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The Neo-Liberal Assault on Black Lives from Baltimore to Buenaventura Colombia

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Danelly Estupiñan, a powerful Afro-Colombian human rights activist and personal friend of mine, is now facing a mortal threat from the fanatical criminals aligned with powerful economic interests who are committed to keeping Black people subjugated in the port city of Buenaventura and throughout Colombia.

An activist and member of the Black Communities Process (PCN), Danelly joins a long list of women, labor and youth activists who are facing death or have been murdered for daring to organize Afro-Colombians to defend their dignity.

At 5:30pm on November 23, Danelly received a death threat stating: “Danelly, you are close to the end.” Less than five hours later, she received a call from a friend where a distorted voice was interposed saying “we know where you are, we know where you are.”

The Black Communities Process (PCN) Buenaventura office, Palenque el Congal, works to defend the rights and dignity of Afrodescendant communities living in the Bajamar area of Buenaventura’s Cascajal Island for decades. Afrodescendants living in this area, many of whom are the displaced and their children, fled conflict and abuse in nearby river communities. They are now living in sub-human conditions due to the abandonment of the State. Not only have they had to confront extreme marginalization, poverty, lack of basic services, and had little access to employment opportunities, but now that the area they live in has increased in value as a result of the “free trade agreement” between Colombia and the U.S., they have also become the targets of armed groups that want to force them off of their land.

I know this community. I have walked its streets and broken bread with its inhabitants. The government wants this community and other black communities to disappear because it wants to expand the port and also build a new boardwalk in the city that it hopes will attract more private investment and tourist dollars. Their only obstacle is the people living on that valuable land. Danelly and PCN’s Palenque el Congal represent the organized resistance to those plans and as a result has become the target of the paramilitary groups who protect and enforce the interests of the Colombian elite.

The poverty, repression and life and death struggles of black communities in Buenaventura, Colombia cannot be understood outside of the framework and internal logic of neo-liberal capitalist globalization — a framework of understanding that links the conditions in Buenaventura to the conditions in another port city – Baltimore.

In both cases, the effects of capitalist globalization have resulted in massive displacement of black populations; increased poverty; economic marginalization of black labor and state and private violence. The eruption of popular resistance in one of Baltimore’s poorest communities to years of official neglect and militarized policing was a direct consequence of the devastating social-economic conditions created when thousands of jobs were lost when the U.S. offshored much of its industrial sector and port activities in the city were significantly reduced as a result of neo-liberal globalization. Adding to the emiseration of the black working class in Baltimore, the black middle-class administrators who occupied the local governing institutions supported local development plans like the Inner Harbor complex that displaced thousands of black working class families.

In Baltimore, the relative weakness of black resistance to massive displacement meant that death squads were not needed to target community leaders, like what we see in Colombia. Eminent-domain and neo-fascist militarized policing with impunity for crimes committed against the black poor concentrated in blighted communities has been an effective weapon for the control and containment of the people. And when there were eruptions of unapproved opposition, like during the last rebellion in Baltimore in response to the police murder of Freddie Gray, we saw how the state, from the local to the national, did not hesitate to bring the full weight of its oppressive jurisprudence down on those who dared to resist.

What must be clearly understood and articulated in unambiguous language is that the war being waged against black bodies is not a result of “bad apples” in the police forces, or a lack of effective police review boards, or, in the case of Colombia, a government not intervening aggressively enough to dismantle paramilitary groups. The war being waged against black poor and working class people is a manifestation of the broader war being waged by a rapacious, murderous white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchal global ruling class to maintain and expand its worldwide hegemony.

This is the basis and objective of the Trans-pacific Partnership ( TPP ), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the “pivot to Asia,” NATO; the war in Syria and the continuous support for the Western imperialist fort in the so-called Middle-East, known as Israel.

Do not be confused by the role of vassal states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK or even states that appear to be independent from this domination, like China and Russia – the foundation of the edifice of global capitalist domination, while under duress, is still situated in the West and represents a continuation of the 523 year pan-European colonial/capitalist project. This is the primary contradiction that the people of the world face.

On November 9, paramilitaries killed Afro-Colombian youth activist Jhon Jairo Ramirez Olaya in Buenaventura. Today, Danelly Estupiñan, whose life and activities are a symbol for all who struggle in local spaces against oppression, is now facing death for her and her organization’s audacity to resist the behemoth that is capitalist globalization.

We must stand with the people of Colombia. We must make sure that Black lives matter in Buenaventura and that our dear sister is protected. But we must also acknowledge that for black lives to matter, the lives of all those who suffer and are exploited by neo-liberal capitalism and the de-humanizing ideology of white supremacy must be made to matter – to us. That valuation of our lives only comes about only when we, the oppressed, struggle for the power to transform our conditions and imagine and fight for a new world.

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Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch magazine. 

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