Tag Archives: choco

The Indigenous Struggle in the Chocó

and Terry Gibbs

Our indigenous guide maneuvered the dugout canoe cautiously through the shallow waters of the Río Opogodó deep in the rainforest of Colombia’s Chocó region. We had traveled almost 12 hours from the departmental capital Quibdó down the Río Atrato and up the Opogodó when we approached a collection of canoes moored on a pebbled embankment. After seeing few signs of human existence during the previous three hours, the sight of a small Embera indigenous village consisting of some 20 open thatched huts on wooden stilts was a magical vision. Walking up a green and muddy hill into the mist-enshrouded village was like traveling back a thousand years in time. But the sense of peacefulness that greeted us as we entered Egorokera proved to be mostly an illusion. The modern day reality for the Embera is far from peaceful as communities from this indigenous tribe struggle to cope with malnutrition, disease, governmental neglect, and constant confrontations with Colombia’s armed groups.

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Displacing Development in the Chocó

and Terry Gibbs

In the context of the ongoing territorial conflict in the Chocó, the mostly Afro-Colombian and indigenous residents of the region struggle on various fronts. The Chocó is Colombia’s poorest and most underdeveloped department with almost 80 percent of the population living in extreme poverty and an illiteracy rate three times the national average. Only four countries—Afghanistan, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone—have a higher infant mortality rate than the Chocó, where 125 children out of every 1,000 die before reaching their first birthday. The region’s lack of infrastructure is evidenced by the significant percentage of the population without access to electricity and potable water and the fact that roads are virtually non-existent, leaving rural Chocó almost exclusively dependent on river transportation. In addition to struggling with ongoing problems of health, education, employment and the civil conflict, chocoanos also face one of the highest rates of displacement in the country.

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Ghosts of the Past

and Terry Gibbs

Looking out over the muddy banks of the Río Atrato, Macaria tells of nightmares of mangled bodies, spiraling flames and the cries of dying children. Trying desperately to grasp the hands that reach out to her through the darkness, she awakens to nothing but silence. Macaria has been working with a UN-sponsored psychologist for months struggling to come to terms with the tragedy that struck this small Afro-Colombian community over a year ago. From the departmental capital Quibdó, Bellavista is a four-hour motorboat ride down the Río Atrato through military and paramilitary checkpoints. As one approaches the riverbank near this remote town, it is difficult to believe that so much suffering has occurred here. Dugout canoes laden with bananas, pineapples, sugarcane and miscellaneous packages vie for space near the dirt embankment as lively exchanges take place between people calling instructions back and forth. A large poster, which was placed strategically on the riverbank by the army, reads: “On May 2, 2002, the FARC assassinated 119 people here. We will never forget.” A larger than life boy’s face peers out from beside the words. Almost one year after Bellavista’s residents returned to the homes they abandoned following the attack, community members are still trying to process what happened that fateful day.

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