Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Afro-colombian ethnic identity...
 Ethnicity, subjectivity, power...
 Afro-colombian ethnicity: from...
 Constructing afro-colombian ethnic...
 The pacific lowlands: economic...
 "Working from the head out: revalidating...
 Defining ethno-cultural politics:...
 Conclusion: Afro-colombian ethnicity...
 List of Acronyms
 Biographical sketch

Title: Constructing Afro-Colombia
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00090179/00001
 Material Information
Title: Constructing Afro-Colombia
Series Title: Constructing Afro-Colombia
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Asher, Kiran.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00090179
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Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page ii
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    Table of Contents
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    Afro-colombian ethnic identity and the pacific lowlands
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    Ethnicity, subjectivity, power and politics
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    Afro-colombian ethnicity: from invisibility to limelight
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    Constructing afro-colombian ethnic identity
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    The pacific lowlands: economic frontier, biodiversity hotspot, or ethnic territory?
        Page 82
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    "Working from the head out: revalidating ourselves as women, rescuing our black identity:" ethnicity and gender in the pacific lowlands
        Page 106
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    Defining ethno-cultural politics: identity, territory, autonomy
        Page 133
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    Conclusion: Afro-colombian ethnicity as cultural identity and collective politics
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    List of Acronyms
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    Biographical sketch
        Page 190
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Full Text




To my parents, Veena and Vithaldas Asher
for inspiring me with their unfailing courage and faith

Fundaci6n Habla/Scribe (FH/S) and Fundaci6n Herencia Verde (FHV) in

the University of Florida.

The struggle and courage of Afro-Colombians in the Pacific region
inspired this project, which would not have been possible without the
generous participation of many black community organizations. My sincere

thanks and good wishes are extended to Carlos Rosero, Victor Guevarra, Leyla

Arroyo, Libia Grueso, Edwin Murillo and others in Buenaventura; to Carlos
Francisco Ocor6 and others in Guapi; to Hernan Cortes, Julio Cesar Montafo,

Martha Arboleda, and Jos6 Arismendi in Tumaco; to Zulia Mena, Jairo and

members of ACIA and OBAPO in Quibd6. During my fieldwork, the people

of the Pacific opened up their homes and hearts to me. Thanks go to Don
Miguel Santo and Dofia Joba, Dofia Naty and Don Poty Urrutia, Dofa

Esperanza and Don Felipe Garcia in Calle Larga, Rio Anchicaya; to

Buenaventura Caicedo in Sabaletas; and to Daniel Cristobal Obregon in El

Valle, Choc6.

I would like to acknowledge the indomitable spirit and warmth of
many Afro-Colombia women who inspired me and shared their time and
concerns with me. Thanks go especially to Slyveria, Cipriana and others of

the Cooperative Multiactiva de Mujeres, and Teofila Betancur in Guapi;

Patricia, Mercedez, Dora and Myrna of Fundemujer in Buenaventura; Nimia
Teresa, Rosemira Valencia and Adriana Parra in Quibd6. I am also grateful
to Janet Rojas in Cali for generously sharing her concern and experience
working with black women in the Pacific and to Gloria Velasco and Gabriella

Castellanos of the Center de Estudios de Mujer, Genero y Sociedad at the
Universidad del Valle for innumerable conversations and for access to the

Center's library.

It is impossible for me to name all the innumerable people in

Colombia who collaborated in my research with their time and energy.

However, I would like to express my gratitude to Claudia Pinz6n, Giezze

Lasso, Jaime Rivas and Lupe Castro of FH/S; Andres Alarcon, Daniel Riberos,

Eduardo Martinez, Pablo Leal, and Jorge Ceballos of FHV; Lavinia Fiori and

Monica Restrepo of PNR; Eduardo Ariza and Maria Clara Llano at ICAN;

Angela Andrade, Manuel Jos6 Amaya and Ricardo Castillo at IGAC; to Mary

Lucy Hurtado, Robin Hissong, and Claudia Leal at PBP; to Alvaro Pedrosa,

Maria de Restrepo, Elias Sevilla, and Fernando Urrea at the Universidad del

Valle; to Jaime Arocha of the Univeridad Nacional; to David Lopez, Aururo

Sabogal and Oscar Alzate at Bosques del Guandal, to Mauricio Castro of WWF

in Cali; and to Juanita Roca of Evaluar. I would also like to acknowledge the

help of Guillermo Padilla, Alexander Cifuentes, Peter Wade, Joanne

Rappaport, Arturo Escobar, Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, and Betty Ruth Lozano
among others whose comments and insights have been invaluable for my


The laughter, meals, discussions, and debates shared with all the

uncountable and unmentioned friends in Colombia made my time there in

1995 one of the richest experiences of my life. Muchas gracias and abrazos go

to Camila Moreno, Yellen Aguilar, Eduardo Restrepo, Heidi Rubio, Ernesto
Raez, and Luis Miguel Renjifo who among others have certainly been my

amigos en las buenas y las malas. Without the friendship, love, moral

support, advice, and sharing of good days. and bad with Alberto Gaona, Maria

del Rosario Mina, Alberto Vald6s, and Juana Camacho my time in Colombia

would have been much more barren; they will indeed remain friends for life.
After a year of Colombian sunshine, I returned to Gainesville in

December 1995 during one of the coldest winters in Florida. The intellectual

and emotional support I received from Holly Hanson and Marcia Good
Maust enveloped me and have kept me as warm here as I had been in
Colombia. The friendship and scholarship I share with Holly and Marci (all
three of us received a CLAS award--the 0. Ruth McQuown Scholarship) gave
me the strength to begin the daunting task of writing this dissertation. Charo
Lanao and Benjamin Vivas kept joy alive in my life with their love and
contagious laughter. The conversations, meals and movies shared with
Rebecca Karl in 1997, and with Anindyo Roy in 1998 and their generosity and
intelligent advice, sustained me through many a dark day these past two
years. Michelle Zacks inspired me with her intelligence, friendship and
humor. Thanks also go to my sister, Sandi, and my friends Ankila Hiremath,
Hershel Elliott and Kay and Sara Eoff without whose support I would not
have survived this time so well. Finally, thanks go to my compaifero Robert
Redick for joining me in Colombia, for invaluable editorial support, and for
believing in me during my moments of deepest self-doubt.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS........................................................................................ ii

A BSTRA CT .......................................................................................................................


