonial period, free blacks and Indians were allowed to work as independents and were able to claim any gold found within the Mazamorras. Other former slaves remained in the haciendas and were offered by hacienda’s owners housing and small farming areas within the haciendas in exchange for money and basic products from the hacienda owner, as well as periods of work in the hacienda’s crops. This system known as “terraje” was a peonage system found in various forms throughout the Americas exploiting labor, and creating labor dependency.
Todos Somos Pacífico – a beginners guide to Colombian music from the Pacific Coast

As observed by Friedemann, “terraje” had elements common to the slavery system. Free blacks “had no freedom of movement,” and the workers had to request authorization to be absent for a short period of time. In addition, celebrations were restricted by hacendados and the free slaves were required to submit expenditures” (Friedemann 1993, 85). Furthermore, Friedemann states that during that period, labor shortages generated the creation of coercive measures such as laws authorizing bosses to use physical punishment via lashing and withholding basic foods from their rebellious workers: “all this happening in 1885, twenty five years after black were declared free”.
Abolition, however, did not change Afro-descendants colonial conditions in the Republic’s society. In fact, the Republic model reproduced many colonial policies where Afro-descendents were marginalized and grossly exploited lacking economic means of subsistence outside of haciendas owners or any other white patron willing to take them as servants or peons. Afro-descents during the Republic wound up being dependent and controlled by the dominant, usually white, elites for subsistence. Republicans were unable to fulfill the promises made to slaves during the independence wars, mainly because laws ending slavery were seen as a direct threat to property’s right, which was ultimately recognized by the government (PNUD 2011). As a result, the government was quick to establish provisions to compensate slave owners, especially those from large plantations and mines in Cauca, for lost property. However, the government never recognized the need to compensate former slaves for the damages and prejudices suffered as a consequence of slavery (PNUD 2012) such as huge social and economic gaps with respect to non-slave population.
In this respect, Friedemann also adds that in rural areas lack of land reform measures and/or any other stipulations to provide free slaves with means of subsistence, and work, once slavery was abolished, contributed to the continuation of the slavery system in post colonial period.
During the Republic, free blacks’ subsistence conditions were very poor and dependent. In rural and urban areas, they struggled in poverty unable to cover their main needs, and lacked any real possibilities for social and economical mobility within the post-colonial system. “Thus, it was left a big human group with absolute freedom, but without resources such as land, means of production, rents, literacy , and without any other option that passing from being slave to be day laborer, lessee, peon or household servant; in other words, the ‘liberto,’ (free black) continued to occupy the lowest social status in society. It went from slavery, to waged slavery” (Gonzalez Sevillana 1999, 75). The Republic failed to recognize and respect Afro-descendants as citizens of the new state, and ultimately did not reserve a space for this minority in the newly formed society. Thus, Afro-descendants ended up in a social system dominated by elites that had little respect for their rights as citizens (PNUD 2011, 25 citing Mosquera), and where they were ultimately marginalized and excluded.
Celebrated woman weightlifter Maria-Isabel-Urrutia. Maria Isabel Urrutia. Maria Isabel Urrutia is an Afro-Colombian Olympic gold-medal winner in weightlifting and a Colombian politician

Modern History
Beginning in the 1920s, the government of Colombia pursued a policy of whitening. Like most of Latin America, this was viewed in economic/biological terms. In 1922, Law 114 was passed banning immigration of peopled deemed "inconvenient" for the development of the Colombian race and nation. This law encouraged white immigration. Law 114 was the manifest of ideas and sentiments expressed by later president Laureano Gomez in 1928, who stated, "The black is a plague. In the countries where he has disappeared, as in Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, it has been possible to establish an economic and political organization on a strong and stable basis."
Afro-Colombian super-beauty Vanessa Alexandra Mendoza Bustos (born 1981), better known simply as Vanessa Mendoza, is a Colombian fashion model who held the Miss Colombia title in 2001, being the first Afro-Colombian to win that contest.

During the 1990s, black Colombian political organization gained ground, with a strong emphasis on "black identity." In 1993, Law 70 was passed, barring discrimination against blacks,  and bringing about a mandate promoting black representation in government and industry. The law also gave collective land rights to Afro-Colombians.

Even with the passing of Law 70, it has been unraveled by the conflict on the Pacific coast, mainly the Choco region, where conflict between guerrila groups, right-wing paramilitary, and army have cause widespread death and displacement of Afro-Colombians. Those regions are remote, with very little government control.
Escaping the Republican System
In rural areas, some free blacks used the strategy of settling on wastelands along the rivers escaping from the place of poverty, dependence and marginalization reserved to them within post-colonial system. This strategy resulted in the formation of a socio-economic and cultural structure organized around family ties and communities. This socio-economic model, known as “troncos,” limited land access to parentage, and at the same time established rules to land’s access (Rodriguez 2008). Troncos also comprised socio-economic units, Minas, common in mining areas of the community. Minas’ territory had four distinct areas of organization: the residential area for the nuclear family, the collective area for mining excavation, the area for washing gold and the farming area for subsistence food production. There were distinct roles for sexes and children, this division of labor characterizing the Mina. Men had the responsibility for cleaning forest or bushes, cutting wood to build houses and canoes and heavy work in the mines. Women and children provided farm labor in chacras, cut banana and sugar cane, and made panela. Women and children also were responsible for collective farm work.
María Elcina Valencia Córdoba, Afro-Colombian poet and singer

This socio-economic organization remains in place today within Afro-Colombian rural territories of the South Pacific coast, representing the socio-economic model in which this particular group of Afro Colombians has maintained their subsistence and production for centuries. Thus, “the tronco as a social and cultural reality have shaped the subsistence of black groups” .
Furthermore, the tronco, as observed by Friedemann, became for Afro-Colombians in rural areas of the south Pacific region a response to discrimination from the dominant society - “the tronco continues to function for blacks contemporary groups as a response to socio-ethnic and economic discrimination” In addition to troncos, Afro-Colombian communities in the Pacific have established two traditional forms to access land that were equally structure around family and communities: the inheritance system and the selling -buying land system among the members from the same community.
Under the inheritance system, children received land to work from their parents, known as “plante,” once the children had formed their own nuclear families. Also, the rights over land inherited were never lost by the descendants even if the family leaves the territory. Therefore, children and grandchildren from those families retained the right to claim inherited territory upon their return.
The second system allows to only members from the same community to buy land from another member to assist the fellow seller to overcome any kind of financial hardship. It is important to note that this practice is viewed as a favor to another member of the community and it is not practiced to accumulate land by one member of the community or his family.
Afro-Colombian Luis Gilberto Murillo Urrutia, is the former Governor of the predominantly Afro-Colombian Department of Chocó in Colombia. He is now the Vice President for Programs and Strategy at Phelps Stokes in Washington.

The Constitution of 1991, Ethnic Rights, and IDPs
During the 1980’s, Colombia was undergoing profound economic, social, and political transformations. In this decade, Colombia’s agro-industrial economy was strengthened thanks to the creation of state policies to promote economic liberalization, decentralization and democratization. In the Pacific region, economic liberalization policies resulted in “increasing pressure on land and resources” (Barbary and Urrea Giraldo 2004, 211). In addition, mass cultivation of African Palm spread among the regions of Uraba and the South Pacific, and companies were established in Tumaco to cultivate shrimp. Afro-Colombians lost territorial control to private companies becoming workers with little labor guarantees due to companies’ proliferation of the practice of indirect contracting (PUND 2011).
At the same time, black social movements within the region seeking socio-political ethnical recognition started to surge. On the national level, Colombia had formed a National Constitutional Assembly charged with the task to produce the country’s new constitution. The 1990’s were marked by large migrations of Afro-Colombians from the rural areas to the cities. During this decade, Buenaventura, Tumaco and Cali received large numbers of Afro-Colombians peasants who ended up settling in the poorest parts of these cities (PNUD 2011 citing Escobar). Economic policies and violence resulted in a massive rural exodus of Afro-Colombians to urban areas. The port city of Buenaventura, in the Cauca Valley, was especially impacted by the phenomenon of displacement. The city received a large number of displaced Afro Colombians from the Cauca valley area as well as departments of Chocó and Nariño.
In September 1995, the Colombian Government started to recognize the need to address the issue of displacement, and its responsibility to care for persons displaced by the violence. This prompted the government to adopt the National Program of Comprehensive Care for People Displaced by the Violence.
Although economic dynamics in Colombia, as shown in this chapter in the case of the Colombian south Pacific region, were clearly causing Afro-Colombians’ displacement in the region, the Colombian government failed to recognize this issue as a direct cause of internal displacement. In the particular case of the south Pacific region, large agro industrial plantations of African Palm, and shrimp business have been cited as causing displacement among rural Afro-Colombians.
The Colombian Constitution of 1991 recognized for the first time in Colombia’s history the rights and cultural importance of the country’s ethnic minorities as well as the right of these minorities to collectively own and live in their ancestral territories. Law 70 of 1993, for Afro-descendants and Law 60, for indigenous, legally provided them with this right.
However, providing ethnical groups with the right to territories without other government guarantees (e,g. security) to exert this right proved to be detrimental to these minorities. Within a country with a long history of economic disparity affecting ethnic minorities and deeply involved in a long internal armed conflict, the result of these very progressive laws were, and still are, devastating for these groups.
As territorial control in Colombia represents the key to gain economic and political power, highly valued by legal and illegal actors in the country, Colombia’s long lasting armed conflict started particularly affecting ethnical territories. The actors involved for decades in the conflict, including the State, fought to exert territorial control: “ ‘the ethnic space’ is now coveted and fought for, while the geographical space is the object of large financial investments from foreign actors to the region. The space’s control and appropriation is the object of negotiations and competition, accords, and actions conducted by actors whose means are disproportioned among them, and have different objectives” (Barbary and Urrea Giraldo 2004, 220). Within this context, the constitutional recognition of ethical minorities and their right to collectively own ancestral territories intensified the conflict in the Colombian Pacific region: ethnic groups vs. ethnic groups (Afro-descendants and Indigenous groups primarily over ethnical territories); ethnic groups vs. legal actors (agro industrial, private interests, and the government); ethnic groups vs. illegal groups, (guerrillas and paramilitaries).
Afro-Colombian woman, Paula Marcela Moreno Zapata with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez at the National Grand Concert on 20 July 2010. (Moreno who was born in 1978 is a Colombian engineer and professor. She served as the 8th Minister of Culture of Colombia, and was the third person to hold that office in the administration of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Moreno was the first Afro-Colombian woman, as well as the youngest person to ever hold a cabinet-level ministry in Colombia. She is currently a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow in the Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

At the same time, economic disparity within the region reached high levels. Large capitals from agro-industrial projects created an even deeper economic disparity within the south Pacific region. For instance, ethnical projects with minimal or none capitals were forced to compete with well-financed large projects.
Urrea and Barbary observe that not only the large difference between capitals contributed to economic marginalization of ethnical projects, but the national favoritism for one, agro-industrial projects, over the other, ethnical projects, further influenced this disparity. Under these economic and political conditions, ethnical projects hardly made it while the agro-industrial machinery flourished. Furthermore, economic disparity also was present within the realm of illegal economy. There, ethnical groups were not only subject to violence from illegal groups but were unable to compete with the illegal economic resources produced by narco-trafficking.
New economic dynamics that produced a bigger economic gap within the country’s minorities, the intensification of the conflict in the Pacific region, and the Constitutional ethnic and territorial rights negatively impacted Afro-Colombians during the 1990s. Lack of proper guarantees from the Colombian government to allow Afro descendants to exercise their rights was equivalent to the conditions in which their afro slaves ancestors endured once slavery was abolished in 1851. On both occasions, in 1851 and then 1991, Afro-Colombians were left totally unprotected by a State that, one more time, ignored its responsibility to care and protect Afro-descendants rights.
Thus, within the complex Colombian context during the last decade of the twentieth century, Afro-Colombians were left without the State’s adequate protection against legal and illegal groups and their interests over ethnical territories. As a result, Afro-Colombians were caught in the crossfire, and were also victims of legal maneuvers to size their territories.

In the Pacific region, settlement is mostly riverine, lacustrine, or coastal and is often quite dispersed. Houses are generally rectangular wooden constructions, built on stilts and with palm-thatch or sheet-metal roofing. There are also some larger villages and towns, such as Quibdó and Tumaco (about 50,000 inhabitants each in 1985). The international port of Buenaventura (population about 160,000 in 1985) is constantly expanding because of immigration from the rural areas. Access to space is so constrained that some residents live in houses on stilts in neighborhoods that stretch onto the tidal mud flats.
In the Cauca region, settlement is on small peasant farms and in villages and towns: all these feed the sugarcane industry's demand for labor. Many Blacks from the Cauca and the Pacific regions have migrated to cities such as Cali and Medellín, where they often live in self-built neighborhoods. In the Caribbean region, the most obvious concentrations of Black people are in settlements along the beaches, often dispersed, occasionally nucleated. Houses are generally of the common rectangular wooden design but are not on stilts. In the hinterland, settlement is in villages and towns, with a more mixed population. Houses are more likely to be made of industrially produced materials. The poorer neighborhoods of large cities such as Barranquilla and especially Cartagena have notable concentrations of Black people.
President Barack Obama and Sebastian Salgado a leader of San Bacilio de Palenque Afro-Colombian 

In the Pacific region, economic activities are varied and include agriculture (principally cultivation of plantains and maize), the raising of pigs, fishing, hunting, and, in suitable areas, mining. Contract logging has been of growing importance since about the 1960s: independent cutters sell their produce to intermediaries, on whom they depend for credit. Some large national and transnational timber companies also employ local labor directly. Since the 1970s mining has become increasingly mechanized, with small gasoline-driven pumps and minidredgers widely available on credit. Multinationals have used large-scale dredging techniques in very specific zones since the 1900s. In the southern Pacific region, intensive capitalist shrimp farming and the cultivation of African palms have also made inroads during the 1980s, causing environmental degradation: the former is destroying the mangrove swamps, an ecologically specialized niche, and the latter is causing more generalized deforestation.
Festival de Música del Pacífico Petronio Álvarez 2010

