By Dulph W. Mitchell
Once again on Wednesday, December 22, 2004, a Prayer March (in silence), in their struggle towards self-governance was carried out by the Raizal People (Recognized and denominated, for the first time, by the Colombian State as “Comunidades Raizales” in article 310 of its reformed Constitution of 1991 and determined by the Colombian Constitutional Court as an “... ethnic group formed by the descendants of the primitive settlers of the islands.” in its Sentence C-086 of 1994, and stated likewise in its Sentence C-052 of 1999, “The Court admitted that the natural territory of the native community of the archipelago are constituted by the islands, cays and islets that are located within said territorial area.”
The Archipelago of San Andres, Providence and Kathleena, ancestral territory, heritage and habitat of the Raizal People who were enslaved and brought here some 400 years ago, is located one hundred ten miles east of the Nicaraguan Coast and three hundred miles northwest of the Colombian mainland, which territory was determined and declared by Royal Order of Carlos IV, Spanish King, in November 1803, on a request made to him by the inhabitants, as, “...the islands of San Andres and that portion of the Mosquittia Coast as from the Cabo Gracias a Dios, inclusively, up till the Chagres River…” that since then, Colombia has been gradually and happy-go-luckily ceding to neighboring countries, without consulting them or having their expressed agreement and consent.
Without any shadow of a doubt, from the many written papers in their possession, issued by the Colombian authorities on various occasions and relevant to their various and incessant claims for justice, the Raizal People are aware of the fact that the Colombian State already has a clear knowledge of their rights to self-governance based on ownership of territory, language, customs, religion, traditions, and that they should be specially protected because of their ethnic and territorial status, based not only on internal but also international legal instruments, however, the State refuses to admit this reality and is rather following an erroneous policy of out-dated sovereignty, as in the days of the conquistadores, which causes total disapproval, an increasing state of uncertainty that embodies an underground time-bomb that could most probably end up, sooner or later, in a violent volcanic-like eruption among the people of the Archipelago.
COLOMBIA: THE RAIZAL PEOPLE’S PRIORITY IS THAT WE DECIDE OUR OWN FUTURE, NOT YOU. STOP TAKING OUR ISLAND AS YOUR PRIVATE BACK YARD.
The Colombian State is well known internationally for not taking precautions when forewarned about the possibilities of sinister occurrences and only tries to solve serious problems after they have happened. In this their last March of 2004, the Raizal People, this time some 1500 plus: men, women, youth, children and older folks in buses, took to the streets again to show their determination in their struggle for self-governance. They wish to let the Colombian State know that its processes of dealing with them is obviously erroneous, because the matter concerns serious threats to their safe enjoyment of their human rights, including threats to their cultural survival and physical well-being as a people.
The Raizal People praying outside the local Government’s Office Building
The Raizal People have the right to the legal recognition of their varied and specific forms and modalities of their control, ownership, use and enjoyment of territories and property.
The Raizal People have the right to the recognition of their property and ownership rights with respect to lands, territories and resources they have historically occupied, as well as to the use of those to which they have historically had access for their traditional activities and livelihood. (Proposed American Declaration).
The building of an undesired and very very expensive Pedestrian Walkway, the buying by foreigners of all the lands in the area of this already infamous Walkway apparently imposed by the personal interest of President Alvaro Uribe, when there are: no hospital, complete lack of many other priority services, also a Development Plan, not approved by the people, but based on decisions taken without any consult, direct participation and expressed approval and consent of the Raizal People, when article 330 of the Constitution and Decree 1320 of 1998, guarantees this. Moreover, the daily uncontrolled mainlander immigration increase which does not help to solve the serious overpopulation problem, is far from showing in any way the willingness of the Colombian State to focus its planning in the area of the Archipelago to establish territorial spaces within the administrative structure that will be beneficial to the harmonious territorial development of the Raizal People. Finally, we wish to remind the Colombian State that there are internal and international instruments and actions to protect the land, and fundamental rights of the Raizal People who have declared that they are going to continue praying, protesting, and marching until their rights are recognized and some acceptable agreement between both parties is finally accomplished.