LO W LA N D S ........................................................................................................ 1

Ethnicity, Territorial Rights, and the Colombian State...................................4

2 ETHNICITY, SUBJECTIVITY, POWER AND POLITICS................................

M modern Subjectivity......................................................................................... 1
Power in Liberal Theories of Politics................................................................
Analytics of Power, Genealogy and Constitution of Subjectivity ...............21
Gender As Theory of Power...............................................................................2
Ethnicity in Political Development ...............................................................32
The Politics of Constructing Afro-Colombian Ethnicity............................... 3
Methodological Remarks..................................................................................3

LIM ELIGHT ........................................................................................................ 4

From a Mestizo Nation to Pluricultural One....................................................4
Black Territorial Rights in the Pacific................................................. ..........5(
The Long, Winding Road from AT 55 to Ley 70............................... .......5
Ley 70 (the Law of Black Communities) in Brief ............................... .......
Post-Ley 70: Further Splits in the Black Social Movements.....................55


Black Ethnicity: Equality, Identity and Difference.........................................6
Constructing a Collective Black Ethnic Identity......................................71
Ethnic Identity in Action: An Encounter with Los sin identidad y
Los con Identidad .......................................................................................... 7

The Pacific Region as a Resource Frontier or Development Entity..........84
Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in the
Choc6 Biogeographic Region.................................................89
The Pacific Litoral as Ethnic Territory........................................ .....95


The Role of Women in the Formation and Consolidation of Black
Social Relations........................................................................ ..................107
Afro-Colombian Gender Roles and Social Structures Today...................110
Women's Roles and Gender Dynamics in the Black Movements...........113
Women in Development in the Pacific Region...................................... 119
Ethnicity in Afro-Colombian Women's Cooperatives in the Pacific
R region ............................................................. .............................................122
Black Women's Identity: Solidarity, Essence, or Experience?.................129

TERRITORY, AUTONOMY............................................. .......133

Constructing Afro-Colombian Difference, Defining Ethno-Cultural
P politics .................................................................................. ........................ 135
The Development Plan for Black Communities: The Organization
Strategy of Black Politicians..................................... ............ 138
Coming to Terms with the Differences Within: The Difficulties of
Establishing Espacios Propios............................................................139
Participation, Representation and Constructing Identity in Espacios
M ixtos .............................................................. ............................................. 143

IDENTITY AND COLLECTIVE POLITICS......................................148
Afro-Colombian Identity: Equality, Difference, and Strategic
Essentialism s............................................................. ................................... 148
The Afro-Colombian Ethnic and Territorial Struggle and
Democratic Politics ............................................... .........154

LIST O F A CRO N YM S......................................................................... ..................157


A SCHEDULE OF INTERVIEWS ................................................158

B TRANSITORY ARTICLE 55...............................................................................161

C LEY NO. 70 DE 1993 OR LAW 70 OF 1993...................................... ............162

D COPLA by DONJA NATIVIDAD URRUTIA.................................................166

REFERENCES ............................................................................................. .............167

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH....................................................................................190

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Kiran Asher

August, 1998

Chairman: Steven E. Sanderson
Major Department: Political Science

This dissertation examines the struggle for black ethnic and territorial
rights in the Pacific Lowlands of Colombia. In 1993, a new law, Ley 70,
recognized Afro-Colombians as a separate ethnic minority with rights to ow
land collectively to be used in traditional ways. Since the majority of Afro-
Colombians live in the Pacific region, the issue of black rights is closely link
to the future of the region. While on the one hand, the state proposes to gin
legal land rights to ethnic groups, on the other, it targets the Pacific region ft
a number of macrodevelopment projects to extract natural resources and

modernize the region. Furthermore, the Pacific region is at the center of
several biodiversity conservation programs because it supports a high degrn

"biodiversity," "traditional practices," and "ethnic territory" which appear in
Ley 70, are interpreted differently by the state and by black groups.

In this study I take an interdisciplinary approach to comparative
political analysis to show how ethnic identity is socially constructed within a

particular historical, socio-political and economic context. I explore how

socio-political institutions such as the state and the constitution, as well as

structural factors such as the strategic demand for control over land and other
resources, are shaping the construction of Afro-Colombian as an ethnic and

political identity. I also examine the linkages between black ethnic identity

and other categorical identities, focusing especially on the connection between

ethnicity and gender. Finally, I argue that negotiations over definitions of

ethnicity and land rights are part of the struggle of blacks as a heretofore
oppressed and concealed group to contest the negative or derogatory racial

identity imposed upon them by dominant society, and to construct a positive

black subjectivity.


This study examines the struggle for black ethnic and territorial rights

in the Pacific Lowlands of Colombia. The Colombian Pacific Littoral is part of

the Choc6 biogeographic region, extending 1300 kilometers from the southern

tip of the Darien Peninsula to the northern tip of Ecuador along the Pacific

coast (Figure 1).1 The eight million hectares (6.2% of the country) of the

Colombian Choc6 encompass 5.5 million hectares of forests, of which 3.5

million are considered pristine or without major interventions (Tulio Diaz

1993).2 This natural-resource-rich area supplies 60% of the total timber

demands of Colombia, 82% of its platinum, 18% of its gold and 14% of its

silver (Tulio Diaz 1993).

At various times since the Spanish occupation of the region in the late

16th century, gold and other precious metals, tagua (vegetable ivory), timber

or fish have been key exchange commodities.

