24 Apr, 2012, 11:48 ET
Afro-Colombians Receive Collective Land Titles from U.S. and Colombian Presidents
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In conjunction with the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, on April 15 President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos handed over collective land titles to authorities of the Afro-Colombian communities of Palenque de San Basilio and La Boquilla.
USAID's Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program (ACIP), implemented by ACDI/VOCA with assistance from Tetra Tech ARD, was instrumental in making this signal accomplishment possible. Program technical and legal advisors, working with community councils and the Colombian National Institute for Rural Development, supported the land surveys, community meetings and legal documentation that enabled the transfer.
As a result, approximately 3,921 hectares of land are now held collectively by the 14,679 beneficiaries in these two communities, allowing them to exercise full legal rights as landowners.
'A Historic Day' in the Annals of Empowering Afro-Colombian People
"This is a historic day—decades, even centuries in the making," said President Obama. "For generations, many of you have lived on these lands, toiled these lands, raised your families on these lands. And now, from this day forward, you will at long last hold title to this land—La Boquilla and Palenque de San Basilio."
He paid tribute to the transformation underway in Colombia through empowering its Afro-Colombian people. While the ownership of 6 million hectares of land throughout the country has been formalized through the titling process, the titles handed over this day represent the first time that collective land ownership has been formalized in Colombia's Caribbean coastal region.
Afro-Colombians and Indigenous Peoples Marginalized
Palenque de San Basilios was founded centuries ago by runaway slaves and is the only remaining palenque, or enclave, that served as a refuge for escaped slaves as far back as the 17th century. It is considered the first free town in the Americas. La Boquilla is a small fishing community outside of Cartagena.
According to the 2005 census, the Afro-Colombian population constitutes about 11 percent of the country's population of 45 million (although other sources indicate that these communities constitute around 20 percent of the population), and the Colombian government recognizes 102 indigenous communities, which taken together constitute 3.4 percent of the nation's population. The title formalization is meaningful in the context of a history of widespread migration to urban areas and displacement of these populations due to armed conflict and the lack of economic opportunities.
In both rural and urban areas both groups face significant hurdles, including poverty, a breakdown in social structures and identities, and lack access to resources for bettering their situation. They routinely face inequity, racism, exclusion and even violence.
President Obama: Proof that Progress is Possible
The president said, "Giving you and so many Afro-Colombian communities title to this land is part of ending this nation's long conflict. It gives you a new stake in a new Colombia. Not far from here, your ancestors were bought and sold. Going forward, Colombia can realize its full potential by empowering all of its people, no matter what you look like or where you come from.
"Both our nations have struggled to overcome a painful past. Both keep striving to fulfill our ideals of justice and equality. And I stand here today as President of the United States, and you can stand here with title to the land, and that is proof that progress is possible."
ACDI/VOCA's Chief of Party Witnesses Ceremonial Handover
Chief of Party Glenn Blumhorst, who attended the ceremony in Plaza San Pedro, Cartagena, reported the exciting news to ACDI/VOCA's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"It was noisy, but from what I could hear, President Obama said, 'Nice job!,' as we shook hands. It was a privilege to be a part of such a significant accomplishment for these Afro-Colombian communities and an honor to represent our ACIP team at the event."
He pointed out that Grammy Award-winning Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira also participated in the event alongside Presidents Obama and Santos.
ACDI/VOCA's Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program takes an integrated approach to improving the lives of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons as a way to address their marginalization and social problems.
Contact: Charrose King, 1-202-688-4719, [email protected]
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