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    Buenaventura's residents striking for the sixth day in a row on Sunday 21, May 2017. | Photo: EFE

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Choco and Buenaventura residents, predominately Afro-Colombian, launched massive civic strikes earlier this month to demand better living conditions.

Negotiations between the Colombian government and protesters in Choco and Buenaventura have come to a standstill as the first round of talks failed to meet the demands of local communities.

OPINION:
Afro-Colombian Strike in Choco: A Historical Reckoning

Choco and Buenaventura residents, predominately Afro-Colombian, began civic strikes on May 10 and May 16 respectively, protesting for better living conditions and an end to state-sanctioned violence.

In Quibdo, the capital of Choco, discussions were temporarily suspended to give the government time to evaluate each proposal submitted by social movements, reported government official Alfonso Prada.

They will meet again on Thursday, he added, and hope to sign an agreement that will formally put an end to the civic strike.

As for Buenaventura, where residents are demanding that the government declare a state of social and economic emergency, the government argued that the constitution only contemplated such a state of emergency only in a situation of “immediacy," like after a natural disaster.

The city is in an uproar. What started in Choco has spread across the country, attracting organizations from all over to demand their rights.

Over half a million union workers and teachers filled the streets of Bogotá. Workers from state organizations marched together representing agencies the prison authority, INPEC; the national judicial system, ASONAL, and Colombia’s tax agency, DIAN, protest the poor work cnonditions and low wagesTeachers  stretching their protests from Bogotá to Medellin and Cali, demanding funds and increased investment for primary and secondary schools as well as a solution to the raging unemployment crisis.

“The general unemployment of Colombian teachers and state workers is due to the failure of the Government to invest in each of these sectors… We believe that tomorrow will paralyze some 500,000 to 600,000 people. Delegations from all over the country will come to the capital,” Luis Alejandro Pedraza, president of one of Columbia’s largest labor unions told Caracol Radio.

The struggles of one city have inflamed a nation. However, the civic strike was a cry from desperation as the federal governemet has turned a blind eye to their struggles for years.

The city was last registered as a state of emergency in 2014 when officials last visited the area. Composed mainly of residents of indigenous and African descent, the city residents have battled illness, hunger, and the threat of kidnapping and murder from gangs for years with no help from the government.

“Choco is another Colombia for the national government,” said Lucy Chamorro, a representative of the Indigenous Department Table.

With the nearest hospital 2 towns over and local gold mines contaminating the water with mercury, illness from water contamination, and virtually no sewage system, all make for unsanitary living conditions and ultimately a deadly combination.

Maintaining the highest rate of poverty in Colombia, statistics from 2015 show that 65.9% of Chocoans are below the poverty line and 37.1% are registered as extreme poverty. Additionally, per thousand inhabitants, 70.40 children die from malnutrition and the 42% of infants under their first year die.

Locked inside an endless circle of violence from drug traffickers and warring gangs, Chicoans finally gave up petitioning aid from the federal government and turned to demanding it. Now their fight has spread outwards, making waves and closing down Buenaventura’s main port and various businesses across the city for days with frustrated workers and teachers travelling to petition their own causes.

Arrests, injuries, and police brutality have led to more than one death during this time. Still, these colombians continue to stand strong and will not give up their fight until their conditions are met.

 
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