Landholding in this region is often not legally regulated. Where individual private property titles do not exist, Black communities are held by the state to be squatters on public lands; this makes their displacement by capitalist entrepreneurs all the easier. A collective system of ownership has been documented for the southern part of the region—and seems more widespread—in which a consanguineal kinship group tracing ancestry to a common ancestor exploits a given territory that has a communally worked mine, plus family mines and agricultural plots. People can move from one territory to another by activating kinship links. Men and women both work in mining and agriculture with no sharp division of labor. Generally, women are very economically active outside the domestic sphere.
In the Cauca region, the growth of the sugarcane industry from the 1930s has meant intense pressure on peasant landholding, which here is by legal title. Smallholders (who may be women) still cultivate cocoa and coffee for regular cash income alongside subsistence crops. Labor is organized along kinship lines within a broadly defined kindred. There is no sharply defined sexual division of labor. Peasants also work in the sugarcane industry for cash wages, and increasing pressure on land has intensified this and migration to the cities. In Cali, Medellín, and Bogotá, they join many Black migrants from the Pacific region working chiefly as domestic servants (women migrants outnumber men), in the construction industry, and in informal occupations, although there are small numbers of Black students and professionals.
In the Caribbean region, land-extensive cattle ranches have dominated since colonial times and have employed Blacks and mestizos as sharecroppers and laborers. Families may combine agriculture on privately held land with sharecropping and wage labor in rural areas and/or the cities. For maritime Black settlements, fishing is an important source of subsistence and cash income. In certain areas, tourism also generates income—not only in cities, where Black people may work as boatmen, for example, or selling food, but in more rural areas, where tourists from the interior of the country come to rent beach houses. From 1900 until World War II, the United Fruit Company's banana plantations near Santa Marta employed Black laborers (some of them from the West Indies). In the 1960s a banana boom began in the west of the region, near the Gulf of Urabá, and Blacks migrated from the Pacific region to work there, usually as drainage-ditch diggers.
According to government’s data for the elaboration of CORPES 3491, almost 65% of the Pacific’s population lives in poverty, 21% are illiterate, education’s quality is at 1.4%, and malnutrition reaches 15.5% compared to 49.7% in poverty at the national level, 13% in education quality and 13.5% in malnutrition (Colombia National Planning Department 2007, 7).
In addressing the issue the government sought investment in five areas: education, health, promotion of children’s well being and protection of seniors, food security, and access to government programs for people in conditions of extreme poverty: “Familias en Accion” and “ Red Juntos.” To improve living conditions in the Pacific coastal region, the government planned to improve access to potable water and sewage systems. According to the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statics (DANE), in the Pacific region only 39% of the population has access to potable water and 26% have sewage system compared to 83% and 73% at the national level (DANE 2005). In addition, the government intended to implement land titling programs, and provide the population with access to credits and healthy housing.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Characteristic of Black people all over Colombia (and not unique to them) is a flexible kinship network in which individuals and families activate links within a loosely defined kindred, often simply termed familia, in order to get access to goods and services, and to facilitate migration (see "Economy"). Classificatory categories such as primo, "cousin," or tía, "aunt," group together a large number of relatives. An individual may have more than one partner, often in unión libre, informal union, during the course of his or her life, giving rise to many half-sibling relations. 
In the Pacific region, this has been characterized as "serial polygyny," as a man contracts temporally overlapping relations with successive women. Some men have simultaneous polygynous relations, in which the women have roughly equal social status. In the Caribbean region, it is not unusual for a man to have a mujer de asiento, principal wife, perhaps legally married, and a querida, or lover. 
These patterns may give rise to matrifocal households because women retain children in a household with which successive male partners form links; her female children may then have children but remain in their mother's house. In census material, these patterns are reflected in high rates of unión libre, single motherhood, and illegitimacy for areas where Black populations are concentrated. The interpretation of these forms is subject to debate, with some scholars adducing African influences, others the destructive effects of slavery, and still others the impact of economic marginality over centuries, leading to constant male mobility, for example.
Ritual kinship is also important, with individuals forming ties of compadrazgo both with relatives of equal status to themselves and, more rarely, with people of higher status. The latter form is more common in the Caribbean region.
In the Pacific region, inheritance is from one spouse to the other and then to their children. Houses and personal possessions are passed on at death, but land (or at least the right to work land) is passed on when children reach puberty. Data on inheritance in other regions are unfortunately very scarce.
Children in Palenque de San Basilio in July 1998. Colombia Children in Palenque de San Basilio in July 1998

Political Organization
Positions of informal status and authority are achieved through seniority and personal attributes (e.g., strength of character, breadth of experience, success in providing material goods, and skill in storytelling). Some decision making and conflict management is handled at this level. In Palenque de San Basilio, there are also cuagros, or age groups, into which people are recruited informally in infancy and formally initiated at puberty, when male and female leaders are chosen. Intracuagro relations are of mutual aid and solidarity, and male-female relations are often formed within the cuagro; intercuagro relations are competitive, at times expressed through boxing matches.
In formal terms, regions where Black people live in Colombia come under the umbrella of national administrative and political structures of the departamento (a province, headed by a governor) and the municipio and corregimiento (a municipality and its districts, headed by a mayor). The staffing of bureaucratic posts is managed through a system of patron-client relations in which votes are exchanged for goods and services, mostly channeled through the traditional Liberal and Conservative parties. The Liberal party has a long-standing advantage in many Black areas, purportedly because it was in power when slavery was abolished, but also because its more federalist stance favored the peripheral regions where most Blacks live. Generally, formal politics is not "racialized": Black senators, for example, do not generally speak from a self-consciously "Black" platform.
¡Bellas Palenqueras vendiendo fruta fresca!
From the 1960s, however, a small educated minority of urban Blacks, spurred mainly by the Black Power movement, tried to create organizations that encourage "Black identity"; these had a marginal existence. In the late 1980s, several self-help Black peasant organizations, often sponsored by the church, began to emerge in rural areas of the Pacific region. In the early 1990s, both types of organization strengthened when constitutional reform opened an arena for issues of ethnic identity and multiculturality to be voiced, mainly by more experienced Indian organizations. 
Afro-Colombian Diana Mina, a student from the Caribbean coast, was crowned as the first Afro-Colombian Miss Bogota, 

The constitution of 1991 included a clause promising collective land rights for rural Black communities in the Pacific region. After two years of negotiation, in which representatives of Black organizations were involved, Law 70 of 1993 was passed, which enshrined these rights in legislation. Black organization thus reached a new stage of intensity, identifiable as a social movement; issues of the specific conditions of life in the Pacific region and generally of the status of blackness in national society and culture became more public than ever before. Black people in the Caribbean and Cauca regions, however, tended to have a peripheral position in all this, since the legal process targeted the Black communities of the Pacific region.
This Black social movement is related to government plans to "open up" the Pacific region to development. Since the 1980s, there have been grandiose plans to finish the Pan-American Highway (which runs through the region), build more deep-water ports on the coast, and build an interoceanic canal. More prosaically, road building has progressed apace since 1980. Immigration by non-Blacks into the region increased, and pressure on land and natural resources grew, prejudicing many Black communities. This pressure was also transmitted to Indian-Black relations in the area as Black people involved in logging and mining began to encroach on Indian lands. Other Black communities suddenly found themselves within Indian reserves newly created as a result of Indian lobbying of the central government. Church-sponsored Black and Indian organizations were instrumental in mediating these conflicts. The overall experience fomented organization and the lobbying of the constitutional reform process by the Pacific region's Black people.
                            Afro-Colombian woman

Black people in Colombia are Catholics. As among many people in Latin America, they tend to practice a "popular Catholicism" that the clergy considers more or less unorthodox. In the past and still in the 1990s, the clergy tended to disapprove of practices in Black regions, but with the emergence of a stronger Black identity, some priests are willing to include "traditional" elements in church ceremonies.
In the Pacific region, the presence of the church was rather weak, and many religious rites are practiced outside the direct control of the clergy. There are festivals to venerate a saint or the Virgin Mary, an image of whom is processed through a settlement and often down a river—in a town such as Quibdó, capital of the department of Chocó, the Fiestas de San Pacho (Saint Francis of Assisi) have the aspect of a carnival as different barrios compete to present the best procession and float over twelve days. Velorios, or wakes to propitiate a saint, are usually sponsored by a specific person who provides drink, tobacco, and food. There are also wakes to commemorate the death of a person. Music is a vital element in these rites, with cantadoras (female singers), who may also take role of rezanderas (prayer sayers). Aguardiente (rum) is commonly taken by the participants to combat the coldness of the deceased; beyond the immediate circle of the corpse, where respect is shown, people play dominoes, drink rum, and tell stories and jokes. At the velorio of a child (whose soul is considered to go directly to heaven, a cause for rejoicing), there may be some merriment and perhaps games that may have sexual overtones.
Less research has been conducted in the Caribbean coastal region but one study shows extensive similarities between this region and the Pacific coast, although perhaps greater attention is accorded to spirits than to saints. In Palenque de San Basilio, the cabildo lumbalú consists of elders who officiate at velorios with drumming, singing, and dancing to help the deceased's departure. Spirits of the deceased are called upon to aid the living and must therefore be propitiated and managed carefully through ritual means, for example during the velorio, when many precautions are taken to prevent the spirit's return or anger. Ritual specialists, often women, are accorded prestige and respect. Some observers interpret the interest shown in spirits and saints as in some measure related to African religious concerns with ancestral spirits and the propitiation of deities. It is hard to discount some African influences, but velorios and a concern with spirits and saints are also widespread in non-Black areas.
Work in the Cauca region has focused on elements that are in fact common in other Black (and indeed non-Black) regions: the use of magic and sorcery to attack one's enemies, bring good fortune, influence one's sexual partners, and defend oneself against the machinations of others. Sorcery is often used where envidia, envy, is rife and this in turn may be the result of perceived transgressions against norms of reciprocity, which occur when a person enjoys some material success and is thought to forget his or her obligations as a friend or relative. In this area, too, the pact made with the devil to increase a worker's output and wages has been documented. The gains achieved are fruitless, however—they cannot be usefully invested and must be spent on consumables; the worker will also gradually waste away. In the northern Cauca region, Black people also celebrate various festivals, including the Adoration of the Child.
There is very little information available on medical practices among Black Colombians. In general terms, as among many peoples all over Latin America, health is considered to be a balance between "hot" and "cold" forces and elements that affect the body: the cold of a corpse can be threatening, for example, and is combated by the heat of rum. Also, health and welfare are affected by the machinations of others through sorcery, and recourse can be made to healers to defend against these threats, whether to person or property. 
Afro-Colombian José Antonio Torres, Gualajo (xylophone) maestro and champion of Marimba songs in Colombia and the Pacific.

In the Pacific region, Indian shamans (called jaibanas in the department of Chocó) are considered the most powerful healers: they and their patients may use pildé, a relative of the hallucinogenic Banisteriopsis caapi vine (ayahuasca), to induce visions. In the Chocó, Black curers are called raicilleros (raicilla means "rootlet" but also refers to the ipecac root); they diagnose illness by examining urine samples. When they are given a sign that healing is their vocation, raicilleros begin a seven-year training with various teachers. Less specialized healers are called yerbateros (herbalists).
Alfonso Mosquera Cordoba, dubbed as "The Sorcerer," was born on August 30th of 1926 , in Pretoria , the capital of Chocó in Colombia , and died in the same city on June 26 of 2009 , at the age of 83 years old. He was one of the most celebrated artists from Colombia, and one of the most renowned in the Pacific coast .  He was also called the "black DaVinci" as a result of creative qualities and enormous work. He was a composer, performer, goldsmith, carver, costume designer, builder of instruments, researcher of Pacific rhythms and formed seven orchestras, worked with the Guayacan Orchestra for which he composed several themes.He was awarded several times for his contributions to the Afro-Colombian culture. The a awards includes the National Jewelry Award , a tribute at the Pacific Music Festival "Petronio Alvarez" ,  the Grand Order of Cultural Merit, the highest award given by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia .

Music in Black regions of Colombia is varied and rich. In the department of Chocó, the chirimía band—based on clarinets, drums, and cymbals—plays versions of European-derived dances (e.g., mazurka, polka); there are also alabaos (religious songs), romances (ballads), and décimas (ten-line stanzas). Further south in the Pacific region, currulao, played with marimba, drums, and voices, is a central genre generally thought to have a more African derivation. In the northern Cauca region, fugas (fugues) and coplas (rhyming couplets) are European-derived forms that are widely played and sung among Black people.
In the Caribbean coast region, there is a huge variety of styles, including the cumbia, which exists in both folkloric and commercialized forms. Music there is often held to be of triethnic origin, but the major inputs have come from European and African traditions in a complex cultural interchange. During the twentieth century, genres from this region have become commercialized, often crossing over with Afro-Cuban styles, and have become popular nationwide and abroad under the generic umbrella of cumbia. 
An accordion-based style, vallenato, which interprets what were once traditional Caribbean Colombian airs, has also become nationally commercialized and is especially popular among Black people in other regions of the country. All over Colombia, but especially popular in Black regions, is found salsa, a genre based on Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean styles, which became commercialized in New York in the 1960s and spread over the entire Latin American region. (read further here:

Afro-Colombian funeral songs officially become national treasures
Afro-Colombian dirges and funeral rites from the Pacific Choco state have been added to the official list that recognizes Colombia’s cultural heritage, the Ministry of Culture announced Tuesday.
“Gualies,” “alabaos” and “levantamientos de tumba” (or “tomb-raising”) are rituals performed at funerals in Afro-Colombian communities of Colombia’s Pacific region that ensure the safe passage of a soul into eternity, according to the Ministry of Culture.
Afro-Colombian funeral songs officially become national treasures
In the town of Medio San Juan, Choco, the ritual performed depends upon who has died. For children’s funerals “gualies” are performed, whereas “alabaos” assist an adult soul’s journey into the afterlife during the “levantamientos de tumba,” or “tomb-raising.”
Colombia’s Ministry of Culture announced that these funeral rituals are to be safe-guarded among the nation’s representative list of  Intangible Cultural Heritage which seeks, among other things, to strengthen and maintain living traditions and values, as well as to protect the valuable knowledge inherited from past generations.
The guali is a joyous ceremony that includes lullabies, ballads, dances, games, rhymes, jokes and stories to farewell children from this world. It is also said that ancestors of Choco’s Afro-Colombian communities celebrated the death of a child because they were happy that they would not be living the cruelty suffered during slavery.
The late Colombian musicologist Luis Antonio Escobar likened the “alabaos” to Gregorian and Catholic chants that originated in Medieval times and also sung without accompanying instruments, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper.
The “tomb-raising”
The tomb-raising begins on the day of burial and lasts nine days. For first eight days, family and friends gather every evening at 6PM for special prayers. This tradition is still widely practised in rural areas, yet is becoming less common in urban areas.
The tomb-raising involves much crying and screaming by the family of the deceased as this is the very painful final farewell. (

