COLOMBIA: 6 millions and counting
According to the United Nations, over the past sixty years, abuses and violence associated with Colombia’s internal armed conflict have driven more than 6 million Colombians from their homes, generating the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) after Syria. Mostly fleeing from rural to urban areas, Colombian IDPs are estimated to have left behind 6 million hectares of land—roughly the area of Massachusetts and Maryland combined—much of which armed groups and their allies have grabbed and continue to hold. Dispossessed of their land and livelihoods, the vast majority of Colombian IDPs “will remain in the trap of poverty for several generations”, economist Ana María Ibáñez affirms.
Since 2006, nearly half of displaced families have reported themselves as headed by women, who assume social and economic responsibility for their families due to a combination of factors, including assassination of husbands; family ruptures caused by the tensions of violence and uprooting; the burden of an anonymous life in the cities and new labor dynamics that affect the traditional gender division of labor. Uprooting affects traditionally isolated peasant women more harshly than men. “The rupture of their intimate bonds with close kin and neighbors, their lack of social and geographical mobility before displacement, and the threat of family disintegration all constitute significant obstacles to the reconstruction of women’s life projects in a new, urban environment”, says Donny Meertens of The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).
According to the ICTJ, in recent years, sexual violence has become a clear strategy of war to destroy many matrilineal Colombian communities, forcing women to leave their regions. The practices contemplate physical and mental abuse, slavery, servitude, subjection to unwanted relationships and minors’ pregnancy, among other cruelties. Although in their so-called free confessions, members of the paramilitary forces admitted to massacres and assassinations, they did not do so for sexual violence, forced displacement, or land seizures. According to Meertens, “they killed, it was acknowledged, but it was ‘the people’s decision to displace themselves and abandon their land’.” An estimated 40% of displaced people are children and NGOs say displacement is creating a lost generation that has little access to education and health services.
At the moment the main actors responsible of displacement are the so-called BACRIM (short for bandas criminales, criminal bands) organized by former paramilitary men involved with drug trafficking, the guerrillas, and government forces. Despite President Juan Manuel Santos has identified the BACRIM as the number one threat to citizen security, he still continues to sell the notion that Colombians live in a post-conflict society.
Bogota is the city with the highest number of IDPs in the world but without a plan to face a conflict that everyday becomes more urbanized, despite the post-conflict era that has just inconspicuously taken off after the signing of a milestone peace agreement between the government and the FARC guerrilla. On May 2014, a couple of hundred displaced people set up camp in Plaza Bolivar, the main square in Bogota, to draw attention to their plight. Many of the displaced were driven from their homes decades ago and are demanding more help from the state. Some of them are asking for financial compensation from the authorities, while others want help finding a new place where to live. Most had to leave their homes with only the things they could carry and have not dared return while the conflict continues. IDPs are not a population that has suffered from the collateral effects of armed conflict, and therefore should be the object of humanitarian assistance (that different institutions have badly provided in the last years), but a group that has been directly victimized by conflict, whose rights were violated and should therefore be restored.
The displaced people remained in Plaza Bolivar for more than three weeks - May 1st to May 23rd - when were forced to leave the square two days before the first round of Presidential Elections and after reaching a partial agreement with the municipal authorities that offered each family just $500 dollars of humanitarian help, to be probably received in August 2014. Few days before they left Plaza Bolivar, the police destroyed their tents put together with plastic bags, sticks and cords, forcing people to spend several nights sleeping on the floor without any protection.
This series was published by BBC on June 2014. See more at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-27834491