1 The Choc6 region of Colombia includes the Cordillera Occidental, the Serranias of Baud6
and Darien, the Atrato, San Juan, and Baud6 river basins, as well as the upper Sini and San
Jorge regions of western Colombia. The departments of Antioquia, C6rdova, Risaralda, Choc6,
Valle del Cauca, Cauca, and Nariflo are within the political and administrative limits of the
region labeled the Colombian Pacific.
A variety of ecosystems including coral reefs, mangroves, rocky and sandy beaches,
coastal forests, humid tropical lowland forests, and humid tropical highland forests are found
within this region (Andrade 1993, Tulio Dfaz 1993, West 1957). These ecosystems house 7-8
thousand species of plants (of the 45,000 total in Colombia) with a high degree of endemism.

2 Of the 8 million hectares of the Choc6 region, 2.5 million hectares are in 8 national parks,
and 1 million hectares are in 17 indigenous resguardos, or indigenous communal lands (15 are in
the process of being legalized).

0 150 300 Barranquilla
Kilometers Cartagena
C r *II__ S ; ^?


..;.. ...... .....


S ........ Medellin O
O Quibd6

A" Bogota
OCEAN ....
Buenaventura VALLE DEL
oCali .
;. ^ "..'-: a0

Guapi" C A UC A '


Past ..
/ NARIlO ..

u ..----- '- -
C A '


Figure 1. Colombian Pacific Region: Department boundaries, major rivers
_- -1 * 1_r _*!. __

The Spanish invaders decimated or dislodged the large majority of

indigenous inhabitants of the region and replaced them with African slaves

brought to work in the gold placer mines.3 The remaining indigenous

peoples and African slaves formed the crux of the political economy until the

collapse of Spanish rule in 1810 and manumission in 1851. In the 19th

century, the escaped and freed blacks retreated from areas that had been

occupied by the Spanish and resettled in the region.4 Today, the Pacific

Littoral is home to 23% of Colombia's indigenous peoples (Roldan 1993), as

well as to the majority of Colombia's black peoples (West 1957).5 Although

the population of the Pacific region is predominantly black or indigenous,

most of the region, with the exception of indigenous resguardos,6 is legally

under state jurisdiction and is labeled tierras baldias, or vacant lands.

3 Vargas (1993) discusses at length the territorial dynamics in the Atrato river basin of the
Pacific region during the time of the Spanish invasion, and its impact on the native population
of the region. Colmenares (1982), de Granda (1988), Hudson (1964) and Jaramillo Uribe (1963)
give detailed historical analyses of various aspects of the slave economy, social relations
during slavery, and the colonial economy. See also Jaramillo Uribe's (1986) comprehensive
review essay on Afro-Hispanic studies where he examines and summarizes the earliest
historical works on Afro-Americans and Afro-Colombians.

4 See Aprile-Gniset (1993, 1992), Romero (1993, 1990-1991), and Zuluaga (1994) for detailed
discussions on the population and resettlement of the Pacific region by black groups.

5 The census data for Colombia and especially for the Pacific region are highly unreliable. The
census conducted in 1991 was declared to so full of errors that the Colombian state is
reformulating its census forms and plans to collect new census statistics in the next few years.
Thus, demographic figures on what percentage of the total Colombian population is black vary
significantly. For instance, Motta (1992) estimates that 4% of the total Colombian population,
or 5 million of Colombia's 36 million inhabitants, is black. Lozano (1992) estimates the total
black population at 21%; Restrepo's (1993) estimate is 24%; Perea (1990) estimates that 30% of
the country is of African origin. None of these authors cite their sources. Demographic
statistics for the Pacific region also vary considerably. Most sources estimate that of the
850,000 to 1,000,000 inhabitants of the Choc6 region 90% are blacks, 4% indigenous and 6%

6 Resgitardos are indigenous communal land holdings protected from outside encroachment, as
this communal land can be neither bought nor sold. The resguardo system was established in
the colonial era to isolate native neonles as sources of labor and tribute. Colombian Indians

The 1886 post-manumission constitution of Colombia emphasized the

nationalist ideology of mestizaje, which held the fusion of Amerindians,

blacks, and whites to be the true route to freedom (Arocha 1992). This

ideology gave rise to a complex set of social and cultural practices which at

once tried to assimilate the racial and cultural heterogeneity of the population
by "whitening" it through miscegenation, and simultaneously to marginalize

its darker constituents. Within a nuanced, multi-tiered, color-coded, and

biologically deterministic system of racial classification, blacks and indigenous

peoples were placed at the lower levels of society (Arocha 1992, Wade 1993,

Whitten and Torres 1992). Until recently, the ethnic inhabitants of the Choc6

remained on the margins of the Colombian nation-state, whose political,

economic, social, and cultural development has been dominated by the

Andean interior since independence.

Ethnicity, Territorial Rights, and the Colombian State

In 1991, Colombia adopted a new constitution (Colombia 1991) which
included Articulo Transitorio 55, AT 55 (Transitory Article 55). This
transitory article proposed to recognize the black communities of Colombia as

a separate ethnic group and to give collective land rights to Afro-Colombians

living in the Pacific region. At first glance, the legal recognition of ethnic

difference seemed at odds with the nationalist ideology of mestizaje described

above. However, on my first visit to Colombia in 1993, I found that ethnic

and territorial rights for Afro-Colombians were by no means a fait accompli,

and as I discuss at length in Chapter 3, various Afro-Colombian movements

However, the 1991 constitution proposes to give indigenous people expanded territorial rights
by establishing special indigenous territorial units called ETIs (Entidades Territoriales
Indi enas) (Dover and Rappaport 1996).


were engaged in extensive mobilization and intensive negotiations to ratify

AT 55. Finally, in August 1993, President Cesar Gaviria approved Ley 70, La

Ley de las Comunidades Negras (Law 70, the Law of Black Communities,

derived from AT 55), which recognizes Afro-Colombians as a separate ethnic

minority and gives them the right to own land collectively to be used in

"traditional" ways.7

At one level, the inclusion of ethnic rights for black Colombians was

consistent with some of the provisions in the new constitution. For example,

the new constitution emphasizes the "multiethnic and pluricultural" nature

of the country; mandates increased civil participation, and aims to

decentralize the elite-based political administration. At another level, the

state's granting of collective land rights to black communities seems

anomalous with the introduction of widespread neoliberal economic

reforms.8 For instance, the state proposes a number of macrodevelopment

projects in the Pacific region to extract natural resources and develop the

region's ports. Furthermore, the new charter focuses on the need to protect

the Colombian environment and its biodiversity. Given that the Choc6

supports a high degree of biological diversity, it is at the center of several

conservation programs which aim to expand protected areas in the region.