Carnival of Barranquilla, the traditional festival with street dance, music full of Caribbean rhythm

San Basilio de Palenque: African Tradition in Colombia
On the Colombian Caribbean Coast, at a distance of one hour from the city of Cartagena, between mountains and swamps, there is a place where, in spite of the passage of time, its inhabitants live guided by African customs, traditions and rites, just as their ancestors did several centuries ago. 
This place, known as San Basilio de Palenque, is famous for its symbol, the palenqueras, dark-skinned women who, dressed in multicolored dresses and swaying their hips, walk while they balance bowls of fresh fruit on their heads. Its inhabitants prefer to have their community called San Basilio de Palenque not Palenque de San Basilio, with the argument that the village does not belong to the saint, rather it is the other way around.
The palenqueras are the image representing the difficult, complicated history of their ancestors. They symbolize the struggles of the black cimarrones - slaves who courageously escaped from their owners in search of a better future.
San Basilio de Palenque: tradición africana en la tierra de Colombia

Since the 15th century, San Basilio de Palenque is considered the first village of free slaves in South America, as well as the birthplace of the African cultural wealth of Colombia. The palenqueras preserve the African traditions brought by the slaves who disembarked on these regions of the South American continent during the Spanish Conquesti. Soon after, in colonial times, palenques began to appear on the mountains. 
These were settlements of rebellious cimarrones. The term “palenque” turned into a symbol of freedom because anyone who became a member of one was automatically free.
Social Organization
The palenqueros live by the norms of the social organization inherited from their African ancestors: the ma-kuagro, according to which every society is divided into age groups to allow the division of labor, the protection of the territory, and the preservation of traditions based on honesty, solidarity, and a collective spirit.
Another form of social organization in San Basilio de Palenque is the junta, a committee of sorts that is formed for a specific purpose - an illness, for example – and disappears once its purpose has been fulfilled.
The Palenque language is the only Creole language used in the world that is based on Spanish and African elements. The Palenque language is a Creole language based on Spanish lexicon, but with the morpho-syntactical characteristics of the African continent’s autochthonous languages, especially Bantu. Researchers have also detected that the Palenquero lexicon includes words from the Kikongo and Kimbundo languages.
The statue of Benko Bioho of Senegal, in the town Square of San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia. Bioho led a successful slave revolt in the 17th Century, making it the first free black town in the Americas, which maintained its African cultural tradition.

This type of Creole language originated as a response to difficulties in communication between Europeans and the various representatives of different linguistic families who arrived in South America.

In addition to the language, the palenque preserved African music and the traditional way of manufacturing instruments for its interpretation, the main ones being drums, the most widely-known of which are pechiche, bongó, timba, bombo, llamador and alegre), and marimbulas and maracas.

The following rhythms are played on these instruments:
Bullerengue sentado: a women’s song originally associated to pregnant women. Nowadays, it is sung by a feminine voice that interprets the verses that are responded to by a women’s chorus.
Chalupa: the merriest rhythm in palenque music.
Son de negros: a dance where a man and a women court each other.
Chalusonga: a mixture of African and Caribbean island music, the latter imitated with palenque instruments.
Son palenquero: which follows the format of the Cuban son brought by Cuban workers in the 20th century to the sugar mills of the Colombian Caribbean and then fused with the region’s music.

Cartagena, Colombia:  These brightly colored women are Palenqueras, reigning from the mysterious and unique town of Palenque.  Most of the residents of Palenque are descendents of African slaves, and they still use their own language, maintain their own style of music and dance, and are known to practice a sort of voodoo, according to local legend.  In Cartagena, they make a living taking photos with tourists in their brilliant dresses and selling tropical fruits and candies.

Raizal people of San Andrés
The Raizals are a Protestant Afro-Caribbean ethnic group, speaking the San Andrés-Providencia Creole, an English Creole, living in the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, presently the Colombian San Andrés y Providencia Department, off the Nicaraguan Miskito Coast. They are recognized by the Colombian authorities as one of the Afro-Colombian ethnic groups under the multicultural policy pursued since 1991. Raizals call themselves "SIFAPARANS."
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, Raizals posited:
"We, the undersigned members of the Sovereign Indigenous Families of Afro-descendant Peoples of the Archipelago of St. Andrew, Providence and Kathleena, located 110 miles east of the Nicaraguan Coast and 480 miles northwest of the Colombian mainland, which territory, granted in accordance with the Real Orden of 1803, ratified in 1805, by Charles IV, King of Spain, to the native inhabitants (SIFAPARAN People), on their petition to him of 1802, which territory formerly comprised what was so determined by said King, as: &the islands of San Andres and that portion of the Moskito Coast from the Cabo Gracias a Dios up till and including the Chagres river& (See Map-Annex No. 1), under the auspices of the Archipelago Movement for Ethnic Natives Self Determination-AMEN-SD, Ketlëna National Association-KETNA, Independent Farmers United Association-INFAUNAS, Departmental Consultative Commission and other community base organizations, hereby autonomously express our will and sincere desire, as a people, to be known and recognized, as of this DECLARATION, locally, nationally and internationally by the distinctive name of SIFAPARAN (singular) SIFAPARANS (plural), (currently known as Raizales according to the 1991 Constitution of the Colombian State)"
 The word “Raizal” was born after 1991 and was coined in order to differentiate the original population of the islands and the groups from the twentieth century immigration from mainland Colombia. However, some scholars conclude that the term is an unknown mixture and excludes the other islanders. The Raizal people of San Andres are closely linked with indigenous peoples of the eastern Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua.
Raizal fisherman from San Andres in Colombia.

The term Raizal is the way in which the culture is defined characteristic of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. While these people are also known as San Andreans, the fact is that the adjective corresponds broadly to a more diverse group that includes immigrants to the islands during the twentieth century. The Raizales are meant to have a distinct identity based on their history, their culture, their language (San Andrés) and their identity. The Raizales are strongly related to, among others, the cultural Antillean peoples from Jamaica and Haiti. 

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics of Colombia of 2005, 40,201 Raizal people form 56.98% of the total population. According to studies by sociologist Adelaide Cano Schütz, Raizal culture is a term created in 1991 when the Colombian government recognized the existence and identity of this group of people. In recent times, they have defended their identity as indigenous people, a category that allowed greater possibilities of cultural defense against the State and against the international community. The Raizal community in the mainland is represented by the Organización de la comunidad raizal con residencia fuera del archipiélago de San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina (Orfa, based in Bogotá).
The history of the native islander population of San Andres Archipelago, Providencia and Santa Catalina was started in the early eighteenth century. Prior to that there had been some attempts at colonization by the British and the Spanish, but it is only until this century that one can speak of the beginnings of this society this century.  Settlers began to arrive from Ireland and Scotland, other Caribbean islands, (such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago), and as African slaves. The island society began as a slave society, producing cotton, and equally, smugglers.
Crab cay

In the late eighteenth century, due to the smuggling and the growing strategic position, the English from Providence and the Spanish Crown decided to use the Spanish Fleet to help re-conquer the island territory.  At this point Spain approved the continuing migration of the Jamaican English, which allowed them to constitute a society with the same cultural characteristics as the rest of the Anglophone Caribbean where large areas prevailed for cultivation (Vollemer, 1997). Similarly, the people of the island, at this time held, as they do today, strong ties to the community of the Mosquito Indians on the Caribbean coast of Central America, and the Anglophone groups in the area, which allowed them to combine certain cultural ties, given the proximity of the coast archipelago
In 1903 the local Raizal population rejected an offer from the USA to separate from Colombia as Panama had done. However, the policy followed by successive Colombian governments of trying to modify the ethnic composition by promoting extensive migration of Spanish-speaking mainland Colombians resulted in increasing discontent, especially when, in 1947, the assimilation policy was led by Catholic missions.
Towards the end of the 1960s, separatist movements began to be active in the archipelago.
The first separatists, an underground movement, were led by Marcos Archbold Britton, who addressed a memorandum to the United Nations, asking for the inclusion of the archipelago in the list of colonized territories. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) paid a private visit to the archipelago shortly afterwards, arousing suspicions in Colombia.
The second movement, born at the end of the seventies, grew stronger in the following decade, and culminated in the creation in March 1984 of the Sons of the Soil Movement (S.O.S.), openly claiming the right to self-determination.
Since 1999, another organization, the Archipelago Movement for Ethnic Native Self-Determination for the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providence and Kethlena (AMEN-SD),[4] a radical separatist movement led by Rev. Raymond Howard Britton, has demanded the creation of an associated state.
There are nowadays, according to a document from the Colombian government, two trends among the Raizals: a radical one, the Pueblo Indígena Raizal, represented by the Indigenous Native Organizations, among whom Amen, Barraca New Face, Infaunas (a Rastafarian-inspired group of farmers and fishermen), Ketna (Ketlënan National Association) and the SOS Foundation, and a more moderate one, Comunidad Raizal (Native Foundation and Integración Básica) led by former governors who are friends of the Colombian establishment, mainly Felix Palacios, Carlos Archbold and Alvaro Archbold N. This latter group is understandably more ready to participate in bipartite institutions set up by the Colombian authorities
The buildings of San Andres and Providence are all built with the facades on the north-south axis of the land, with windows on each side to carry the light and breezes throughout the year. The modular construction is done in order to grow with the same family under one roof.   There are several “secrets” that still exist with island home construction today. One is that they are meant to be havens of peace, where life unfolds and which constitutes the main island heritage of their ancestors. Originally, the facade was supposed to be “sobering” as ordered by the Puritan church.  More recently, under the influence of international tourism in the first half of the twentieth century homes began to be adorned with colorful Caribbean colors that are still around today.  
Greens and oranges are the predominant colors that still remain. The homes of the islands exude an air of welcoming at first sight with their windows wide open to let in the music of the birds. Over the years, both in San Andrés and Providencia, the typical Caribbean structure of the homes has faded with the introduction of concrete, which has become the favored construction material.  Although most of the original structures are gone, there are still some surviving specimens of old architecture in San Andres.
The “Free Port” area, which began in 1955, has been declared as a national architectural reserve, as is the House of the Downs in the traditional neighborhood of The Barrick. The First Baptist Church in the traditional sector is as well in Loma. As for Providence, the City Hall building is one that has remained as an architectural model.
Island food
Due to the varying background of this group of people, it is easy to understand why there are so many different preparations of fish and seafood which are the specialty of this colorful island. Snails, lobsters, shrimp, snapper and red pen, black crabs and trout are among the delicious dishes that can be tasted during your visit. 
To season recipes, coconut and its derivatives are the stars of the culinary world here. English ancestors left the island herbs like cloves, cinnamon and ginger, which left the island cuisine bursting with flavor. Accompanying dishes coconut rice, fried plantains (fried green bananas), cassava and yam.

WE, the indigenous Raizal people of St. Andrew, Providence and Ketlena Islands,
Considering that we are the original and hence, the indigenous, people of our Caribbean islands, descendants of the Africans, Caribbean peoples and British who first settled our territory in the 16th and 17th centuries and created our society;
Bearing in mind that our origins, history, cultural identity, language, traditions, customs, religious beliefs, institutions and social organizations differentiate us from other peoples;
Noting that our islands, by accidents of history, became a possession of Colombia in the early 1800 s, despite the cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences between us and the people of that South American nation;
Recalling that in 1822 our forefathers signed a treaty with Colombia, under which terms our islands were annexed to said republic, but we were to be protected as a people and our cultural identity, territory and autonomy respected;
Denouncing that the government of Colombia, contrary to the terms of the 1822 treaty and in violation of our human and collective rights, has implemented a policy of colonialism and discrimination against us, with the intention of erasing our cultural identity, rendering us a minority in our own land, usurping our ancestral territory and territorial sea, exploiting our natural resources and destroying our traditional means of sustenance;
Denouncing furthermore that, among the disastrous results of the aforementioned colonialism, (1) more than 50,000 Colombians and other foreigners have invaded San Andres, overpopulating the island, crowding out the 25,000 Raizal inhabitants, making us a displaced minority in our own territory and setting us on the road to extinction as a people; (2) our Native culture and language have been eliminated from our islands education system and public institutions; (3) most of the teachers, judges and policemen are Colombians, unable to communicate with us in our language because they only speak Spanish; (4) our traditional artisanal economy has been replaced by a tourist and free port system which excludes and discriminates against us while exploiting, plundering and degrading our islands natural resources and fragile ecosystem; (5) the population density of San Andres far exceeds its carrying capacity, defined as the maximum population density a small island can sustain without posing a threat to its ecological balance; (6) without our consent and even without our knowledge, Bogotá has been signing treaties and agreements with other nations granting them portions of our territory and territorial sea, or that are otherwise detrimental to our interests, in exchange for recognition by those nations of Colombian sovereignty in its dispute with the republic of Nicaragua over possession of our islands; (7) most employers in our islands are Colombians or other foreigners, and they discriminate against us, to the extent that Natives constitute only about ten percent of the work force in the private sector; (8) as a consequence of our dire economic situation we are obliged to keep selling our lands, which are being bought up by the immigrants, hotel and store owners, shantytown developers, drug lords, high government officials and other wealthy Colombians; and (9) the laws of Colombia allows the usurpation of our lands, as well as other abuses against us.
Emphasizing that the deliberate invasion of our territory, to populate and overrun it with Colombians and other foreigners and stamp out our cultural identity, is a form of discrimination, racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia;
Stressing that the implementation of colonialist policies such as those imposed in our islands has depleted or destroyed our natural resources, battered our culture, hindered our development, caused us great economic, social and political harm, and violated our right to self-preservation;
Troubled that the Colombian authorities have ignored or rejected our many petitions and attempts to persuade them to end their colonialist policies and practices in our islands and to respect our collective rights as an indigenous people and as a Caribbean people of African descent, especially our cultural and territorial rights and our right to free determination.
Aware that there are communities in Central America and the Caribbean who share our language and culture, but are nevertheless isolated from us by design of the Colombian state,
We therefore respectfully request that the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,
1. Call upon the Republic of Colombia: (a) to honor the 1822 treaty agreed to with us upon the annexation of our islands; (b) to comply with all national and international legislation protecting us as an indigenous people and as a Caribbean people of African descent, especially its own Law 21 of 1991, which ratifies International Labor Organization (ILO) Covenant 169 of 1989; and (c) to take all other necessary steps to bring an end to its colonialist policies and practices in our islands.
2. Press the government of Colombia to recognize and respect our collective rights as an indigenous people and as a Caribbean people of African descent, especially our right to free determination, our right to maintain or regain possession of our territory, and our right to live and develop ourselves in accordance with our own cultural identity, traditions and vision of the world.
3. Urge the government of Colombia to adopt measures not only to stop the invasion of our territory, but also to reduce its population to a sustainable level by repatriating most of the Colombian and other foreign settlers.
4. Call upon the government of Colombia to stop its practice of negotiating and signing with other countries, treaties and agreements involving our territory or territorial sea without even consulting us; also that the government of Colombia seek ways to abrogate such existing treaties, involving us fully in the renegotiation processes; and that all future international treaties and agreements involving our islands, especially those which would mean loss of portions of our territory or territorial sea, be conditioned on our free and informed consent.
5. Prevail upon the Colombian authorities to enact laws to stop its citizens from acquiring more land in our territory and to restitute to us, as collective property, the land already acquired.
6. Urge the government of Colombia to concert with us a plan to make our islands a self-governing territory, with its own constitution, branches of government and taxation system.
7. Appeal to the countries of the world, as well as to the pertinent agencies of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, international financial and cooperation institutions, international non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples organizations and organizations of peoples of African descent, to assist us in our efforts to rebuild our devastated islands, develop our own economy and political and social institutions, and assume self-government of our territory.
8.  Bring pressure to bear on Colombia to pay us reparations for subjecting us to colonialism, discrimination and cultural oppression; for flooding our islands with its people and other foreigners; for dispossessing us of our lands and territorial sea; for partitioning our territory and granting parts thereof and of our territorial sea to other nations without our consent; for irreversibly damaging many of our natural resources; and for the great economic, environmental, social, political and cultural harm such acts have caused us.
9. Urge the Government of Colombia to apply standards of the international legal and justice system to protect our rights as the indigenous people of our islands, as a people of African descent, and as a displaced people in our own territory.
10. Urge the countries of Central America and the Caribbean region to which our islands belong, including Colombia, to guarantee free movement of indigenous peoples who have been artificially divided by international frontiers.
11. Take steps to facilitate (1) the participation of delegates of our people in the discussions currently taking place of the Draft Declaration of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Draft Declaration of the Organization of American States on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and (2) the adoption of these Declarations before the end of the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples. 
12. Declare that the settling of the territory of an indigenous people with the intention of stamping out its cultural identity or exploiting the territory s natural resources, is a form of discrimination, racism and racial discrimination, as well as ethnocide and a crime against humanity.
13. Incorporate in its final declaration the Action Plan adopted by the Forum of the Americas for Diversity and Plurality in Quito, Ecuador, March 13 to 16, 2001.
Afro-Colombian (Raizal) rastafarian from San Andre archipelago

