On the morning of Oct. 27, authorities certified that the body of an Afro-Colombian found washed up on the banks of the Rio Leon at Bocas de Zabalo, Chocó department, dead of gunshot wounds, was that of Orlando Valencia, a peasant leader from Curvaradó who was abducted by paramilitaries Oct. 16. Valencia’s wife and seven children, accompanied by rights observers, are now travelling to Chigorodó municipality, to demand his remains from the local morgue. The local Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, an independent human rights association, is demanding that the Colombian government take measures to guarantee the safety of Valencia’s family and the community of Curvaradó, charging that paramilitaries have effective control of the region in collaboration with the National Police and the army’s 17th Brigade. New verbal threats from local paras against Curvaradó community leaders have been reported in recent days.
Another Afro-Colombian leader, Bernardo Pequi Diaz of Bartolo in Murindó municipality, was arbitrarily detained by the 17th Brigade Oct. 9, and his whereabouts continue to be unknown. The Comisión de Justicia y Paz also reports ongoing harassment of Afro-Colombian residents in the region by both military and paramilitary forces, including illegal incursions into their communities, the arbitrary seizing of their goods at roadblocks, and death threats.
The Comisión de Justicia y Paz states that the conflict has its roots in commuunity efforts to recover traditional lands legally titled to the Afro-Colombian villages for the past five years, but now under the control of big palm-oil producers following the forcible eviction of peasant cultivators by the paramilitary Bloque Elmer Cárdenas. Justicia y Paz cites over 100 assassinations of Afro-Colombian peasant leaders related to this struggle in recent years. (Comisión de Justicia y Paz, Oct. 27 via Red de Defensores No Institucionalizados)