My profound love and respect for Colombia solidified when I learned about Ley 70 at an event in Atlanta, Georgia. This law, a landmark piece of legislation in Colombian history, significantly enlightened me about the rights of Afro-Colombian communities. That event, facilitated by Charo Mina Rojas, was profoundly transformative, opening up a new perspective and deepening my appreciation for Colombia’s pursuit of social justice and cultural preservation.
The core pillars of Ley 70 pivot around Blackness, collectivity, and protection — embodying the spirit of Afro-Colombian identity and resilience. The law centralizes Blackness, recognizing and celebrating the Afro-Colombian community’s cultural heritage, contributions, and place in the nation’s socio-political fabric. It fosters a sense of collectivity, advocating for collective land rights and the community’s right to govern these territories according to their ancestral wisdom and practices. Moreover, it underpins a strong protection mechanism, safeguarding Afro-Colombian communities from displacement, violence, and exploitation. Through its provisions, Ley 70 actively promotes social equality and justice, while preserving the rich tapestry of Afro-Colombian culture.
The journey to the enactment of Ley 70 was fraught with immense challenges and resistance, a testament to the enduring strength and resilience of the Afro-Colombian community. Although slavery was abolished in Colombia in 1851, the Afro-Colombian community continued to face systemic discrimination and marginalization. By the mid-20th century, their ancestral lands were increasingly threatened by economic interests, leading to forced displacement and escalating socio-economic disparities.
In response, the Afro-Colombian community mobilized, asserting their rights and fighting against the erasure of their cultural heritage. Their tireless advocacy culminated in a nationwide movement, highlighting the plight of the Afro-Colombian communities and their intrinsic connection to their lands. Various Afro-Colombian organizations and leaders emerged, leading the charge to protect their communities, among them, Proceseo de Comunidades Negras.
Their efforts bore fruit in 1993 with the passage of Ley 70, a significant victory for the Afro-Colombian community. The law not only legally recognized their collective land rights but also marked an important step toward social justice and cultural preservation. The Afro-Colombian community’s pivotal role in this historical milestone underscores their fortitude and commitment to their cultural identity, presenting a model of resilience for future generations.
Among the pivotal elements included in Ley 70 is the emphasis on collective land rights, which directly addresses the intricate relationship between the Afro-Colombian communities and their ancestral lands. This law firmly establishes that the ancestral lands of Afro-Colombian communities are inalienable, non-transferable, and imprescriptible. Consequently, these lands are off-limits for industrial or infrastructural development without the expressed consent and involvement of the communities residing there.
The Colombian government, under the provisions of Ley 70, is required to engage in a comprehensive, transparent, and respectful negotiation process with the Afro-Colombian communities for any proposed project that may affect their lands. This process, known as “prior consultation” or “consulta previa,” is an exercise in participatory democracy, ensuring that these communities have a crucial voice in decisions that directly impact them. The government must provide clear, comprehensive information about the proposed project, its potential environmental and social impacts, and the measures to mitigate these impacts.
This consultation is not merely a procedural step; the communities’ approval is a mandatory requirement for advancing any project. If the communities do not agree, the government and companies must explore alternative solutions or abandon the project. This approach empowers the Afro-Colombian communities to protect their lands and have a say in their development pathway, marking a decisive step towards self-governance and self-determination.
Despite the immense strides made by Ley 70, the struggle for the complete recognition and implementation of the rights of Afro-Colombian communities continues. Nevertheless, the enactment of Ley 70 has initiated a wave of political and social change in Colombia. It led to the formal recognition of Afro-Colombian communities in the Colombian Constitution, marking a significant shift in the nation’s socio-political landscape.
In the political arena, the law has contributed to increasing Afro-Colombian representation. It has been instrumental in the establishment of seats specifically allocated for Afro-Colombians in Congress, providing a platform for these marginalized voices to be heard at a national level. Additionally, it has prompted the Colombian government to incorporate the Afro-Colombian perspective in national development plans and policies, ensuring a more inclusive approach towards national growth and progress.
As a Black migrant displaced from their land and living in the United States at the time, learning about Ley 70 served as a reminder that in the fight for justice, equality, and cultural preservation, victories are possible. Seeing the Afro-Colombian community’s journey including systemic discrimination and marginalization to the legal recognition of their collective land rights can be profoundly inspiring. It can ignite a sense of solidarity, illustrating that struggles faced by Black communities are shared across borders and that their resilience and collective action can yield transformative change. Furthermore, Ley 70 stands as a testament to the power of cultural heritage, underscoring its role as a source of strength, identity, and unity.
As the Black community in Colombia and the world commemorate the 30th anniversary of Ley 70, we must acknowledge the tireless efforts of the Afro-Colombian community that have kept it alive. These communities have endured and surmounted considerable struggles to protect their ancestral lands, maintain their cultural heritage, and secure their collective rights. Their indomitable spirit, resilience, and unwavering commitment serve as a beacon of inspiration for Black communities worldwide. Let us honor these champions of social justice, and continue to support their ongoing struggle towards the full realization of their rights and the preservation of their ancestral heritage.
Janvieve Williams Comrie, is a sociologist, a human rights strategist and a movement facilitator. She is the founder and current Executive Director of the international organization AfroResistance . A sought after consultant, speaker and certified personal coach, Janvieve has strategized, advised and worked with a myriad of people all over the world, including heads of states. www.janvieve.com