Of the Sovereign Indigenous Families of Afro-descendant Peoples of the Archipelago of St. Andrew, Providence and Kathleena, currently known as San Andres (St. Andrew), Providencia (Providence)y Santa Catalina (Kathleena) (Colombia), for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance to be held in Durban, South Africa from the 31 August to 7 September 2001.

Afro-Colombians (Raizals) from San Andres archipelago dancing at the beach

Afro-Colombian Social Movements
Peter Wade
By some estimates, Colombia has the second largest population of Afrodescendants in Latin America, after Brazil (Sanchez and Bryan 2003). It also arguably has the most comprehensive array of legislation aimed at Afrodescendant people, covering special land titles for “black communities” (as defined by the law), ethno-education programs in schools, university places reserved for candidates from black communities, representation on committees and decision-making bodies at various levels of the local, regional and national state, a special Directorate of Black Community Affairs, and two seats in the Chamber of Representatives of the Congress reserved for candidates representing black communities.[1] 
Yet before the 1990s, when these laws came onto the statute books, Afro-Colombian social mobilization was not very well developed and, indeed, many academics and activists bemoaned the fact that Afro-Colombians were “invisible” in the eyes of the state and in the nation more generally. Even academic disciplines, such as history, anthropology and sociology, were said to ignore Afro-Colombians, preferring to concentrate on slavery, indigenous peoples and the poor (defined in terms of class, rather than ethnic identity). In this chapter, I will outline the background and current situation of Afro-Colombians and try to explain how the changes in their “visibility” came about (which will also involve arguing that they were not quite as invisible as often maintained).
            My own experience of Colombia and Afro-Colombian people began informally in 1980, when I spent some time in the city of Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where there is a substantial Afro-Colombian population. Between 1983 and 1998 I carried out a series of projects in rural and urban areas, using techniques of ethnographic enquiry and interviews to explore issues of identity, discrimination, political mobilization and the intersection between culture and politics. I also used the analysis of documents, especially in a study on the social history of music from the Caribbean coastal region, but my methodology has been mainly anthropological.
Background and Context
Africans were imported into Colombia from the 1520s and concentrated first in and around Cartagena, a port on the Caribbean coast, where they did domestic and agricultural labor. The main occupation of slaves, however, was gold mining and this was focused on the Pacific coastal region, and in valley zones of the provinces of Cauca and Antioquia. The Pacific coastal region was particular for having a population composed mainly of slaves, free blacks and indigenous people, with a tiny minority of whites. Interbreeding was limited and the emergence of mestizos (mixed people) was thus also restricted, in comparison to many other areas of Colombia where they became a majority by the end of the eighteenth century. Slavery was abolished in 1851 and the Pacific coastal region remained a poor, underdeveloped area, with little infrastructure. This history helped constitute the Pacific region as a particularly “black” region in a regionally diverse country.
            Colombia is often represented as a country of regions. Typically, four main regions are said to exist. The central Andean region, with three mountainous cordilleras running north to south, separated by two impressive river valleys, encompasses the biggest cities and is the seat of political power and economic wealth. It is predominantly white and mestizo, with small groups of indigenous peoples, especially in the higher areas. The Pacific coastal region to the west, is damp, poor, heavily forested, sparsely populated and with rather little infrastructure; it is often seen as the “black region” of the country, with a population that is about 80 per cent black and with significant indigenous groups too. The hot Caribbean coastal region to the north has some medium-sized cities and a population that includes important numbers of both Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples and a majority of mestizos, with a lot of African and indigenous heritage. Finally, the plains and jungles to the east of the Andes are famed as the territories of cowboys (on the plains or llanos) and indigenous peoples (in forests). This “racialized” geography - where regions have stereotypical associations with certain racial identities - is important in understanding the situation of Afro-Colombians and their processes of political mobilization. It is similar to some other Latin American countries, such as Peru, where the image of the highlands is indio and the coastal plains are white and mestizo, or Ecuador, where the Pacific coastal region is the “black region”. Often the regions associated with black and indigenous peoples are marginalized in terms of socio-economic development and political power. Thus racial inequality becomes entwined with overall processes of national development and the mechanisms that disadvantage these peoples appear as matters of “underdevelopment”, distance from the centers of wealth, lack of influence in politics, and so on. This masks the fact these mechanisms continue to marginalize not just certain regions, but certain categories of people. At the same time, the status of particular regions as the country’s “black” territories also opens avenues for political mobilization and racial-ethnic identification around issues that affect those areas.
Palenquera vendiendo fruta fresca. (((Jose Daniel)))

            However, it is also important to realize that, whatever the broad images associated with particular regions, the Pacific coastal region is not home to the majority of Afro-Colombians, due to its low density of population. Counting Afrodescendants in Colombia has been a difficult matter, as in Latin America generally, due to the lack of a widespread consensus about who counts as “black” (or Afro-Colombian, or whatever other terms are used). Censuses early in the twentieth century, when enumerators decided who was who, classed about 10 per cent of the national population as negro (Smith 1966). Later estimates varied from 4 per cent to 26 per cent - the latter figure produced by the National Planning Department in 1998 (Wade 2002: 21). 
In 2005, the state carried out a census with a new “ethnic” question that asked people to self-identify as one of a number of ethnic categories (which I discuss in more detail later). On the basis of this, about 4 million people, or 10.5 per cent of the national total, were categorized by the census department as población afrocolombiana (DANE 2006). What the results of the 2005 census also make clear is only about 20 per cent of these Afro-Colombians live in the Pacific coastal region.[2] In fact, nearly 600,000 of the self-identified Afro-Colombians in the census live in the province of Antioquia, generally famed for being one of the whitest in the country.[3] In addition, the 2005 census reinforced what had already been demonstrated (Barbary and Urrea 2004: 77-8): that 29 per cent of Afro-Colombians lived in the large cities of the interior of the country, Cali, Medellín and Bogotá, and the medium cities of the Caribbean coast, Barranquilla and Cartagena (DANE 2006: 20).
            There are further important aspects of the geography of blackness in Colombia. The first concerns the so-called raizales (a word derived from raíz, meaning root), “black” people who live on the Colombian island territories of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. These people are of Anglo-Antillean origins, speak a creole English, as well as Spanish, and are mainly Protestant; according to the 2005 census, they form 57 per cent of the island population, the rest being mostly mainland Colombians. Raizales have been part of Afro-Colombian mobilizations, although their concerns are not necessarily the same as those of mainland Afro-Colombians and tend to concern the defense of their culture in the face of “Colombianization” and the onslaught of tourist development. The second aspect concerns the special character of the village of Palenque de San Basilio, about 50 kilometers from Cartagena. Palenque was the name given to colonial settlements formed by runaway slaves or cimarrones (maroons), although such villages sometimes became ethnically mixed even in colonial times. They formed in many areas of Colombia and elsewhere (Price 1979), but generally lost their identity as palenques after abolition. Palenque de San Basilio, however, retained that identity, along with a unique creole language, and palenqueros have been important figures in Afro-Colombian political movements, particularly in the Caribbean coastal region, but also more widely (Cunin 2003). Overall, this uneven distribution of blackness, which nuances the stereotypical image of black coasts versus a white-mestizo interior, is important when it comes to understanding the significance of the legislation about Afro-Colombians and the nature of Afro-Colombian political mobilization.
            The socio-economic conditions of Afro-Colombians present contradictory features. For example, 2005 census data showed that life expectancy for Afro-Colombian men was lower than the national average by 5.5 years for men and nearly 11 years for women. Infant mortality for Afro-Colombian girls was 44 deaths per thousand births compared to the national average of 19. Afro-Colombians suffered much higher percentages of major health problems than the overall population, while nearly 6 per cent of Afro-Colombians changed residence due to a threat to their life, compared to a national average of 4 per cent. The census also revealed that 79 per cent of the population of Chocó province, which occupies the northern half of the Pacific coastal region, had “unsatisfied basic needs”, the highest proportion in the country, while 54 per cent of all Afro-Colombians had unsatisfied basic needs (compared to 47 per cent of non-Afro-Colombians). 
Comparing Afro-Colombians with non-Afro-Colombians, unemployment was higher (6 per cent versus 3 per cent ) and poverty greater (10 per cent versus 7 per cent). Survey data for 2003 indicate that the provision of secondary and higher educational facilities was also worse for Afro-Colombians.  On the other hand, the census showed that literacy rates for Afro-Colombians were only marginally lower than for the nation (86 per cent versus 88 per cent), and educational levels were not markedly different overall.[4] This suggests that Afro-Colombians work hard to gain an education, despite lack of facilities and services, but that their education does not benefit them as much as it does other people in terms of employment and income.[5]
Early Afro-Colombian Mobilizations
Colombia did not see the kind of early Afrodescendant mobilizations that occurred in Cuba, with the formation of the Partido Independiente de Color in 1908 (Helg 1995), or in Brazil with the emergence of a black press (Mitchell 1992) and the formation of the Frente Negra Brasileira in 1931 (Andrews 1991). However, Colombia did experience its own form of negrismo, or aesthetic attention to black creativity and culture: this occurred to a limited extent in literature and painting, but mostly in relation to music. Genres from the Caribbean coastal region generally identified as “black”, such as cumbia, became popular nationally from the 1940s (Wade 2000), just as Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music had also become national icons.
            Black political mobilization started in the 1970s, with the formation of small, urban groups, often led by university students and graduates, influenced by indigenous mobilizations and, more powerfully, by overseas black movements. Figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela were inspirations: a group formed in 1976 in the city of Pereira was called Soweto and, in the reading group they formed, they tackled Frantz Fanon and Amílcar Cabral in addition to US black leaders. In 1982 Soweto changed its name to Cimarrón (sub-titled The National Movement for the Human Rights of Black Communities in Colombia), invoking the figure of the rebellious runaway slave, which had already been used in Jamaica, Brazil and Haiti to signify black resistance (Wade 1995). These groups produced publications, including books, newsletters and newspapers, and they held meetings and participated in academic conferences (Wade 2009).
            At the same time, and linked to such movements, academic interest in Afro-Colombians began to increase, led by anthropologist Nina de Friedemann, who started publishing on Afro-Colombian culture in the Pacific coastal region in the late 1960s, although there had been some predecessors in the field.[6] A key concern of Friedemann and these early groups was with the “invisibility” of black people in Colombia. In fact, Afro-Colombians were not quite so invisible, as reference to black people (or rather slaves) was routine in school text books, a form of stylized blackness had carved out space of a limited kind in music, and the term negro was used widely in Colombia to refer to people perceived as black (Wade 2000: ch. 2; Wade 2005). 
But blackness was certainly marginalized, trivialized and folklorized: it was also pretty much invisible in terms of the mass print media and public representations of the Colombian nation. Friedemann’s project was to display the historical and contemporary presence of Africanness in Colombian culture - via the notion of huellas de africanía (traces of Africanness), which she developed with fellow anthropologist Jaime Arocha - and highlight the distinctiveness of Afro-Colombian cultural forms in the context of Colombian popular culture. She was also concerned with racism, principally in terms of the denial and marginalization of blackness, but also in terms of discrimination against Afro-Colombian communities (Friedemann 1976; Friedemann and Arocha 1986).
            Afro-Colombian organizations at this time, such as the Centre for the Investigation and Development of Black Culture, led by Amir Smith Córdoba, and Cimarrón, led by Juan de Dios Mosquera - both men based in cities of the interior of the country, having migrated from the Pacific coastal region - shared these concerns and also spear-headed a consciousness-raising movement, which aimed to confront a number of problems.[7] As these leaders saw it, too many “black” people denied their own blackness, perhaps preferring not to identify in relation to ethnicity or race, perhaps trying to avoid the perceived stigma of blackness and of Africa; too many refused to recognize that they were “black”, claiming they were mestizos, perhaps brown-skinned, but not “black”; too many were ignorant of black history and even denied that racism affected Afro-Colombians. These movements thus addressed invisibility and denial by publishing and disseminating information about Afro-Colombians’ role in history and society, but they also had a perspective that included racism in urban life. In contrast, the academics tended to focus more on Afro-Colombian history and culture, rooted in the Pacific coastal region, and to a lesser extent the Caribbean coastal region (where Palenque de San Basilio took pride of place).
            Other organizations existed at this time and their varied nature can be illustrated by two examples. The Corporación de Negritudes in Medellín mainly provided services and education for female domestic service workers from the Pacific coastal region, but also aimed to foster black identity by holding classes on black history and culture for the young women. The Chocoano Action Committee, also in Medellín, was an association of more middle-class migrants from Chocó, who participated in the party political networks of their home province. They pursued a regionalist project that sought to enhance the political influence of Chocó - the only departamento (province) with a majority black population that, since 1947 when it gained departmental status, had been able to elect a senator to Congress - as well as their own political ambitions. Although blackness was a central aspect of Chocoano identity, this Committee was only tangentially concerned with promoting something called black identity (Wade 1993: 327-33).
1990s’ Reform, the Afro-Colombian Movement and Multiculturalism
In the 1991, Colombia, like many other countries in Latin America around this time, underwent a constitutional reform, which included an apparently dramatic shift towards official multiculturalism (Van Cott 2000; Sieder 2002). The new Constitution declared it would “recognize and protect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the nation” (Article 7). The reasons behind this region-wide shift are varied and include a desire by the state to appear more in line with international criteria of modern, liberal democracies, the growing power of indigenous and ethnic rights movements worldwide and, in the Colombian case, an attempt to address issue of violence and dissent by bringing guerrilla forces into the process of reform. Colombia was unusual because of the inclusion in the new Constitution of a Transitory Article that promised land titles for “black communities” in the Pacific coastal region - for reasons I will explore below. This Article was followed by Law 70 of 1993, and further decrees and laws, that consolidated this opening and provided for the kind of rights and representation outlined at the beginning of this chapter.