In a recent, comprehensive history of Colombia, David Bushnell (1993)
notes that these seemingly contradictory patterns of development in

Colombia are a continuation of past political processes. Bushnell discusses at

7 See Appendix B for a transcription of AT 55, Appendix C for details of Ley 70.

8 Colombia was not alone in introducing neoliberal economic reforms. The economic reforms in
countries such as Mexico, Peru, Brazil were part of Latin America and global trend. For
example, the Mexican ejidal reform privatizing the collective farmlands had just been passed
in 1993; for details see Herardo (1996). See Bassett and Crummey (1993)for a discussion of
changes in African agrarian systems. Also see Watts (1994) for a discussion of the trend towards

length how the prevailing political oligarchy, with a weak two party system,
was unable to address the disconcerting levels of violence, drug wars, and left
wing guerrilla activities in the nation. It was within this context that in the
beginning of the decade the Colombian state was attempting to redefine its
role and reformulate national politics.

The changes in the political, economic and social landscape of
Colombia were by no means isolated. Latin American nations from Mexico
to Chile were in the process of political and economic reforms in the wake of
the debt crises of the 1980s. Within the context of these changes, many
political scholars of Latin America concentrated their attention on recording
the transitions to democratic rule and on the factors that may lead to its
consolidation (Linz and Valenzuela 1994, Mainwaring et al. 1992, O'Donnell
and Schmitter 1986). On the other hand, scholars of "new" social movements
(NSMs) in Latin America noted how the 1980s economic crisis in Latin
America and the subsequent political changes have led diverse sectors of
society--ethnic groups, women, peasants, urban squatters, workers and others-
--to organize and protest against the state and other powerful actors. These
scholars show these social movements have led to the democratization of
everyday life and had important implications for the broader processes of
political change in the region (Eckstein 1989, Escobar and Alvarez 1992, Jelin
1990, Redclift 1988, Rowe and Schelling 1993, Slater 1985). Recent advances in
research on Latin American society suggest that it is important to
reconceptualize the links between the state and civil society, and understand
them within the context of the broader power relations within which they are
embedded (Alvarez et al. 1998). These approaches to understanding social

and political changes, in turn, are informed by and embedded within the

broader epistemological debates in the social sciences and humanities which I
discuss in the chapter that follows.
In this study I do not intend to focus on the processes that led to the
decreasing legitimacy of the state in Colombia, nor to address their
implications for formal political systems and government institutions in the
country. My aim is to examine a particular cultural movement at a moment
in Colombia's history when the state is negotiating multiple interests during
a process of political transformation. Specifically, I explore on the dynamics
of the Afro-Colombian ethnic and political struggle, and highlight the
multiple interpretations of terms such "ethnic group," "collective land,"
"biodiversity," "traditional practices," and "ethnic territory" which appear in
Ley 70. My discussion addresses two interrelated themes: First, I focus on
how blackness or Afro-Colombianness as an ethnic and political identity is
made visible, understood, and constructed by various entities involved in
interpreting and implementing the terms of Ley 70. Second, I focus on the
conflicts in the Pacific region over ethnic territorial rights and the state's
multiple, and seemingly contradictory interests in the region.
I argue that because the provision of ethnic and territorial rights for
Afro-Colombians is predicated on their identity as a "distinct" cultural
minority, the construction of blackness is a political issue. I claim that-the
Afro-Colombian struggle is a conflict-laden process of contesting the meaning
and implications of the social, political and economic reforms outlined in the
new constitution, and interpellating them through their own realities and
particular histories.
Using Ley 70 as a base, my investigation of the construction of Afro-
Colombian ethnicity in the Pacific Lowlands is structured as follows: In

theories of power and politics inform our understanding of ethnicity and

ethnic rights. In Chapter 3, I address in detail why and how ethnicity and
Afro-Colombians become visible in the formal arena of Colombian politics
and in the new constitution. The different meanings and interpretations of

black ethnic identity within various sectors of Afro-Colombian social

movements is the focus of Chapter 4. In Chapter 5, I discuss how the Pacific

region is visualized as a development entity or a biodiversity hotspot by the
state, and as ethnic territory by the various Afro-Colombian contingents. The
role of black women and gender in the construction of Afro-Colombianness

and in the current black movements is at the center of Chapter 6. In Chapter

7, I explore how different visions of black ethnicity.inform political

representation, mobilization, and organization strategies within the black
movements. Finally, I conclude this study by reflecting on how an
understanding of the particular dynamics of the Afro-Colombian struggle

sheds interesting and challenging insights into the study of power and



Ethnic politics and nationalist conflicts are a prominent feature of
world politics today. One needs only a glance at the daily news headlines to
see the coverage of the separatist conflicts in Eastern Europe and ethnic
nationalist struggles in several parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. In
Latin America, ethnic issues appear in various guises, from armed Indian
rebellions to pan-African and Negritude cultural and religious movements,
to many instances of indigenous grassroots struggles. These eruptions were
largely unanticipated by postwar scholars of political development and

modernization. In the post-World War II period the nation-state was taken
to be the primary site of both liberal democratic and socialist politics, and it
was believed that 'development' meant the rise of secularism. In studying
the increasing number of postcolonial states that emerged during the 1950s

