Afro-Colombian activist “disappeared”

At midday on Oct. 16, Orlando Valencia, an Afro-Colombian representative of the Community Council of Curvaradó in the department of Chocó, was arbitrarily detained and “disappeared,” despite being protected by official measures of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The abduction took place immediately after the vehicle in which he was travelling with human rights observers and other members of the community, en route to a regional peasant assembly, was stopped by the National Police in the municipality of Belén de Bajirá. The police demanded the occupants’ documents at rifle-point and briefly detained them. On the way to the local police station, they passed a truck filled with men they recognized as paramilitaries. They were released after several hours of interrogation, in which Valencia was accused of being a “reinsertado”—a demobilized guerilla fighter

Upon their release, they made for the home of a local campesino—but there they were accosted by two paramilitary gunmen who had followed them on a motorcycle. They demanded Valencia, and when the rights observers objected they levelled their weapons and said, “Let’s go, or we’ll fight it out right here.” They drove off with Valencia. At presstime, no information is available on the whereabouts of Orlando Valencia. (Red de Defensores No Institucionalizados, Oct. 12)

NOTE: At the time of his “disappearance,” Valencia was about to leave for the United States to speak at an Oct. 21-23 conference in Chicago entitled “Partnering for Peace,” on building ties of solidarity between communities in the US and Colombia. He had just been denied a visa by the US authorities.

See our last post and our last report on Colombia’s ongoing human rights crisis.

  1. How you can help
    Fellowship of Reconciliaiton, which was sponsoring Orlando Valencia, provides this information on how you can help assure his safe return. Please act immediately, as Valencia’s life is almost certainly in jeopardy.

    Send the following message by fax or e-mail. (Numbers include the prefix for international calls/faxes from the United States.) Translation follows.

    Carlos Franco
    Director of Human Rights Program, Vice-Presidency of the Republic
    Fax: 011-571-565-9797

    Ambassador William Wood
    U.S. Embassy, Bogotá
    Fax 011-571-315-2163
    E-mail Human Rights Office:

    Respetado Sr. Franco:

    Escribo para expresar profunda preocupación por la desaparición forzada del señor ORLANDO VALENCIA, ayer sábado 15 octubre. Fue llevado contra su voluntad en motocicleta manejada por personas reconocidas como Autodefensas, en la región de Curvaradó, Chocó, despues de ser detenido por un tiempo por policías estatales en Belén de Bajirá. Todo esto fue presenciado por un acompañante de la ONG canadiense PASC, un acompañante de la Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, y otros miembros de las comunidades de Curvaradó y Jiguamiandó.

    El señor Valencia había sido invitado a “Partnering for Peace: Colombian and North American Communities in Solidarity”, una conferencia en Chicago, EEUU, en la cual espero participar. Habíamos anticipado con placer la oportunidad de compartir ese espacio con él y saber más de las luchas de su comunidad. Desafortunadamente su visa fue negada por la Embajada de los Estados Unidos.

    Urgentemente solicito al gobierno colombiano que busque al señor Valencia y asegure su bienestar y libertad. Como usted sabe bien, cualquier demora pone a su vida en más peligro.

    Agradeciendo su atención puntual,
    [your name]
    [your city]

    cc: Embajador William Wood

    Translation of message:

    Dear Mr. Franco:

    I write to express my profound concern regarding the forced disappearance of Mr. ORLANDO VALENCIA yesterday, Saturday, October 15. He was taken against his will on a motorcycle by persons known to be Self-Defense Forces, in the Curvaradó region of the state of Chocó, after he was detained for a time by state police in Belén de Bajirá. All of these acts were witnessed by a member of the Canadian NGO called PASC, a member of the Interchurch Commission of Justice & Peace, and other members of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó communities.

    Mr. Valencia had been invited to “Partnering for Peace: Colombian and North American Communities in Solidarity,” a conference in Chicago, USA, in which I plan to participate. We had eagerly looked forward to the opportunity to share this experience with him and to learn more about his community’s struggles. Unfortunately the U.S. Embassy denied him a visa.

    With urgency I request that the Colombian government seek Mr. Valencia and ensure his well-being and liberty. As you well know, any delay puts his life at greater risk.

    Thanking you for your prompt attention,
    [your name]
    [your city]

    cc: Ambassador William Wood