            This process of change had a key feature. The Constituent Assembly had no Afro-Colombian elected representative, despite several candidates having stood for election. In the Pacific coastal region, a number of organizations had emerged in the 1980s, often initiated by the Catholic Church and usually directed towards helping peasant farmers - for example, ACIA, the Integral Peasant Association of the Atrato River, formed in 1984. Some of these organizations had allied with local indigenous groups - also supported by the Church, which had much more experience in dealing with indigenous matters - and thus began to fit themselves into a mold shaped by the concept of indígena. Indigenous people already had land reserves, some of them of colonial antiquity, others a result of more recent negotiations with the state. 
Afro-Colombian politician and famous weightlifter, María Isabel Urrutia OCORÓ

Indigenous peoples had a particular status vis-à-vis the state, that of small, vulnerable and protected ethnic minority, living mainly in rather peripheral zones of the country. In the Constituent Assembly, it was no accident that an Emberá indigenous leader, Francisco Rojas Birry, represented an alliance of Afro-indigenous interests, linked to the Pacific coastal region. Any consideration of Afro-Colombian matters was a struggle in the Assembly; most representatives initially rejected the idea that black people in Colombia could be considered an “ethnic group”. Faced with the possibility that petitions to recognize Afro-Colombians might go unheeded, there was lobbying by Rojas Birry and a number of academics, backed by Afro-Colombian mobilizations that included a telegram campaign to Constituent Assembly delegates, the occupation of government offices and the Cathedral in Quibdó (Chocó) in May 1991, and of the Haitian embassy in Bogotá.[8] At the last minute, the Transitory Article was included.
Señoras de San Basilio de Palenque conversando
            Law 70, when it emerged, not surprisingly reflected this regional and ethnic bias. It indigenized, regionalized and ruralized the question of blackness in Colombia. Although it included a host of measures and also defined black communities in Colombia as an ethnic group, the law was essentially about the provision of land titles to rural, riverine, black communities in the Pacific coastal region, communities defined in terms of their kinship links, their rootedness in the land and their “traditional production practices”. This definition fitted an indigenist mold.
            After the 1991 reform, the initial impetus was to make sure the Transitory Article became law and Afro-Colombian organizations multiplied, particularly in the Pacific region, but also elsewhere. Leaders from Palenque de San Basilio, for example, were influential in negotiations leading up to Law 70, but, perhaps because of the status of Palenque as an old, well-delimited and rural community (albeit having community members who had migrated to cities all over the Caribbean coastal region), this did not move Law 70 away from the figure of the “black community”. The most influential and durable organization to emerge, the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), was decidedly centered on land titling and Pacific in its regional orientation. Cimarrón, as an urban organization based in Bogotá, was marginalized and had to work hard to re-invent networks in the rural Pacific region.
            By the mid 1990s, blackness in Colombia had a profile that privileged the ethnic and distinctiveness of a specific region. The juridical and conceptual construct of the comunidad negra implied “the abandonment of the socio-political specificities” of actual black communities in the Pacific region (Hoffmann 2004: 218): for example, the variety of economic activities - which included fishing, mining, logging, hunting, agriculture, trading, all with more or less use of modern technologies - was hidden in the blanket reference to “traditional production practices”. If this was true for the Pacific region, it was even more the case for Colombia generally: the huge variety of contexts in which Afro-Colombians lived was masked in the name of a more singular and homogeneous black ethnic identity.

            The emergence of Law 70 and its particular ethno-cultural character were the outcome of a complex set of interactions between academics and Afro-Colombian organizations and the state, not to mention the Church and indigenous organizations (Wade 2009). Colombian academics such as Arocha and Friedemann had established Afro-Colombian anthropology and defined it as the study of cultural difference, above all in the Pacific region: they both participated in discussions in the Constituent Assembly. Afro-Colombian organizations were already burgeoning in the Pacific region, fighting for land rights in alliance with indigenous groups and supported by the Church with its Liberation Theology-inspired concern for oppressed peoples. Meanwhile, urban black organizations of the interior, fired by transnational black movements, struggled for support and resources.
            For its part, the state was not necessarily rigidly opposed to either Afro-Colombian or indigenous rights, as long as these could be controlled. A number of authors argue that Law 70, and multiculturalist policies more generally, actually fit with neo-liberalizing projects that seek to create effective governance and the free circulation of goods and people, while still cutting back on direct state investment. Such policies bring actors in previously marginal areas into a direct relationship with the state (in this case as land-holders), while also making them responsible for their own management (community members have to organize their land claim and then manage the collective title). 
Meanwhile, capitalist development of the area can continue outside the collectively titled areas and can even access community labor and resources more freely. For example, Oslender (2002) gives the example of a commercial firm exporting palmitos (edible palm hearts) to Europe, which sponsored a collective land title claim in the southern Pacific region and continued its operations, using local community labour.[9] In addition, attention was suddenly paid to the immense biodiversity of the Pacific region: this was a resource to be protected for posterity (but also for future exploitation by a conservationist form of development) and the state, Afro-Colombian communities, and international development agencies agreed on the importance of sustaining biodiversity. Although this apparent consensus did not mean they necessarily understood this agenda in the same way - e.g. biodiversity as a development resource versus biodiversity as the basis for a local lifestyle - comunidades negras could figure, alongside indigenous communities, as guardians of the environment (Escobar 1997; Escobar 2008).
            Thus, the state could see advantages in Law 70 and the recognition of (regional) blackness: it helped open up the resource-rich but isolated Pacific region to development, while creating mechanisms that could enhance governance of the region and its communities. The Law also reinforced the liberal, democratic credentials of the Colombian state in the international arena. The state was, however, predisposed to assimilate the new political presence of blackness to the more familiar figure of ethnic indigenousness when considering matters of governance (Hooker 2005). This meant that small, bounded, rural black communities fitted into an existing mold of state–minority relations and helped keep these relations within controllable bounds (Anderson 2007).
            In this overall scenario, the issue of racism, while it by no means disappeared, became more muted. Indeed, the PCN argued that “presenting the situation of Afro-Colombian communities in terms of racial discrimination has little audience” (Pedrosa 1996: 251, my translation). The struggle was to protect a vulnerable, poor minority by giving its people land rights that recognized their historical, cultural difference (e.g. their collective production practices). The reason for their poverty was neglect and indifference, and, while these could be linked to racism, this did not occupy center stage. Many black people in Colombia - as elsewhere in Latin America - tended to deny that racism was a problem for them, citing poverty as the key issue and avoiding the idea that their blackness might be a stigma (Wade 1993: ch. 14; Sheriff 2001: ch. 3; Burdick 1998: 5). Phrasing the struggle primarily in terms of racism was thus difficult.
            Afro-Colombian organization was not, however, entirely limited to the Pacific coastal region. In 1997, for example, I carried out a study in the city of Cali that focused on the intersection of politics and musical expression. Situated only a couple of hours (on today’s roads) from the Pacific coast and located near areas of historically dense Afro-Colombian population such as Puerto Tejada and the towns of the northern Cauca province, Cali has long had a substantial black presence, reinforced in the last two decades by large migrations from the Pacific coastal region. According to 2005 census figures, Afro-Colombians were 26 per cent of the city’s population.[10] I found that there were a number of different Afro-Colombian organizations in operation (Wade 1999). Some of them were basically groups of dancers and rap musicians, but many of the young people in them showed an awareness of issues of black identity and racism that made it impossible to ignore the political dimensions of these organizations. A local black barbershop, for example, was an enterprise linked to fashion and consumption, but it also acted as a public expression of Afro-Colombian identity - with Rastafarian colors, a map of Africa and posters of Michael Jordan and Bob Marley on display - and a source of income for young black activists involved in a local community organization and rap crew called Ashanty. Ashanty and other similar groups were explicitly political, even if their practical activities were centered around music and dance. They adopted a discourse of black pride and anti-racism, while they worked to promote hip-hop culture as an expression of these ideas, and as a set of performance and organizational skills, which could be valuable social capital for young black people.