and 1960s, modernists predicted that ethnic consciousness would be replaced
by some other form of primary identification, such as class consciousness or
national identity.
Reflecting on the unanticipated centrality of ethnicity in the political
arena, and on current trends in political liberalization, Crawford Young
(1993: 19) notes that attempts to reconcile democratic governance with

cultural pluralism are underway in much of the world. Colombia is no
exception. Young further notes that the reconciliation between democratic

politics and cultural tensions takes on various hues. What Young does not

elaborate on are the disputes between scholars who conceptualize such

changes from within traditionally western, or modern, theories of politics,

and those who feel that such cultural and political changes in the world

signify a need to alter our view of politics and society fundamentally. For

some social scientists, recent global events such as the collapse of the Soviet

Union and the changes in Eastern Europe signify the victory of democracy

and the success of the post-Enlightenment modernization project (Pye 1990,

Fukuyama 1992).1 Viewing these same events in conjunction with the new

social movements that have emerged since the 1960s (including ethnic and

religious movements), many scholars call for the reassessment of both the

nature and the function of the nation-state and the link between politics and

culture. But other social theorists (and several non-academic writers,

activists, etc.) view the project of modernity2 (linked to westernization) with

ambiguity. They note that most traditional social theories do not adequately

explain the intense political, economic, social and cultural turmoil that has

accompanied modern progress and development.

1 See Huntington (1991, 1993) for a critique of this view. On the other hand many activists and
intellectuals, including several from the third world, argue that modernization and
development are flawed concepts (Escobar 1995, Sachs 1992). Drawing upon critiques of the
epistemological foundations of modernity (Touraine 1995, R. Williams 1989),
these "antidevelopment discourses" express the need to reconfigure social analyses and politics.
Banuri (1990), Watts (1993) among others give comprehensive summaries of the variety of
critiques labelled at modernization and development. Watts also examines at length many of
the proposed alternatives to development.

2 The terms "modernity" and "postmodernism" are not a monolithic entity or set of ideas. For
the purposes of my discussion I use the terms "modern" and "modernity" to refer to the ideas,
theories, paradigms and philosophies that emerged in the 18th and 19th century. The works
of the "Enlightenment" philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Hobbes, Descartes have played an
important although not exclusive role in shaping modern social theory including the works of
Weber, Durkheim and Marx.

These positions have been influenced, at least in some measure, by

postmodern critiques of modernity and contemporary western culture. Jane

Flax (1990) notes that although there is no united or coherent approach that

can be labeled postmodernism,3 postmodernists are united in their rejection

of certain tenets of modernity. For instance,

They postmodernistss] reject representational and objective or rational
concepts of knowledge and truth; grand, synthetics theorizing meant to
comprehend Reality as and in a unified whole; and any concept of self
or subjectivity in which it is not understood as produced as an effect of
discursive practices. (1990:188)

Ben Agger (1998) also notes that most postmodern writers mistrust western

portrayals of human history as an evolutionary or linear progress

culminating in modernity and characterized by rationality, science and

objectivity. But beyond their rejection of the idea of modern progress,

postmodernists are silent on the issue of conceptualizing an alternative to

modernity. Flax believes that this absence of an alternative "answer" is one

of the reasons "postmodernism is more successful as a critique of philosophy

and modernity than as a theory of the postmodern as such" (1990:189).

The resulting epistemological turmoil about what counts as truth, and

how knowledge about that truth is acquired or created, has led to the

development of new scholarship within the humanities and the social

sciences. Like postmodernism, such recently emerged interdisciplinary

approaches as feminism, multiculturalism, cultural studies,

3 There is no consensus among scholars about the meaning, scope and methods of
"postmodernism." However, the literary and cultural theories formulated by Jean Baudrillard
Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, Michel Foucault, and Jean-Francois Lyotard (who were
influenced by the philosophical approaches of Friedrich Nietzche and Martin Heidegger)
oultine several of the basic premises of postmodern social theory. See Lyotard (1984) and
Harvey (1989) for a general overview and critiques. In this paragraph to allude loosely to a
wide range of theoretical positions which question in some way the epistemological,
philosophical, or methodological bases of modem, liberal or humanist approaches.

poststructuralism, and critical social theory are unified neither in their goals

and methods nor in advocating any single alternative to modernity. These

wide ranging and diverse interdisciplinary perspectives attempt to address

some of the limits of western social theory, and shed creative and productive

insights into our views of culture, society and politics.

Here I want to underscore two elements of political analysis that are

being critiqued and reformulated by postmodern approaches: first, who

constitutes the subject of politics and history, and second, the role of power

in politics and society.

In this chapter, I first briefly discuss and compare some of the salient

features of modern and postmodern notions of subjectivity and power. Next,

I turn to recent feminist reassessments (influenced by postmodernist critiques

and methods) of the links between ethnicity and power. Specifically I draw

on Joan Scott's (1988) discussion of gender as a category of analysis in

outlining how the Afro-Colombian ethnic and territorial struggle is also a

cultural and political one. Third, I review how traditional theories of

political development consider ethnicity, and discuss some recent

'constructivist' alternatives. Finally, I discuss the methodological

implications of these alternative formulations for the study of politics and

social change, and specifically for the Afro-Colombian case.

4 It is beyond the scope of this work to elaborate in detail the philosophical, sociological, and
especially pyschoanalytical concepts underlying the terms "identity" and "subjectivity." I
realize that this problematic at many levels. However, it is not possible to examine the
implications of the distinctions between the two terms here. For the purposes of this discussion,
I use the terms "identity" and "subjectivity" interchangeably to connote social actors or subjects
who are shaped by, but who also shape, the political and economic structures around them.

