Heartland Alliance International’s team in Colombia includes direct survivors of the decades-long civil war, providing services to vulnerable populations – including Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities. Esteban Moreno Gámez is HAI’s Country Director in Colombia, managing multiple trauma-informed services – oftentimes the first step in the healing process following decades of violence and hopelessness. Esteban chose to reflect on a close HAI-Colombia partner and longtime Afro-Colombian advocate, Marino Cordoba.
Why did you choose this person?
Marino Cordoba is a community leader fighting for the rights of the Afro–Colombians, as well as other marginalized groups. He is from the Riosucio region in north-western Colombia, a jungle region with high biodiversity that has long been under the control of illegal armed groups with powerful economic interests.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Marino fought for the recognition of the local communities’ land and labor rights. He was one of the key leaders behind the constitutional changes in 1991 that recognized Afro-Colombians as one of Colombia’s minority communities and led to rights over their collective land. Shortly after the government recognized his community’s land rights, a joint military and paramilitary intervention began to forcibly displace Afro-Colombians from their their land – including Cordoba, who was forced to flee to Bogotá and ultimately sought asylum in the U.S.
In 2012, despite the high risk, Marino returned to Colombia. As president of AFRODES, he continues to defend the interests of Afro-Colombians. His determination resulted in the inclusion of the “Ethnic Chapter” in the 2016 peace agreement signed between the Government and the FARC, recognizing the contribution of ethnic groups to Colombia’s development and peacebuilding. Marino has been an ally of HAI’s programs in Colombia for years. He is an inspirational example of a Colombian in the face of so much violence and adversity, has dedicated his entire life to fighting for the betterment of the country and the protection of human rights.
How do they inspire the work you do today?
Marino represents the most vulnerable ethnic populations, which have been affected by decades of war and violence. Despite the extremely high risks that he faces in his advocacy (every two days a social or community leader is killed in Colombia), he continues on fighting for the rights of Afro-Colombians and others affected by violence.
What do you think it will take to get to the future that they fought for?
Marino and other ethnic leaders have made great strides in Colombia towards protecting the rights of their communities. To guarantee a future in which all Colombians, including Afro-Colombians and indigenous people, can safely pursue their dreams and live peacefully in their territories, the government must recognize these people’s rights and ensure their protection, socioeconomic and cultural inclusion, and respect for cultural diversity and heritage.