            Other organizations were formal NGOs, usually with development and consciousness-raising agendas for Afro-Colombians, similar to Cimarrón or PCN, albeit often smaller and more ephemeral. And there also existed a local branch of a national political party called Movimiento Nacional de Comunidades Negras, which sought to get Afro-Colombian candidates elected to government office. Complex networks ran through this diversity and into the Church and local state. For example, Ashanty negotiated for funding with the recently formed “Negritudes” division of Cali’s city council, with the Catholic Church, with an international aid NGO, and also with a national beer company, which helped fund a hip-hop event. Another group, focusing more on “folkloric” dance from the Pacific region and calling itself a “cultural youth association”, was led by an Afro-Colombian man who had close links to politicians in the Movimiento Nacional de Comunidades Negras, and organized Afro-Colombian ethno-education projects, covering everything from Law 70 to black hairstyles. A third group was funded in part by an oil company which was developing a gas pipeline in the region: the funds were used for workshops on Law 70 and citizenship, low-income housing projects, research projects and so on. This gives some sense of the range of activities and networks that make up a “social movement”.
            In the Caribbean coastal region, there were also significant processes of organizing that nuanced the association between blackness and the Pacific coast, even if Afro-Colombian organizations centered on Cartagena, and to some extent in the Caribbean coastal region as a whole, have been dominated by leaders from Palenque de San Basilio - a village that fits well the image of a comunidad negra (Cunin 2003; Cunin 2000). In one case, Cimarrón started a legal campaign to have a “black community”, as defined by the law, recognized in the city of Santa Marta, allowing its representatives to sit on city council committees. After a long judicial battle, in which the presence of a black community was denied, it was recognized by a 1996 decision of the Constitutional Court (Wade 2002: 18). This was significant because it broke with the association between the legal category comunidad negra and the Pacific region - a possibility foreseen in Transitory Article 55, which said its provisions could apply to other regions of the country with “similar conditions” to those of the Pacific region.
            In short, while the Pacific coastal region and issues of cultural difference associated with Afro-Colombians as an “ethnic group” dominated the panorama of Afro-Colombian social movements in the wake of Law 70, muting questions of racism, by the late 1990s there were already some departures from this scenario, which drew both on pre-1991 Afro-Colombian organization and on the fact that Law 70, despite its focus on the Pacific coastal region, had opened up a more public space for blackness than had existed previously.
Violence, Displacement and Race
The gains of the 1990s, whatever their limits, have been put at severe risk by the waves of violence that have shattered the social fabric of the Pacific coastal region. From the late 1990s, conflicts between guerrilla forces, the army and right-wing paramilitaries (often colluding with the army) have dominated the area, moving from Chocó province in the north towards the south (Wouters 2001). These complex conflicts, which affect large areas of Colombia, are driven by many forces. A key factor is the relative weakness of the Colombian state, which is unable to control portions of the national territory, and has sought to do so in part via the US-funded Plan Colombia, involving development aid but also military assistance.[11] Another factor is the convenience for the state of the existence of paramilitaries, who carry out state violence “by proxy” (Sanford 2004). Also vital are the pervasive effects of the drug trade, which helps fund guerrillas, paramilitaries and, indirectly, the state and sustains the self-propelling character of the violence. Lastly, the violence, especially by paramilitaries, “cleanses” tracts of land of people and communities, leaving them open for further capitalist developments, especially African palm oil plantations, but also industrial shrimp farming and mining (Escobar 2003; Oslender 2007; Escobar 2008; Restrepo and Rojas 2004).
            Violence has undermined the region’s collective land titles, agendas of sustaining biodiversity and diverse local projects, from women’s shellfish-collecting cooperatives to small enterprises for marketing forest products. Huge numbers of Afro-Colombians (and indigenous people) have been displaced into, first, the local cities of Buenaventura, Tumaco and Quibdó and, then, into cities of the interior. According to the Colombian NGO, CODHES (Human Rights and Displacement Consultancy), 4.6 million Colombians were forced from their homes between 1985 and 2008, with high points of about 400,000 individuals a year in 2002 and 2008.[12] Of these people, it is estimated by CODHES that about 23 per cent are Afro-Colombians, more than double their proportion in the total population in the 2005 census. About 12 per cent of all Afro-Colombians are classified as displaced persons. The state estimates that in 2000-2002, the rate of displacement of Afro-Colombians was nearly twice that of non-Afro-Colombians. In the port of Buenaventura, inundated with Afro-Colombian desplazados (displaced people), CODHES states that there is effectively an “ethnocide” of young Afro-Colombians, with 382 murders in 2007, giving a rate of 112 murders per 100,000 (compared to 38 for Colombia as a whole).[13]
            Afro-Colombian organization in the Pacific region continues despite these fearful set-backs and much of the emphasis is now on human rights, violence and displacement, with a corresponding focus on youth (who figure largely among the displaced and those killed by violence). The scenario is diverse and complex, with organizations ranging from small income-generating cooperatives to the PCN, which continues to be one of the most influential Afro-Colombian organizations, with leaders of international stature such as Carlos Rosero, who ran unsuccessfully for the Constituent Assembly in 1991, became a lynch-pin for the PCN and now participates in a number of transnational networks (which included a 2007 tour of US, meeting members of Congress). International bodies ranging from the World Bank, through the US Congressional Black Caucus to the Catholic Church have an interest in and/or channel funds to the region. Of the multiple branches of the Colombian government, some support a range of local endeavors, including Afro-Colombian organizations, while other branches support mega-development projects, military incursions, and the contracting of international private security companies to assist with the implementation of Plan Colombia projects, such as crop-spraying (Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo 2008).
            Meanwhile, horizons of Afro-Colombian movements have broadened a little more since the late 1990s. While the vast majority of the 132 collective land titles handed out to black communities by 2005 were in the Pacific coastal region, a few small territories have been titled in riverine areas of Antioquia province.[14] Land is a major concern for many Afro-Colombians outside the Pacific coastal region: activists from around Cartagena, for example, are concerned about the security of their land ownership - often not fully legalized, despite a long history of privatization of land - and they face gradual dislocation by tourist and other capitalist ventures. While Afro-Colombian organizations in the area work to promote black consciousness and culture, they also seek to protect human rights for Afro-Colombians, including rights to land. Organizations put varying emphases on issues of identity and matters of material livelihood, but, as in Cali, the two aspects tend to intertwine.
            Another example of geographical expansion beyond the Pacific region is education. Provisions heralded in Law 70 were followed up by Decree 1627 of 1996, which created mechanisms for university fee exemptions for students from Afro-Colombian communities. The Ministry of the Interior signed agreements with a number of universities which gave about 400 fee-exempt places nationwide to such students between 1997 and 2001. The government entity that helps Colombian students study abroad reportedly helped 2,550 Afro-Colombian students between 1996 and 2000 (DNP 2002: 6). Such initiatives have been spreading, without getting close to the quota systems in place in some Brazilian universities (Htun 2004). For example, in 2009, the University of San Buenaventura de Cartagena signed an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior to provide fee discounts to Afro-Colombian students.[15] These small measures indicate an openness to thinking about blackness on a national, rather than a purely regional, level.
            This incipient shift is also evident in the 2005 census. An “ethnic question” was first tried in the 1993 census and was a dismal failure. It asked people to identify as a member of a “black community” and then name the community; the question was based on the very recent concept of the comunidad negra as a bounded entity in the Pacific region. Only 1.5 per cent of people identified as such. Prior to the 2005 census, there were intensive discussions, some of them in conferences funded by the World Bank, about how to improve the question, with participation from government census officials, academics, and black organizations. The 2005 ethnic question asked people to identify as a) raizal, b) palenquero, or c) negro(a), mulato(a), afrocolombiano(a) o afrodescendiente (or indigenous or Rom - or none of the above). Results were reported in a way that lumped the three “black” categories into a single Afro-Colombian one. The figure of 10.5 per cent was criticized as an under-count by Afro-Colombian organizations, which had lobbied unsuccessfully for the inclusion in the above list of the category moreno (brown), a term widely used to describe self and others across a broad range of racialized phenotypes. Negro still carries a stigma for some people and may be thought to signify a person who is very African-looking. Mulato is not a term commonly heard in Colombia, while afrocolombiano and afrodescendiente, although increasingly apparent, are still linked to an intellectual and activist discourse. Actual numbers aside, the significant thing was the institutionalization by the state of a category of blackness that ran counter to the category of the comunidad negra, based in the Pacific coastal region, which the state had worked hard to construct and confine within a region. At this stage, it is difficult to say what impact such an institutional shift has on everyday identifications, but censuses are important tools and the categories they deploy get used extensively in the public domain, where they become more consolidated (Nobles 2000).
            Changes are also evident in the arena of electoral politics. There has long been a handful of Afro-Colombian members of congress - partly because Chocó was granted the status of departamento in 1947 - and Law 70 provided for two Representatives to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies by a special electoral constituency of black communities. In 2007, these two - one an ex-sporting champion with electoral support from the Pacific coast, the other a career politician elected by voters in the Caribbean coastal province of Bolívar - made up part of a short-lived Bancada Parlamentaria Afrocolombiana (a black caucus) with seven other politicians, including Piedad Córdoba, known to support the social inclusion of minorities, including Afro-Colombians.[16] Congress has more Afro-Colombian members than ever (13 over the 2006-2010 congressional period), although they vary in their explicit support of Afro-Colombian rights.[17] However, several of these politicians have been plagued by charges of corruption and it is difficult to detect a real driver for change from this direction. Afro-Colombian electoral politics is also beset by fragmentation. In the Congressional elections held in March 2010, there were a total of 169 candidates, allied to 67 separate political parties, competing for the two Representatives’ seats reserved for Afro-Colombian communities in the Chamber of Deputies. In contrast, the total number of candidates for the special electoral constituency seats for indigenous communities in both Senate and Chamber was only 20, allied to only 5 parties.[18] Agudelo (2005) argues that electoral politics in the Pacific region may trade on ideas of black identity, but it continues to thrive on old-style clientelism and pork-barrel politics. Meanwhile, President Uribe appointed Afro-Colombian academic Paula Moreno (who had researched biodiversity management in the Pacific coastal region) as Minister of Culture in 2007 (until 2010) in a move that was seen by some as a bid to gain the support of the US Congressional Black Caucus for the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
            Finally, there appears to be a (slightly) greater interest in questions of racism, partly in the wake of the 2001 Durban conference on racism. The PCN, which in 1996, saw racism as theme with little audience now has as one of its aims the struggle against racism and has a link to the Racial Discrimination Observatory, established at a private university in 2007 to monitor racism, mainly by publishing statistical information on racial inequality and publicizing incidents of racism.[19] Hoffmann (2004: 221) also notes “a reorientation of the ethnic debate towards the anti-discrimination struggle”. In May 2009, there was the first National Campaign Against Racism, supported by the Vice-President, who presented the recommendations of the Inter-Sectoral Commission for the Advancement of the Afro-Colombian, Palenquero, and Raizal Population that he had been heading up: the first recommendation was to combat racism at a national level.[20] One may doubt the efficacy of such government pronouncements, but they do indicate a shift in focus. Interestingly, Meertens (2009) looks at cases of tutelas (legal actions brought by citizens in defense of their constitutional rights) which have challenged everyday racial discrimination. For example, a young woman alleged she was denied entry to a music club because she was black: the Constitutional Court found in her favor.
            The reasons for this recent shift are linked to various factors: a growing transnational interest in “Afro-Latins” and Afrodescendants - e.g. from the World Bank, the United Nations, and the US Congressional Black Caucus; the increasing organization of Afro-Colombians outside the Pacific region, spurred by Law 70; the use by activists of judicial instruments, such as Law 70, to push the boundaries of the law itself (for example, by claiming the existence of a “black community” in Santa Marta); the gradual consolidation of legislation that developed aspects of Law 70, such as educational opportunities for Afro-Colombians, in a way that extends beyond the Pacific region; and shifts in academic emphasis towards racism and urban Afro-Colombians (e.g. Barbary and Urrea 2004).

Colombia pre-1991 was dominated by the ideology of mestizaje: it was a mestizo country, with black and indigenous populations that were supposedly on the road to a mixed, integrated modernity. Black and indigenous people were not invisible - indeed their presence, especially in under-developed areas, was necessary to confirm the supposed superiority and modernity of the central image of the whitened mestizo nation. But they certainly occupied a lowly place in the nation’s social and cultural hierarchies, albeit certain powers were attributed to them, with regard to music, dance, magic, healing and physical prowess. Ideologies and practices of mestizaje allowed the simultaneous existence of racism and non-racism. Afro-Colombians could be both excluded and included: inter-racial unions, for example, could both undo racial hierarchy (by crossing racial difference and producing more mixed children) and express it (through observers’ assumptions that the darker partner was motivated by a desire to whiten). This simultaneity of inclusion and exclusion generated ambiguity that masked racism.
            Since 1991, black and indigenous peoples have been assigned - and have fought for - a place in the legislation. Affirmative actions of various kinds have been designed to right previous wrongs. This does not mean that mestizaje and all it implies has disappeared - far from it, it is still a powerful force in everyday life. But the differences of race and ethnicity - usually glossed as ethnicity alone by the state, which prefers to avoid reference to “race” - are now much clearer and more public. Mestizaje is about the integration and modernization of the nation, but it also relies on a discourse about private, domestic matters - sexual relationships between men and women. Multiculturalist policies place racial and ethnic difference more firmly in the public domain and challenge the ambiguities and masking that mestizaje generates.
            What we see, however, is that, alongside the inclusions of multiculturalism (some of them more apparent than real), exclusions continue. They persist in familiar ways, but also now in much more violent forms: murder, displacement, terror. It seems that the making public of difference, and its inscription in the law, has brought with it more drastic and violent forms of disciplining difference.
            In this light, it is unclear what the implications will be of the incipient shift from the almost exclusive focus on the Pacific coastal region towards a more encompassing notion of Afro-Colombianness, in which blackness begins to have a higher profile in civic life in general. The Pacific coastal has suffered terrible violence and it continues to be a place where radical forms of cultural difference and alternative notions of development and modernity are being elaborated (Escobar 2008). It is also a place where black and indigenous social movements overlap in ways that challenge the divide, of colonial origin, between “black” and “indigenous” and generate inter-ethnic alliances, which, although not problem-free, have the potential to mount combined challenges to violence and exclusion (Hale, Gurdián and Gordon 2003; cf. French 2009). If the difference of blackness is institutionalized more deeply into Colombian civic society, such violence may subside, but probably at the cost of the alternative life-forms (and lives) of the people of the Pacific coastal region.
Paula Marcela Moreno Zapata, Afro-Colombian
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Vicepresidencia. "ABC de las Recomendaciones de la ‘Comisión Intersectorial Para el Avance de la Población Afrocolombiana, Palenquera y Raizal’".  Bogotá, 2009.  Vicepresidencia de la República de Colombia. 17 June 2009. <>.
Wade, Peter. Blackness and Race Mixture: The Dynamics of Racial Identity in Colombia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
---. "The Colombian Pacific in Perspective." Journal of Latin American Anthropology 7.2 (2002): 2-33.
---. "The Cultural Politics of Blackness in Colombia." American Ethnologist 22.2 (1995): 342-58.
---. "Defining Blackness in Colombia." Journal de la Société des Américanistes 95.1 (2009): 165-84.
---. Music, Race and Nation: Música Tropical in Colombia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
---. "Rethinking Mestizaje: Ideology and Lived Experience." Journal of Latin American Studies 37 (2005): 1-19.
---. "Working Culture: Making Cultural Identities in Cali, Colombia." Current Anthropology 40.4 (1999): 449-71.
Wouters, Mieke. "Ethnic Rights under Threat: The Black Peasant Movement against Armed Groups' Pressure in the Chocó, Colombia." Bulletin of Latin American Research 20.4 (2001): 498-519.

[1] Representatives of black communities are included in the INCODER (Colombian Institute of Rural Development), the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Education, among others. The Dirección de Asuntos para Comunidades Negras, Afrocolombianas, Raizales y Palenqueras (Directorate of Affairs for Black, Afrocolombian, Raizal and Palenque Communities) is a dependency of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice.
[2] See the Excel file at, accessed 6 September 2010.
[3] This is partly because Antioquia has a Caribbean coastline, but even so, there are more “blacks” in Antioquia than in the province of Bolívar, generally considered by Colombians as one of the “blacker” provinces and the capital city of which is Cartagena, also usually seen as quite a “black” city.
[4] Afro-Colombians with no education = 13 per cent (cf. 10 per cent nationally); with basic secondary = 20 per cent (cf. 19 per cent nationally); with professional qualifications = 4 per cent (cf. 7 per cent nationally). Afro-Colombians have 6.7 years of schooling on average (cf. 8.2 for non-Afro-Colombians). This picture varies a bit if one looks at specific municipalities in the Pacific coastal region. Thus for Tumaco, Afro-Colombians with no education = 16 per cent; with basic secondary = 16 per cent; with professional qualifications = 2 per cent.
[5] For the 2005 census data, see DANE (N.d-a, N.d-b), Vicepresidencia (2009); for the 2003 survey data, see Departamento Nacional de Planeación DNP (2004). The municipal education data cited in note 4 come from the Excel file at, accessed 6 September 2010. See also the website of the Observatorio de Discriminación Racial, which has useful data on racial inequality:, accessed 6 September 2010.
[6] A handful of writers, including students of Melville Herskovits and some folklorists, had published studies: see Wade (1993).
[7] Cimarrón’s full title is now Movimiento Nacional Cimarrón, see
[8] See Centro del Pastoral Afrocolombiana (2003).
[9] See Gros (1997), Hale (2005), and Speed (2005) for general arguments about what Hale calls “multicultural neoliberalism”. See Wade (2002) on the Pacific coastal region.
[11] Plan Colombia was initiated in 1998, with US backing, as broad development package, but centered on an anti-narcotics project, seeking to eliminate and replace the cultivation and production of narcotics, which often took place in areas where state presence was weak. The Pacific coastal region has felt the effects of Plan Colombia, both in terms of the expansion of African palm oil plantations and because both guerrilla and paramilitary forces have imposed the cultivation of coca leaf in the area.
[12] See CODHES bulletin, Víctimas emergentes, April 2009, (accessed 6 September 2010)
[13] See CODHES, “Afrocolombianos desplazados, un drama sin tregua” (accessed 6 September 2010). See also Vicepresidencia (2009).
Vanessa Mendoza, former Miss Colombia is an Afrp-Colombian
[14] See the Excel document cited in note 2 and the map Resguardos Indígenas y Títulos Colectivos de Comunidades Negras at,  accessed 6 September 2010. These territories are on the borders of Zaragoza, Anorí and Segovia municipalities on the River Porce, in Yondó municipality near the River Magdalena, and in Sopetrán municipality on the River Cauca - all a long way from the Pacific coastal region. See also DANE (2006: 19-20).
[16] Formed in about 2006, by 2010 the Bancada Afrocolombiana was under investigation for irregularities.
[17] “Sólo dos congresistas afros son considerados ‘Visibles’” by Luis Bravo,, accessed 6 September 2010
[18] For the list of candiates, see For the voting results, see, both accessed 06 September 2010.
[19] See the PCN website, (accessed 6 September 2010). See also the Observatory site, (accessed 6 September 2010).

