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Friday, November 04, 2005

An Activist Left Behind 

By Kari Lydersen

Building peace in Colombia was the focus of the international conference in Chicago where Orlando Valencia, an Afro-Colombian activist, was invited to speak about his community’s struggle to defend its land from agribusiness interests and paramilitary forces. He never showed up.

Valencia was representing Jiguamiandó, a “peace community” that has declared itself neutral in the country’s ravaging civil war and has no alignment with either right-wing paramilitary or left-wing guerrilla factions. Displaced by violence in 1997, the community won the right to return in 2000 under collective land rights granted to Afro-indigenous people. But during their absence the land had been illegally planted with African palm, as part of a large-scale palm oil export operation. Since then, the community has been struggling to claim their land while paramilitaries continue to protect the illegal agriculture, which poses a serious threat to the surrounding Choco rainforest.

A week before he was to leave for Chicago, Valencia was denied a visa, for the second time, by the U.S. Embassy in Bogata. Fed up with the process, he started the long trek back home. A group of fellow Colombians and international observers accompanied him.

An Activist Left Behind -- In These Times


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