Modern Subjectivity

In his comprehensive overview of ancient, modern and postmodern

political theories, Leslie Thiele notes,

Modernism was grounded in the assumption that the order of the
universe is natural, accessible to reason and observation, and
describable in impersonal, materialistic, mechanical, and mathematical
terms. (1997: 71)

These modernist ideas and assumptions, influenced by events in the West

such as the scientific revolution, challenged authority and traditional ways of

thinking about the world and gaining knowledge about it. Modem modes of

inquiry and philosophies of this "Enlightenment" period emerged in the

West and paralleled the growth of industrialism and capitalism. Most liberal

and socialist theories of politics in the West trace their roots to the

philosophical traditions of this period. It is not my intent to summarize the

long and complex history of various modem philosophies, their multiple

manifestations, their critiques and consequent reformulations; nor do I seek

to trace the trajectory of their influence on social and political theory. Rather

I wish to highlight briefly some of the shared assumptions about human
subjectivity within modem theories, and the implications of these

assumptions for the study of power.5

Modern liberal theories are "humanist" in orientation; that is, the

notion of a rational human self or subject exercising his or her free will is at

the center of such interpretations of the world. According to Jaggar (1983)

5 In this section I draw on Jaggar (1983), Sandel (1984) and Thiele (1997) who base their
overview and analysis of modem philosophies and liberal theories on the writings of key
figures such as Kant, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Rawls and others. In this discussion I focus
primarily on liberal theories of politics because of their prevalence in US political theories.

there are three key aspects to liberal notions of rationality. First, rationality is
a specific "mental" capacity of humans. Second, this property of rationality is
a characteristic of individuals rather than of groups. Third, the capacity to
reason is present equally in all humans. Thus, at least in theory, the liberal
subject can exist prior to the acquisition of any physical attributes and outside
)f any cultural or social relations. Sandel notes that this implies that external

differences (physical characteristics and social relations) describe what "I have,
lot the person I am" (1984: 89, italics in original)--a rational person.
This "abstract individual," (Jaggar 1983), "unencumbered subject" or
'transcendental self" (Sandel 1984) has an a priori right to exercise his/her

rational capacity toward determining and achieving his/her ends. According
to liberal theories, the precise nature of these goals is neither predetermined
nor a given. There is no "universal" end or goal, and the aims and desires of
each individual are equally valid. But what happens if two or more
individuals desire the same thing? Or if they want to pursue two mutually

exclusive ends? In a world where resources are limited, finite or scarce, it is
necessary for these individuals to determine rules for achieving their equally
important goals.
The answer to the above questions is linked to one of the basic
premises of liberalism: that rational human subjects have the capacityto
make moral judgments about what is right and good, and are able to
articulate certain rules of justice and fairness. Equipped with a capacity to
reason, to determine one's best interest, and to judge what is fair, individuals
are assumed to exercise their will or agency to determine the best option for
themselves and their communities. Thiele (1998) notes that this celebration
of humanity is linked to the modernist belief of progress--that is, that
humans will use their faculties to work toward a better world--one in which

l.l.-., LO.3 IIII LL JVV1-AC CLi.1VUL L-. LL-CUUW LlU ILCLLU I.C WUIiU, d6 well as
one in which people are well off in material terms. It is these rational,

progressive humans who are the subjects of history and politics.

Before I elaborate on liberal theories of power and politics, I want to
return briefly to the issue of "similarities" versus "differences" among

human subjects. Liberal theorists clearly recognize that individuals differ (in
sex, race, class, age and so on), and that these differences shape the needs and

desires of people as well as the ends people choose to pursue. But what is
important to note is the valence given to these differences. Liberals
emphasize the "intrinsic" commonalities or similarities among individuals--
the capacity to reason and the ability to choose the right path (the "I am" part

of Sandel's equation)--rather than the differences of sex, race, class, ability, etc.

(the "I have" part). According to liberal democratic notions of participation,

human subjects are called upon to put aside differences in order to speak as
equals, or to overcome the supposed obstacles of "difference" in order to

formulate a rational, collective will within the public arena of politics

(Calhoun 1994). Calhoun notes that, while stressing individuality, liberal
notions of the subject erase or underplay differences within individuals.

Jaggar, Sandel, Thiele and other scholars and critics (Ferguson 1993,
Okin 1989, Phelan 1989) within and outside liberalism have criticized various

aspects of this individualist" focus of liberal theories. One of the earliest
critiques of liberal concepts is from Marxists who rejected rationality as an a
priori characteristic of human consciousness. Instead, classical Marxist

theorists claimed that human subjects are a product of the social, and

especially the economic, structures they find themselves within. Thus, rather
than the being "abstract," the subject of (classical) Marxism is a product of
history and of material circumstances. Furthermore, "historical materialist"

or classical Marxist approaches tend to overemphasis the role of economic

structures in determine the identity and goals of human subjects.6 Within

American political science it is largely liberal political theories that prevail

(Thiele 1998). In the rest of this discussion I focus mainly on liberal

approaches to the study of power, and juxtapose them with postmodern


Power in Liberal Theories of Politics

At the most fundamental level liberal theories of politics are concerned

with the human struggle for freedom, equal rights, and universal justice, and

the role of power within such struggles. Thiele (1997) notes that in keeping

with their modernist legacy, liberal theories of politics and power have an

individualist and voluntarist focus. That is, these theories focus on the study

of power as exercised intentionally by individuals or particular groups of

individuals, and attempt to explain why certain individuals and groups are

oppressed, subordinated or otherwise denied their legal rights and privileges.