In keeping up with a globalized world and its economy, during the past 20 years, Colombia has adopted and vigorously promoted the Neo- Liberal economic model. This model based upon creating economic policies favoring private property rights, free market, and free trade, has been promoted in Latin America, and other underdeveloped countries by the world’s economic powers (e.g. the U.S.) and has been supported by international financial institutions such as, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank.
Implementation of these policies has exacerbated inequality issues in Colombia and has increased the country’s socio-economic gap among Colombia’s population. For instance, the entrance of injections of foreign capital has made it impossible for ethnic minorities and peasants – who traditionally engage in the subsistence economic model- to compete with big international enterprises; has hurt labor rights and people’s living standards as promotion of privatization has lowered wages and workers rights and concentrated wealth within a few hands; and has hurt the environment as policies seeking to deregulate preservation and conservation for the sake of profit have taken precedence.
Additionally, these polices have particularly impacted Colombia’s minorities in regions like the Colombian Pacific, where an ethnic majority –Afro Colombians- represents the population’s majority. In this region, neo liberal policies have further pushed Afro-Colombians to socio-economic marginalization and extreme poverty. All while, the dominant minority monopolizes capital and resources, accumulates wealth, and enjoys positions of power. 
Andrews observes that the transition from subsistence to market economies was detrimental not only to Afro-descendants in Colombia, but to Afro-descendants in Latin America. He describes the economic impact of the twenty-first century’s policies for Afro-Latin Americans as follows: “throughout capitalism’s long history, the process of transition from subsistence to market economics has been a wrenching and painful experience. Most Afro-Latin Americans have already made that transition, but many still remain in the subsistence sector and now stand on the threshold of being abruptly catapulted into the wage-labor market. Once in the market, they are likely to remain at the lowest levels, prevented from moving upward both by their own lack of skills and education and by the racial strictures that keep black workers in the lowest paying, most menial jobs” (Andrews 2004, 193).The promotion of neo-liberal policies negatively impacted ethnic minorities, peasants, and the majority of the low income population in Latin America. When a bigger gap is opened between the people controlling the capital, and those who have no access or means to compete within the new economic dynamics set by this model, issues of inequality worsen with these policies. For Afro-Colombians, the expansion of the neo liberal model during the twenty-first century was not the only responsible for their precarious socio-economic conditions, historic racial barriers deeply rooted in Colombia’s society further pushed Afro-Colombians into a sub-class, underpaid when working, and usually living in poverty or extreme-poverty conditions.
On this particular aspect Andrews states that neo-liberal policies with its “acute maldistribution of the regions’ wealth severely limits opportunities for people of color, who are disproportionally concentrated among poor and working class. Further reducing their ability to profit from economic growth are the long-standing racial barriers that continue to channel black workers into the least remunerative, lowest-paying areas of the economy” (Andrews 2004, 194).
State Policies for the Colombian Pacific
The Twenty first century saw the Colombia’s Pacific coastal region rise at the center of Colombia’s economy as the region economic potential and strategic geographical position was ruled critical to Colombia’s economic future. The country, following the Western global trend of implementing the neo-liberal economic model, started to focus specially on promotion of international trade and investment as well as deregulation for the sake of profit and privatization as the center of the country’s “new” economic policy in the Pacific coastal region. Consequently, Colombia issued a set of socio-economic policies for the region with the objective of advancing Colombia’s economic agenda for the new century (XXI) and securing a place for the country in the global economy.
From 2000 to 2006, the Colombian National Planning Department (Departamento de Planeacion Nacional) throughout its National Council of Social and Economic Policies (CONPES) initiated the process to develop a set of policies to assist the state to comply with its short, medium and long term economic objectives. However, the task would not be an easy one. In addition to Colombia’s long armed conflict, drug-trafficking and lack of State control over rural areas, the State had to face another socio-economic reality in the Pacific: the historical lag of this region and its inhabitants compare to the country’s national level. For instance, as June of 2006, 64.7% of people in the Pacific coastal region were poor compared to 49.7% at the national level; 28.1% were extremely poor vs. 15.7% at the national level. In addition, only 39.0% homes in the Pacific coastal region had aqueduct vs. 83% at the national level; and 26% of homes in the Pacific coastal region had sewage system vs. 73% percent at the national level (MERPD 2005; DANE 2005). Thus, the State came to the realization that in order to address economic, social, cultural and environmental issues in the Pacific coastal region, it needed to create policies to address the particularities of this area.
In addition, as a region with a majority Afro-descendant population, the policies should include the ethnic factor, which was recognized by the Colombian Constitution of 1991, and how to deal with collectively owned territories. From 2000 to 2006, the state issued a number of policies to address those issues: Pacific Agenda 21st Century (Agenda Pacifico Siglo XXI), Colombia’s Vision 2019 (Vision Colombia 2019) Internal Agenda for Competitiveness and Productivity (Agenda Interna para la Competitividad y la Productividad), The Integral Program for Development and Sustainable Reconstruction of Antioquia’s and Choco’s Uraba and Low and Medium Atrato (El Plan Integral para el Desarrollo y la Reconstruccion Sostenible de Uraba Antioqueno y Chocoano y el Bajo y Medio Atrato), and the Proposal for the Long Term Integral Plan for Afro-Colombian Population (La Propuesta Integral de Largo Plazo para la Poblacion Afro-Colombiana).
Although developed to address Afro-Colombians and the Pacific’s coastal region special conditions, these polices mainly focused on the advancement of the state’s economic policies while ignoring, for the most part, Afro-Colombians’ particular needs and socio-economic conditions as well as their status as a constitutionally recognized ethnic minority. This miscalculation on the part of the Colombian state may be the result of Colombia’s traditional views of the region. In its article, “Buenaventura y Tumaco: los Puertos del Olvido,” published in Colombia’s main newspaper “El Tiempo,” Antonio Caballero describes the historical dynamic between the Colombian state and the Pacific region as a forgotten territory: “this region of Colombia, which begins in the north, Chocó and ends in the south, in Candelillas Sea (Nariño), got used to the fact that the national governments would never turn their eyes to it, unless there were elections coming up” (Caballero Velasco 2011).
From 2007 to 2010 the state produced two new important policies for the region and its people: State Policies for the Colombian Pacific (Politicas de Estado para el Pacifico Colombiano), CORNPES 3491, and Policy to Promote Equal Opportunities to Black Population, Afro-Colombians, Palenque’s and Raizal Population, CONPES 3660 (Politica para Promover la Igualdad de Oportunidades para la Poblacion Negra, Afro-Colombiana, Palenquera y Raizal). The first document, CONPES 3491, is a compilation of the State’s policies from 2000-2006; while the second document, CONPES 3660, particularly addresses, for the first time in terms of national policy development, Afro-descendants’ issues in Colombia. This latest policy was finalized on May 10, 2010.
An analysis of these two documents shows that Colombia’s state policies for the Pacific coastal region – for the most part- fail to address the region’s and its inhabitants particulars needs. It is observed that government policies seem to be focused on the state’s advancement of its economic agenda rather than on the advancement of the region and its people. But, perhaps the most problematic aspect of these policies seems to be that they are based upon faulty ideas such as, the state’s ideas about development, socio-economic advancement, environmental protection, resource management and exploitation, among many others. When comparing these ideas with those from ethnic groups, states’ policies are found usually at odds with ethnic groups. In this way, policies for the region created by the central government have proven to be ultimately ineffective in addressing issues affecting Afro-Colombians in the Pacific.

CONPES 3491: State Policies to the Colombian Pacific
According to the Colombian National Planning Department, CONPES 3491, sought to address poverty and precarious living standards in the Colombian Pacific region. In addition, the policy also presented solutions to the region’s historic situation of exclusion. Thus, given the region’s great potential, its resources, and its geographical location, the Colombian government throughout CONPES 3491 sought to integrate the Pacific coastal region into its vision of socio economic development nationally and internationally. 
According to the Colombian government, by promoting and implementing the policies contained in CONPES 3491 the Pacific region would experience an economic and social reactivation that would benefit not only the country but its heavily afro-descendant population. CONPES 3491 formulated its policies around five key areas: democratic security; poverty reduction, promotion of employment and equality; high and sustainable growth; environmental management to promote sustainable development; and especial growth dimensions.
Democratic Security
The principal objectives on this area were to regain control over the territory and to legitimize the State. The strategy focused on incrementing manpower in the Armed Forces, and Police in the region, and provided funding for military equipment and infrastructure. By taking these military measures, the State sought to debilitate, what the government labeled as terrorist groups (FARC guerrillas and paramilitary groups), and eradicate illicit crops by promoting programs for manual and voluntary eradication of illicit crops. The government also offered financial and technical assistance to replace illicit crops with legal crops. Although Afro-Colombians in the South Pacific area have long opposed expansion of mono crops in their territories, especially African Palm, funding for legal crops under this policy was limited to promote cultivation of five products: cacao, coconut, African Palm, and coffee.
According the June of 2011 report, from the United Nations Office on Drug and Crimes on illicit crops, the major concentration of hectares with coca crops is located on the Colombian Pacific Region (Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Chocó). This area has been constantly affected by the presence of illicit crops since 2008. In 2010, out of 62,000 hectares with coca crops, 25, 681 were located in this region. The report also notes that the Colombian departments of Chocó (in the Pacific) and Cordoba (in the Atlantic region) have been particularly hit by an increment of illicit crops during the year of 2010. Unlike any other departments in Colombia, coca crops in Chocó have rapidity increased since 2004.
Event though, Colombia’s coca crops have decreased over the years (from 140,000 hectares in 2001 to 62,000 in 2010), the report states that today coca crops in the Chocó are nine times bigger than they were in 2004 (UNODC 2011). These numbers are an example of how democratic security in the region as the main policy to regain state control over the Pacific territory and curved proliferation of illicit crops has failed in the region.
Poverty Reduction, Promotion of Employment and Equality
According to government’s data for the elaboration of CORPES 3491, almost 65% of the Pacific’s population lives in poverty, 21% are illiterate, education’s quality is at 1.4%, and malnutrition reaches 15.5% compared to 49.7% in poverty at the national level, 13% in education quality and 13.5% in malnutrition (Colombia National Planning Department 2007, 7). In addressing the issue the government sought investment in five areas: education, health, promotion of children’s well being and protection of seniors, food security, and access to government programs for people in conditions of extreme poverty: “Familias en Accion” and “ Red Juntos.”
To improve living conditions in the Pacific coastal region, the government planned to improve access to potable water and sewage systems. According to the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statics (DANE), in the Pacific region only 39% of the population has access to potable water and 26% have sewage system compared to 83% and 73% at the national level (DANE 2005). In addition, the government intended to implement land titling programs, and provide the population with access to credits and healthy housing.
High and Sustainable Growth
Four main areas are part of the State’s polices for high and sustainable growth: transportation, mining and energy, telecom, and agriculture investment. The government prioritized investment in ground transportation infrastructure to “strengthen road transportation as an instrument to reduce high costs to external trade and achieve region’s integration” (Colombia National Planning Department 2007, 55) as well as other transportation infrastructures such as aerial and fluvial.
The transportation policy also secured investment for port’s modernization and expansion. The implementation of the policy is still highly controversial for Afro-Colombians living in port cities such as Buenaventura – as we will see later on this work- where large modernization projects have displaced Afro-Colombian’s and/or made it difficult for them to keep engaging on their traditional ways of subsistence (e.g. fishing). Roads and highway projects were divided in four programs: road infrastructure and regional development program (Programa de Infraestructura Vial y Desarrollo Regional) or Plan 2500, competitiveness pathways (Corredores de Competitividad), regional roads plan (Plan Vial Regional), roads for municipalities (Vias Municipales). These projects with different levels of funding have been managed and prioritized by the Colombian Transportation Ministry according to their particular relation with expansion of Colombia’s external trade. It is observed that a big portion of state and private investment has been reserved for projects directly and/or indirectly dealing with the construction of adequate infrastructure for this purpose. Funding for other roads and infrastructure projects not directly dealing with external trade is mainly directed to construction of roads to connect municipalities and regions with external trade pathways. These projects are considerably less funded.
Although some funding is reserved for road maintenance, and to improve access to rural areas, this kind of investment to improve people’s quality of life seems to have low priority for the state as it does little to advance external trade. For instance, to implement Plan 2500, the government invested $58,000 million pesos while it allocated $18,000 million pesos for assistance to the municipalities with road improvement or the Regional Roads Program (Plan Vial Regional). The gap in funding is even larger when comparing the amount allocated for Competitiveness Pathways (Corredores de Competitividad) with the amount appropriated for roads directly benefiting the majority of the population within the different Pacific municipalities: $1, 04 billion vs. $18,000 million (CONPES 3491). 
Port’s Modernization and Expansion
As briefly mentioned before, policies directed to ports as part of the government’s main policy for High and Sustainable Growth in the region is maybe one of the most problematic as it has often negatively impacted the port’s population. The government’s policy is mainly structured by granting years-long concessions to private sectors with minimal government investment and oversight. Thus, under this policy from a total investment of $878, 6 thousand million of pesos for ports and ports’ industry, $800 thousand million were expected to come from the private sector. The concessions system has left ports and the ports industry in private hands allowing for a private monopoly. For Afro-Colombians, private monopoly of this lucrative industry has hurt labor rights and access to employment. In addition, some of these concessions have caused displacement for many Afro-Colombians families.
Currently, Colombian ports are operating under five concessions: the Regional Port Society of Tumaco: a 20 year concession that started on May 5, 1994; the port concession of Buenaventura; the port concession of Agua Dulce; the port concession of Bahia Malaga; and the port concession of Tribuga. As the main port in Colombia, the Buenaventura concession is crucial for the government. For this project, the government has estimated a private investment of $450 million dollars, plus $79.89 thousand of million pesos coming from the State. The Buenaventura concession is the only one with some government investment. For the port concession of Bahia Malaga and Tribuga, the government has estimated an investment of $380 million dollars and $ 800 million dollars respectively. The funding for both of these concessions comes entirely from the private sector. In addition, as part of the port concession of Tribuga, the government has agreed to build a road to connect Anima-Nuqui.
The Port Concession of Agua Dulce recently allocated by the government requires special attention as it has been directly linked as a cause of displacement for many Afro-Colombian families in the Bajamar area in Buenaventura. Apparently, the territory allocated by the State for the port’s development has jeopardized the livelihood of many Afro-Colombian families. Even though the State has pledged to relocate these families, relocation for them is not an option as Afro-Colombians in this area have relied on their easy access to the water for subsistence. Advocates for these families and the families have argued that once they are removed from Bajamar and relocated, they will lose their means of subsistence:
"About 3,500 Afro-Colombian families are at risk of becoming displaced from five neighborhoods located in the Bajamar area of Isla Cascajal. In their place, the local government is planning an expansion of the port (…) The government is looking to relocate the residents into a proposed large scale housing project further inland. Although the living conditions in Bajamar are substandard, many residents do not want to move because being close to water affords them the opportunity to sustain themselves through fishing, transport or traveling to and from their lands along the rivers. (Nicholls and Sanchez-Garzoli 2011, 6)"
Railroad Transportation
This project is also developed with private sector funding through government concessions with some state funding. As well as other transportations polices, the government has prioritized the projects based upon their relation to international trade and competiveness. The railroad transportation policy mainly focuses on the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of a railroad system to support trade. However, even before the formulation of this policy, the Pacific railroad system has been controlled by the private sector through a government concession for 30 years.
Airports Infrastructure
This project seeks improvement and maintenance of small airports in the region. The policy allocated funds to improve nine airports in the Pacific: five airports in the Chocó department, two airports in the Cauca department, one in the Valle department and one in the Nariño department.
Although this project has state funding, some airports have been given as a concession to the private sector. This is the case for airports in Rionegro, Medellin, Monteria, Quibdo, Corozal and Carepa. 