Monday, December 27, 2004
By Dulph W. Mitchell
On Friday, November 19, the Raizal People marched the streets of San Andres Island, the capital of the Archipelago of San Andres, Providence and Kathleena. It was a Prayer-Walk, accompanied by slogans of protest related to respect toward their human rights, and specially concerning their rights to Self-determination. Claims were made against the territorial displacement the native people of the Archipelago are suffering as a result of the unending neo-colonial policies of the Colombian State, involving overpopulation, corruption, persecution, genocide, cultural assimilation, etc.
The march was successful. For the long period the native people had not made a demonstration, it was pretty good. Since the year 2002, the time tear-gas was used upon them by the Colombian Forces, affecting old folks and children, at a Sunday Afternoon Outdoor Prayer Meeting, when they protested against the suspension of their Governor Dr. Ralph Newball, they had ceased from making demonstrations
There were some 1000+ people, even though they are accustomed to have demonstrations with thousands of people participating. But the most interesting thing is certainly the standing commitment of all those who were present: men, women, youth and children.
The best of all is that, there were, at least one foreign "journalist" present. Some foreign tourists (Canadians, etc.) also joined in to ask questions and to learn more about the “existence” of the Native People of the Archipelago, and the problems they are facing by the illtreatments imposed upon them by the Colombian State. Some of them accompanied the demonstration while filming and taking photos.
There were lots of Colombian Police and Security Force (DAS) filming the Prayer Walk. It is seen that they have nothing else to do on these islands. And it is most certain that they will harass the foreigners that took photos and filmed the event, whenever they arrive at the airport on their departure.
Pastor Raymond Howard, Vice-president of AMEN-SD, was in the front line leading the crowd as it marched from the Mount Zion Baptist Church (Perry Hill) through the streets of the section of North End, in front of the many commercial stores and hotels, in front of the governmental offices, offices of justice, police station, etc. He walked around with a large walking stick, as Moses did. He was accompanied by his son, by Jairo Rodriguez, Eduardo Peterson and others. He showed faith, he showed determination, and he showed a firm belief in what he was doing. Then came near behind in a next row following, was Pastor Alberto Gordon, President of AMEN-SD, then Pastor German McNish, Professor Oakley Forbes, Professor Dulph Mitchell, Mr. Luis McNish (SAISOL Foundation), Pastor Ullis O’Neill, Pastor Stimson Pomare, Pastor Enrique Rodriguez, the Pastor of the Christian Mission Church of North End, Job Saas (INFAUNAS Foundation), Juvencio Gallardo (KETNA), Harry McNish, Leno Duffis (Hill Farmers), capitan Olige Mitchell, and a lot of other people.
The demonstration was carried out in a peaceful manner. During the walk, they stopped at four different locations to pray. There were shouts of many slogans of protest and plea for justice, and for self-determination.
There were lots of elders, some walking, and others riding in the many buses that were provided for their transport that followed right behind the crowd. Amongst the crowd, you could distinguish Mr. Rozentan “Jim” Williams Stephens, an 86 year old man, who decided to state his voice of protest, that the young generation of the Raizal People may have a dignified life and may recover the lands and the territory of which the community was dispossessed and displaced by the Colombian State. There was also, Mr. Bristol “Little man” Pomare Watson of 84 years, who could scarcely walk, due to arthritis, but he was determined to still try to show everyone on which side he was firmly standing.
The youth was also present at the march and so were the children and a host of women, who could not hide their despair as they prayed in favor of the struggle which should help to guarantee a better future for their children.
The farmers and seamen were there also. Mr. Felix Mitchell Jr., Carlos Pusey and Bill Francis were aboard a pick-up with loud-speakers, and led the crowd in the shouting and “singing” of slogans and hymns of praise. The demonstration ended with a concentration of the crowd, in front of the Coral Palace (Local Government Offices) where many prayers were uttered. They finally ended with the collection of an offering to help sponsor Mr. Peter Bent’s radio program, “Clear Talks” The only radio program in English.
You could clearly distinguish the absence of fear on the faces of the people and the pride in themselves as they stood up publicly for their rights to SELF-DETERMINATION.
Finally, Pastor Raymond Howard, encouraged the crowd to bear in mind that the struggle has to continue and informed them about the many demonstrations that will have to be made. He invited all the Raizal people to get back "on the streets" to stand up for their rights to dignity and freedom, which can only be attained by the means of Self-Determination.