Within American political science and political sociology, elite and pluralist

theories of power pose questions such as: Who has public power? how is

public power acquired? how is it used? and what are its consequences? Here I

6 Recent marxists theorists and activists have take more critical views of Marx's writings.
Influenced by postmodernist approaches, the translation of Gramsci's writings in English, and
the consequent rereadings of Marx's work, cultural studies scholars are revising marxist notions
of subjectivity, 'culture' and cultural politics. See Grossberg and Nelson (1988) and Grossberg,
Nelson and Treichler (1992) for a selection of such developments in cultural studies and
Marxism. The project of Subaltern Studies which has provided provocative and interesting
analyses and reclamation of subaltern voices in Indian social historiography has also expanded
current Marxist analysis of history and society. See Guha and Spivak (1988) for selections from
the five published collections of Subaltern Studies from 1982 to 1987.
The work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of
Birmingham which focuses on "the production in practice of diverse working-class identities,
lives, styles, cultures, and their modes of appropriation and transformation" (Lave et al. 1992:
258), and their role in British social history and politics also makes important contributions to
recent developments in Marxist theories of the subject.

cUscuss some lanamarK nierai tneones ot power to tughlight their salient
characteristics as well as to explore their utility and limits for the study of
ethnic politics.
In his book Who governs? Robert Dahl (1961) critiques elitist models
of power and develops his pluralist approach. He uses his neighborhood
New Haven as an example to address who actually governs, or exercises
power, in a democratic society where resources are unequally divided. Three
assumptions or characteristics underlie Dahl's study.
First, Dahl assumes that everybody, not just elites, has the potential or
the resources to affect decision making, and that any individual or group can
participate in a decision making forum. That is, there are no serious obstacles
or opposition to an individual or interested group's participation. Second,
he claims no one person or group controls all the resources all the time.
Different minority groups function across different areas or issues leading to a
system of dispersed and non-cumulative inequalities in the decision making
arena of public politics. Third, Dahl assumes that non-participation indicates
consensus for the status quo. These assumptions in Dahl's work exemplify
the empirical, positivist emphasis of pluralist approaches, and expose their
gaps. Are governments and public institutions the only venue where the
play of power and politics occurs? Is observable conflict the only
manifestation of power play? Or put differently, is conflict always observable?
Does the ostensibly minor role of women and other subordinate groups in
public politics mean that they consent to their domination? What is the role
of dispersed or amorphous interests within pluralist politics?

In his study on quiescence and rebellion in Central Appalachia, John
Gaventa (1980) critically assesses pluralist approaches and conceptualizes
power as having three dimensions. The first is the pluralist model described

is the idea of using power to make decisions by manipulation, influence,

force, or coercion, when those decisions may otherwise be resisted.

The second face of power conceptualizes power as a property rather

than as manifested, observable behavior or events.7 This approach was

developed by Bachrach and Baratz (1970) who argue that power works to limit

the participation of certain people and to exclude certain issues from the

public agenda through a "mobilization of bias" in the decision-making

process. Bachrach and Baratz note that mechanisms of power function in

complex ways to lead to non-decisions or non-action even though these may

not be visible as conflicts. The third dimension of power is outlined by

Steven Lukes (1974), who focuses on the how grievances conflicts and

political problems are defined in the first place. In his award-winning study

of quiescence and rebellion in the Central Appalachian Valley, John Gaventa

(1980) holds the second and third approaches in conjunction to outline a

tentative theoretical relationship between power and powerlessness.

Gaventa notes that identifying the mechanisms of power in the third

dimension involves,

[S]pecifying the means through which power influences, shapes or
determines conceptions of the necessities, possibilities, and strategies of
challenge in situations of latent conflict. This may include the study of
social myths, language, and symbols, and how they are shaped or

7 Another approach to the study of power as a property rather than a behavior is that of
structuralists. Two well-known structuralists, Charles Lindblom (1977) in his work on markets
and politics and Theda Skocpol (1979)in her work on social revolutions, explain social
phenomena and political systems based on their properties.
A structural explanation of power suggests that power is legitimized if it is manifested
by social institutions or social practices that are legitimized. Thus, for example, the power of a
monarch would be accepted as long as monarchy is legitimate, or the power of a patriarch as
long as patriarchy is legitimate. The way in which activities are structured, ostensibly,
makes people voluntary participants. Stated differently, people play a certain role that is
imposed on them by a patterned activity.

manipulated in power processes. It may involve the study of
communication of information both of what is communicated and
how it is done. It may involve a focus upon the means by which social
legitimations are developed around the dominant, and instilled as
beliefs or roles in the dominated. It may involve, in short, locating the
power processes behind the social construction of meanings and
patterns. (1980: 15)
Gaventa notes that such an approach to understanding power was limited by

the methodological 'limitations of the individualist focus of pluralist models.

In his study, Gaventa claims that it is possible to overcome these

methodological difficulties and develops an empirical model to test the

second and third dimensions of power. Gaventa's model stresses three

elements. First, he takes an historical approach to document past roles or

routines of power, and examines the impact of industrial power at the end of

the 19th century in two rural, highland counties in Appalachia. Second, he

examines mechanisms of power from 'below' to understand how they

function to maintain quiescence in the present situation. Finally, he engages

in participant observation with the 'relatively powerless' to examine and

confirm "the extent to which patterns of power and powerlessness preclude

issues from arising or actors from acting" (viii). Throughout his study

Gaventa focuses on the analysis of symbols, cues and beliefs that were

mobilized to enforce patterns of inequality and induce quiescence.

Among the all the approaches to the study of power discussed above, I

find Gaventa's model the most compelling in understanding the Afro-
SI 1 TTT T *1 I -. 1 .. -- A-

defining these relationships are not politicized and problemitized, these

relationships continue to work to someone's advantage. However, in his

study he does not examine sufficiently how social, cultural, and political

relations interact to define these norms of inequality among the mining

communities in Appalachia.8 Furthermore, Gaventa's model inadvertently

views power in a binary fashion (mining company has power, miners do

not). This has two consequences. First, t does not allow for an examination

of how differences and conflicts within miners as a group function to create

or reinforce patterns of inequality. Second, Gaventa misses an opportunity to

examine how mechanisms of power and resistance function together to resist

existing patterns and replace them with new or different ones. In short, my

main concern with Gaventa's model is that he does not explicitly theorize

how differences, interactions, and conflicts function to produce patterns of

power and powerlessness. Nor does he explore any unintended effects due to

the non-linear or multidirectional nature of patterns of power. I feel that

these gaps in Gavanta's approach are linked to the limitations of his

modernist approach, which assumes the transparency of language and the

fixity of meanings. In the next section I discuss some postmodernist

methodologies (specifically Michel Foucault "genealogical" approaches to

studying power and subjectivity, and Scott's concept of gender as a way of

theorizing social relations) and show how they address the gaps in Gaventa's

model. I claim that taken together these approaches offer deeper insights into

the dynamics of the Afro-Colombian struggles.