Afro-Colombian actress Indhira Rosa Serrano Redondo.
Fluvial Transportation
The government has developed three projects to consolidate and improve fluvial transportation in the region. The construction of a canal on the rivers Atrato and San Juan; establishing communication between San Martin River-Bahia Malaga- Bahia Buenaventura; and communication between Bahia Buenaventura and Bahia Tumaco. Other important transportation investments include massive transportation, and stilt bridges in Tumaco.
Mining and Energy
As every other living, social and economic standard in the Pacific region, power coverage is lower than the national standards where 93.6% of the population has power. For instance, in the Chocó department only 62.2% of the population has power coverage. In rural zones, just 50% of the population has power coverage. In the Pacific coastal region municipalities of Charco (Nariño), Bojaya (Chocó), Murindo (Antioquia) y Alto Baudo (Chocó) the numbers are even lower: only 10% of the population has power coverage (CONPES 3491). The Government mainly attributes this phenomenon to the lack of proper energy infrastructure as there is not infrastructure in place to deliver power services to Afro-Colombian households in the Pacific region.
To improve delivery of power and natural gas for uncovered households in the Pacific region, the government through its ministry for mines and energy has planned to take a series of strategies to ensure the vast majority of the population is covered. to national systems are part of the government’s plans to deliver power to millions of Afro-Colombians families. Resources for many of the projects are mainly from the State. However, state funding for municipal energy projects would be considered as long as they fit the mine and energy ministry’s criteria of economic, technical and environmental sustainability (CONPES 3491). In addition, the government seeks to promote - when possible and applicable - the usage of alternative sources of power such as biodiesel, which is obtained from the African Palm.
In developing economic policy for the Pacific coastal region, the government prioritized mining exploitation. The government’s mining policy focuses on promoting legal mining, attracting foreign and national investment for large scale mining exploitation, and promoting and protecting minority mining projects. To promote legal mining the government has proposed the creation of associations for certified miners. These associations, established around identified mining districts, would provide miners with access to training and financial and technical assistance funded by private, public and multilateral institutions. The government states that in protecting Afro-Colombian mining projects, the projects shall have preference over any other project as long as they are located in collectively owned territories.
According to critics of this policy, mainly U.S. based NGOs and Afro-Colombian Community Councils, the government’s mining agenda is negatively impacting this ethnic minority as Afro-Colombians usually struggled to protect their territorial rights. For instance, in the emblematic case of La Toma, a gold mining community in southern Cauca, the government concession for a large scale mining project on the area was allegedly made without following policy recommendations and ethnic laws over collectively owned territories. In 2009, this case formed part of a hearing in the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. 
For many, La Toma’s case demonstrates how government mining policies are detrimental to Afro-Colombians’ territorial rights. The critics also note that in addition to socio-economic instability, and violation of ethnic rights, Afro-Colombian mining communities face displacement and violence as a consequence of the emphasis placed by the government on large scale mining projects in the Pacific coastal region.
In the area of communications the government seeks to improve urban and rural telecommunications by extending coverage and services such as internet to public schools, hospitals, libraries, and local majors’ offices as well as opening telecommunication services throughout the region.
Agricultural Development
Agricultural policy for the region focuses on investment to support land titling, strengthen fishing and aquaculture, promoting African palm crops, strengthen sanitary and phytosanitary measures, promotion of productive projects, and investigation and technological development in the region.
It is important to highlight the government’s efforts to bust African Palm crops, and Biodiesel projects in Guapi (Cauca), and Tumaco (Nariño) is at odds with Afro-Colombians groups in the Pacific. Afro-Colombians’ groups have strongly opposed massive plantations of African Palm due to the irreparable damage cause by the palm to the subsoil. Afro-Colombians claim that once palm has been cultivated, the land loses its ability to produce any other product. The subsoil essentially becomes infertile.
According to the government, the goal for 2010 was to cultivate 5,000 hectares of African Palm in Guapi. The government’s numbers estimated that massive investment in this area would generate 1,350 jobs, and promote sustainable development directly benefiting Guapi. In 2007, for the first stage of the project, the government invested $9,198 million of pesos (CONPES 2007). In addition, the government invested $1,500 million pesos for a biodiesel plant in Tumaco and $5,549 million pesos to investigate and control biological factors affecting African Palm crops (CONPES 2007).
Environmental Management to Promote Sustainable Development
Promotion of private investment in eco-tourism in national parks and consolidation of eco-tourism in the region form part of the government’s plans to promote sustainable development in the Pacific region. It also promotes conservation and protection programs using the concession model. For instance, in 2005 the government awarded a ten year concession for the Park of Island Gorgona, an island located on the Colombian Pacific Ocean 50 kilometers (about 25 miles) from the municipality of Guapi in the Department of Cauca (CONPES 2007). The government’s goal was to triple the number of tourist visiting the region: from 5,219 people in 2002 to 17, 500 in 2010 (CONPES 2007).
Special Growth Dimensions
The government plans to invest on promoting ethno-culture and ethno- education, improving local governments and consolidating c ethno-territorial/socio-political structures. Through the promotion of these programs, the government seeks to strength socio-political ethnic organizations and the government’s offices dealing with ethnic issues. For instance, the government allocated $456 million pesos to community councils, the High Consultative Commission for Black communities, and Departmental Consultative. In addition, the government, through the Ministry of Interior and Justice, allocated $536 million pesos to improve ethnic organizations’ structures and to promote participation their participation as an ethnical group (CONPES 2007).
However, the government funded Afro-Colombian organizations have been strongly criticized by Afro-Colombian communities and grassroots organizations. These groups have claimed that these organizations do not represent them, as many of the members of these community councils are not directly involved with Afro-Colombian communities in the region. Furthermore, the community councils have also questioned the High Level Consultative Commission for Afro-Colombian communities, which is the most prominent organization representing Afro-Colombians before the government. Currently in Colombia there is a big debate over the mandate and the legitimate position of the High Level Consultative Commission for Afro-Colombian communities.
In January 2011, more than 156 Afro-Colombian community councils sent a letter to President Santos questioning the mandate of the consultative, and its role in the negotiations with the government regarding two very important laws affecting Afro-Colombian territories: The Victims Law1 and a package adjusting Colombia’s legal code in order to facilitate the entrance of foreign investment in Afro-Colombian territories in the context of the expansion of Free Trade Agreements.
In addition, CORPES 3491 consolidates the main investments in the Colombian Pacific between the years of 2007-2010.

CONPES 3660: Policies to Promote Equal Access to Opportunities to Black Population, Afro Colombian, Palenquero and Raizal Population
This policy is aimed at addressing two big issues identified by the government in the Black Population, Afro, Palenquero and Raizal populations: lack of access to opportunities for human development and precarious living standards (below national levels). According to the government, successful implementation of CONPES 3660 would improve Afro-Colombian historic socio-economic conditions plagued by issues such as inequality and poverty. The government has identified six main causes directly responsible for Afro-Colombian socio-economic lag in the country: low productivity and low competitiveness of productive activities; difficult access to education, education quality and permanence in the education system; fragmentation of social net; insufficient policies, plans, programs, norms and projects or lack of proper implementation; loss of territorial governance and institutionalization; and social discrimination practices
Low productivity and Low Competitiveness of Productive Activities
Urban Afro-Colombian populations are usually found playing roles in the informal economy, as they have done so for centuries. Afro-Colombians in the cities usually make a living as street vendors, working on domestic services, buying and selling products, crafts, etc. These jobs are usually poorly paid and lack employment benefits. Afro-Colombians in the urban areas are generally low income people lacking minimal labor standards. On the other hand, Afro-Colombian populations located in rural areas are generally poor peasants, owning some land and working in agriculture, fishing, hunting, and forestry. They lack financial and technical resources to fully exploit their lands, which generates low productivity. In addition, Afro-Colombians lack proper infrastructure for commercialization of their products.
Difficult Access to Education, Education Quality and Permanence in the Education System
According to CONPES 3660, the Afro-Colombian population in general has low education and higher rates of truancy, especially between children from 5 to 6 years old and 7 to 11 years old (CONPES 2010). Among Afro-Colombians in Colombia, Afro-Colombians in the Pacific region have even higher rates of truancy. In rural areas, the government states, that difficult physical access to schools is one of the main reasons for high rates of truancy among Afro-Colombian youth. The document also states that in both, rural and urban areas, Afro-Colombian children usually join the work force early in their childhood to help supporting their families instead of going to school. The principal issues identified in this area were illiteracy, high dropout rates, difficult access to higher education, and child malnutrition.
While between the years of to 2002 to 2008 illiteracy in Colombia was reduced and it went from 7.62% to 6.62%, the document found that a great number of Afro-Colombians still don’t know how to write or read. For instance, according to the 2005 census data, some municipalities in Canton de San Pablo in Chocó and Guapi in Nariño have illiteracy rates of 70 and 30 percent respectively. Illiteracy in the Chocó Department reaches 18, 70 percent, three times greater than the national rate: 6, 62 percent. In all regions, Afro-Colombian women are more affected as illiteracy numbers among them doubles (CONPES 2010).
Access to Higher Education
Access to higher education is very difficult for Afro-Colombians mainly due to lack of economic resources. Afro-Colombian families usually live in poverty and the scarce resources available are used to provide basic necessities. In addition, as previously noted, poverty forces Afro-Colombian youth to enter to the job market at a very young age to help support their families. Another issue impacting access to higher education for Afro-Colombians is the lack of quality education. Afro-Colombian students who are able to graduate from high school overcome economic obstacles and usually perform poorly on standardized tests scores, such as the ICFES, which is required to gain access to higher education institutions. The results of this test determine the kind of higher education school the student can apply to. Thus the higher the score, the greater the chances are to enter to the best schools in the country.
Afro-Colombian high school graduates generally receive very low scores on this test limiting their ability to access to good schools. Lack of quality education also affects Afro-Colombians’ permanence in higher education institutions. Once accepted to a program, Afro-Colombian students are usually discouraged from staying and graduate once it becomes clear that the education they received did not adequately prepare them for higher education. As in any other sector, Afro-Colombian students enrolled in higher education institutions are below the national level of achievement. Thus, while 34.1% of high school graduates have access to higher education at the national level, the departments with major concentrations of Afro populations are usually below the 20%: Chocó 19.5%, Nariño 17.5%, San Andres 19.2 %, Cauca 22.1 %, Bolivar 24.9%, and Valle del Cauca 27.8% (CONPES 2010).
Child Malnutrition and High Vulnerability to Health Issues in Scholar Age Population
In Colombia, malnutrition primarily affects children from ethnic populations. According to the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF), almost 17% of Afro-Colombian children are at risk of having malnutrition and just about 67% have the proper weight and height for their age. Lack of proper nutrition makes these children, especially young children, more vulnerable to present life-threatening health issues, such as respiratory infections, chronic diarrhea and tuberculosis. As a consequence, Afro-Colombian child mortality rates are the highest among Colombia’s non-ethnic population – from10% to 50% (CONPES 2010).
In addition, it was determined that poverty, and limited - or no - access to sanitation systems, and potable water in heavily populated Afro-Colombian regions are direct causes of malnutrition and poor health among this ethnic group.

Fragmentation of Social Net
Fragmentation of Afro-Colombian’s social net occurs due to various factors, such as forced displacement, loss of territory, and extreme poverty preventing Afro-Colombians from developing strong and permanent cultural, personal and social ties.
During the last decade, forced displacement has become a major social issue affecting mainly minorities, but especially Afro-Colombians. The issue of forced displacement has disproportionally affected this ethnic group that according to official government records2 represent 8.1% of the total of Internally Displace Persons in Colombia. Other minorities, such indigenous peoples and gypsies represent 2.8% of the Colombians displaced. More than half of displaced Afro-Colombian people are young women and girls (CONPES 2010). Living in precarious conditions with limited access to basic services such as power, potable water, sewage system and waste disposal also directly affect Afro-Colombians social net. The Pacific and the Atlantic region have high numbers of precarious housing settlements. In addition, forced displacement has diminished Afro-Colombians’ quality of life as many migrate to cities, such as Cali in the Pacific region, where they are forced to live in marginal areas. These areas usually not only lack basic services and sanitary conditions but expose this population to criminal gangs, forced recruitment, and sexual exploitation.
According to CONPES 3660, 2003 DANE data showed that the Pacific region is the second most affected by precarious living conditions. In this region 30% of urban areas are located in high risk areas or areas usually affected by flooding. It was also found that displaced people are living under precarious urban conditions in cities such as, Cali and Bogota.

Maria Isabel Ocorro

Afro-Colombian actress Indhira Rosa Serrano Redondo.

Maria Isabel ocoro


  1. Thank you and please be informed of our journal at which also examines the African presence in the world.

  2. Thank you and please be informed of our journal at which also examines the African presence in the world.


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