¡El pueblo se respeta carajo! ¡El pueblo no se rinde carajo!

(The people must be respected! The people will never give up!)

Slogan of the Civic Strike in Buenaventura

It is four in the afternoon and the event is about to begin. It has been delayed for an hour, but that does not seem to bother the people who have gathered for this long-awaited event to recognise peaceful protest and the leaders of the Civic Strike in Buenaventura, which is taking place today in the Isla de la Paz neighbourhood, in the city’s 6th district. “It has already been postponed three times”, says the woman sitting next to me. We are accompanying the Association for Social Research and Action (NOMADESC), an organisation that has been working to defend human rights in Buenaventura since 1999, because of the trail of violence perpetrated by the AUC paramilitaries against the population in the port city[1]. Since then, NOMADESC has worked together with other organisations to raise awareness of the land dispossession and human rights violations being committed against communities in Buenaventura[2] and the links between these violations and economic interests to expand the port. The three women we are accompanying today are exhausted, with things the way they are, we have hardly been able to relax at all over the past month, they explain. All three are tired, yet they give off a positive energy that is palpable from the first moment we meet, in the city of Cali at first light. The three women, and the majority of those present, are wearing colourful t-shirts all bearing the same message. I too am Don Temis. Because this land is ours and ours alone.

It is four in the afternoon and this land of theirs is starting to give way beneath our feet, forming rivers of mud that already cover the entire floor under the two white canvas tents installed during the morning, facing the stage where the event will soon begin. On the horizon, the backdrop of shipping containers reminds us that we are in Colombia’s main port city. It is raining heavily, a shower of unburdening, preceded by a sultry heat that will soon close in once again. People are occupying the plastic chairs that a young man from the community placed in rows with great care for the occasion, with a precision that moved me. This really is an act of recognition for his people, I thought as I watched him.

The Port of Buenaventura Photo: Bianca Bauer

On the left, children are painting the side wall of the canvas tent with handprints and words. Present in the voices and memory of the community who are gathered here today, and presiding over the scene on a banner, is the image of Temístocles Machado, a resident of this neighbourhood and one of the leaders of the Civic Strike in Buenaventura, who was killed on 27 January 2018 in this very place, which has today become the scene of an event that he should have been here for. A member of the Process of Black Communities (Proceso de Comunidades Negras – PCN), he was well-known for his struggles for land rights, facing up to business interests in the port and his reporting on the humanitarian crisis faced by the Afro-descendant populations in the port city[3]. A woman points out which house was his, and it stands just a few metres away in the background.

Temístocles Machado was part of the roundtable on Housing and Land, part of the Civic Strike Committee, which discussed the issue of disputes over lands that the communities have always inhabited but that due to a lack of official recognition and titling are now a source of conflict with the port expansion projects. Throughout his life, he was heavily involved in struggles related to the titling of vacant plots of land and the dismantling of paramilitarism in Buenaventura.[4]

On this day the memory of him fills every corner. Hours before the event, walking up a dirt road from the car park where the event is now taking place, the communities were calling for a protest or Minga in his memory to recover a plot of land which had been fenced off two days earlier, with a sign saying it was Private Property[5]. One of the women leaders taking part in the Minga tells me that there is a dispute over this plot of land, and that it is one of the areas in the 6th District that Temístocles Machado was defending, and that an individual is now claiming as theirs so they can sell it to one of the companies running the port. The community is defending the plot of land for the construction of a health centre, which they lack, and as the location for a community park. Throughout the morning, this piece of land is filled with neighbours of all ages, who use rakes and machetes to remove weeds from the area. These people recognise themselves as an indivisible part of the land they inhabit and recognise the land as an indivisible part of how they understand themselves. Right at that moment, I think about that bond with the land that I can only partially understand, and of the magnitude that I can not even imagine, of being deprived of a part of myself by becoming separated from the place to which I belong. I also think about how much we have to learn from those who practice resistance in order to safeguard collective memory, those who are fighting to protect the natural environment and building their own culture and those who are able to see themselves in a broad sense, as the sum total of a whole community, of all those who came before them and of all those that will come later.

The memory of Temistocles Machado, the leader of Buenaventura who was murdered on January 27, 2018 was present during the event.

The fire has been lit. The women serve bowls of traditional sancocho stew from an enormous pot and distribute it among those present, to satisfy their hunger and temper their anger. In the background, walking down the street, we start to see the small figures of those who are coming to attend this event for public recognition.

Temístocles Machado’s struggle is also the struggle of so many other people who inhabit this corner of the Colombian pacific coast. It is the struggle of a people battered by violence and marked by the weak presence of the State[6] yet who last May paralysed the biggest port in the country for 22 days so that they could be heard, in an act of tremendous dignity. The Civic Strike was lifted after agreements were signed with the Colombian government, whose compliance was monitored this morning in a meeting with the participation of NOMADESC, who are part of the roundtable for Human Rights Monitoring. What is sure is that in general people appear to feel that little has changed for the inhabitants of Buenaventura since the signing of the agreements and that the leaders continue to be stigmatised and threatened.[7]

Gala is accompanying NOMADESC during the event to recognise peaceful protest and the leaders of the Civic Strike in Buenaventura

This explains the importance for the communities of this event which will recognise public protest and their leaders. It is a public act of recognition by the government that should serve as protection and legitimise their work, at a time when the high risk they run is all too clear. This should be the result of the event; however, there is a certain scepticism in the air. With wry humour, people are talking about the changes announced to the event line-up, including whether or not the Colombian Vice President will turn up[8], and some sectors of the media have speculated that the event will be a mere formality[9].

It is past four o´clock now and the event has started. The presenter calls for a minute’s silence for Temístocles Machado.

The woman sitting beside me turns around: A minute of silence for Don Temis…? And in reply, resonating under the white canvas, rings out the voice of this people who will not be silenced.

¡Vamos, carajo, el pueblo no se rinde, carajo!

¡Por nuestros muertos, ni un minuto de silencio, carajo!

(The people will never give up! For our dead, not one minute of silence!)

Gala Del Castillo


[1] PBI Colombia: Buenaventura: displacement , 29 July 2016

[2] El Espectador:  Destierro en bajamar, 5 April 2014; Legiscomex: La problemática en Buenvanetura: más allá de la droga, el contrabando y las Bacrim, 9 April 2014

[3] Pacifista!:  “Aquí van a seguir matando líderes”: Buenvanetura alerta al país, 22 February 2018

[4] Pacifista!: “La esperanza que dejó Temístocles no la vamos a dejar morir”, 29 January 2018

[5] Pacifista!:  “Aquí van a seguir matando líderes”: Buenvanetura alerta al país, 22 February 2018

[6] National Centre for Historical Memory (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica): Buenaventura: un puerto sin comunidad, informe especial

[7] Silla Pacífico: En Buenaventura se hacen visibles para contrarrestar amenazas, 14 February 2018

[8] Ibid.

[9] El País: Gobierno Nacional otorga reconocimiento a comité de paro en Buenvaventura, 19 February 2018

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