Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Afro-Colombians hit hard by guerrilla war

Hugh Bronstein:

She knew it was time to leave town when left-wing guerrillas started showing up at the hospital late last year asking for medical help.

As a nurse, she was well aware that providing treatment would make her a target of right-wing paramilitaries at war with the guerrillas. To refuse could also get her shot.

"Why wait for that?" the 50-year-old woman asked Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "As we say in medicine, it's easier to prevent than to cure."

She took a seven-hour boat trip up the San Juan River from her hometown of Sipi to Istmina, both in the jungle province of Choco, joining thousands of other Afro-Colombians displaced by Colombia's four-decade-old cocaine-fueled war.

Now she lives in a shack with a dirt floor and no toilet. If it did not rain so much, she would have no water.

This is a common condition in Choco, where 85 percent of the population is Afro-Colombian and residents lack sufficient health care and other basic services such as electricity.

Choco is a cocaine-producing area sandwiched between Panama to the north, a common destination for smugglers, and Valle del Cauca province to the south, home to Colombia's toughest drug cartel.

Most people in Choco are descended from African slaves brought by the Spanish to work in local gold mines, or from freed slaves who sought refuge from racism in the cities. One out of 10 Colombians is black.

The United Nations says Colombia has more than 3 million displaced people, the world's worst ongoing humanitarian crisis outside Africa. Afro-Colombians and indigenous tribes are particularly hard hit.

Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups at risk from fresh fighting

USAID Lends Lifeline to Many Afro-Colombians Caught in the Country's Violent Crossfire


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