Forgotten by the Peace Process: Thousands of Displaced Colombia’s Indigenous Families Face Starvation in Chocó (E)
The cries of hungry babies pierce the quiet of dawn in the green jungles of northwestern Colombia. For thousands of indigenous families displaced by war, recent peace efforts have brought no relief. Sordid fighting over drugs and land continues. Terrified locals are starving to death.
“Many people have diarrhea, vomiting and fever.”
With the youngest of her seven children clinging to her breast, Mariluz Dari confirms it. Her baby has been sick for the past three weeks. Naked children with bellies swollen by hunger roam the mud streets between the wooden houses.
Local authorities say two children died here last year from gastric and respiratory conditions caused by malnutrition.
[..] local officials here say that the ELN is still fighting against right-wing paramilitary groups — remnants of a long, many-sided conflict.
The violence forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes near the Upper Baudo river in 2014 and resettled in other nearby communities.
One of them, Tasi community leader Jeison Mecha of the indigenous Embera people, says he eats once a day on average: “nothing but bananas.”
Despite the peace efforts, “we are still suffering,” he says in broken Spanish.
The locals used to grow corn, plantains and rice. They used to rear pigs and hens. They have had to abandon it all for the jungle.
The Red Cross has mediated to help calm the conflict in the region and aid civilians.
But for fear of being attacked, locals stay in their settlements, guarded by indigenous strongmen with wooden staves.
The United Nations warned last year that the local Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations needed “urgent” protection. Authorities say there are 6,000 people displaced and 7,000 confined to their homes in the surrounding Choco region for fear of violence.
“We cannot guarantee that the peace process will end the violence,” says Luis Carlos Arce, governor of Alto Tumando, another settlement of displaced people.
“The violence of hunger, its impact on education and health — that is not going to end.”