8 For instance, there is no reference to issues of gender subordination in Gaventa's analysis.
However, I do not hold Gaventa to task for this given that feminist approaches had not made
thoir mnr fw;th;n mlinctram nT-lt-;rl l cfn-Hoe in tho 1QM7nl)_nr

Anaiyucs or rower, genealogy ana consntunon ot buojectivity

In contrast to the abstract, rational, individual subject of modernity,
postmodernist subjects are embodied, specific, and "produced" within specific
historical and social contexts. Postmodernist critics of modernity argue that
claims to transcendental subjectivity, rationality, and human struggles for the

right to pursue their own goals are themselves linked to the growth and

development of regimes of power. They argue that the criteria that

distinguish between truth and fiction, science or myth, fact or superstition are
"internal to the tradition of modernity and could not be legitimized outside

of those traditions" (Nicholson 1990: 4). Within postmodern approaches

discussions about modern subjectivity are inextricably linked to discussions

about power, and have been principally informed by the work of French
sociologist Michel Foucault. Here I outline in some detail Foucault's
analytics of power, his genealogical methods and his notion of constitution of


Although the study of power was not the explicit focus of Foucault's

early work, in his later work he suggests that developing an analyticss" rather
than a theory of power has been the underlying interest of much of his

research. According to Foucault, the western juridico-political analyses

conceptualize power only in a negative way, as prohibiting or limiting desire

or action. Foucault claims that pluralist causal models ultimately see power
as a monolithic, easily decipherable entity which is fundamentally incapable
of deviousness. In mapping power's maneuverings in the areas of sexuality,

and in his work in prisons, asylums and medical institutions, this view of

power proved to Foucault to be totally inadequate. Instead, Foucault believes

that modern power consists of productive or constructive forms which are far

0IAILC ;ULL Cn;IL FCi VCVL C LIMCL m ilm iM icoivc LyYc ui uvvuc i lUILLAVtx U
traditionally. In his definition of the term, power is

not something that is acquired, seized, shared [rather it] is exercised
from innumerable points, in the interplay of non egalitarian and
mobile relations.... relations of power are not in a position of exteriorit
with respect to other types of relations [but rather are immanent in
other relations, i.e.] economic processes, knowledge relationships,
sexual relations.... Power comes from below [thus cutting away notions
of binary opposition within power of oppressor/oppressed or
ruler/ruled. We must understand] that the manifold relationships of
force that take shape and come into play in the machinery of
production, in families, limited groups, and institutions [are the loci of
power where] wide-ranging effects of cleavage.., run through the social
body as a whole.... Power relations are both intentional and
nonsubjective .... there is no power that is exercised without a series of
aims and objectives. But this does not mean. that it results from the
choice or decision of an individual subject.... Where there is power,
there is resistance.., yet... resistance is never in a position of exteriority
in relation to power.... power relations['s]... existence depends on a
multiplicity of points of resistance. (Foucault 1978: 94,95)

In all his major works, Foucault focuses on "how" human beings are made

into subjects rather than on "what" subjects are Through his analysis of

western society and its institutions Foucault focuses on the mechanisms of

power that function in quotidian life and politics. In his books on asylums,
prisons, and sexuality, he gave detailed accounts of "how" these mechanisms

of power shape individuals and institutions, and "how" these in turn wield

power to produce, reproduce, manipulate and shape other individuals and

institutions through discourse and practice. For Foucault, this historical

analysis of power leads to an understanding of how human beings are made,
and become, subjects (Foucault 1980: 8).

Rabinow (1984: 7) maps out three modes of Foucauldian objectification

through which human beings produce the truth about themselves:

(1)"scientific classification,"--in which "discourses of life, labor, and language

are structured into disciplines" ibidd.: 9), and lead to the scientific

i,.iLIiOLiL.ILLAi1 uI UL. 1U iVC, \k/) lIVIUIIL )11tIg pI L.tC --UY WllILL ULUiltl I UtfUIlgS
are separated from themselves and others through "modes of manipulation

that combine science (or pseudo-science) with the practice of exclusion" ibidd.:

8);.and (3) "subjectification"--by which we are active participants in the

process of understanding, presenting and representing ourselves as

"subjects." In a later work, Foucault classifies the above as four

"technologies," splitting "scientific classification" into "technologies of

production," and "technologies of sign systems," which are used to study the

sciences and linguistics, respectively (Foucault 1988: 18). These modes of

objectification or technologies are specific but interrelated and often

overlapping. Much of Foucault's work has been an attempt to write a history

of western knowledge as it is based on the intertwining of the "dividing

practices" of domination, and those of the "subjectification" of the self.

These concerns also dominate his last unfinished project, on the

history of sexuality. In the introduction to the History of Sexuality (1978)

Foucault depicts the totalizing form of power that emerged with the increased

state concerns about life, economic growth, and the welfare of the population.

He labels this "bio-power," notes that it is organized around two poles. At

one end, human populations as the collective subjects become the focal point

where concepts such as population, fertility, demography are "objects of

systematic, sustained political attention and intervention" (Rabinow 1984: 17-

18). At the other end, the human body, or the subject-self, becomes the focal

point, the object of manipulation and control of the various microtechniques

of biopower (Foucault 1978).9

9 Foucault has pointed out the success of capitalism would not have been possible had it
not been for the persuasion and efficacy of bio-power. Without being its cause, two
factor were crucial to the development of capitalism: statistical knowledge of the
mmnn E); A-44U-f- --A .... -al~ra C 4-1- r. l~~r ~~~r~l~. ~~n~~rn

J.V C L U .I.LJ.LCL.. L I- C.. L".I1J. X.U.. ,IL L,. COI -U L % J.L . M. IIL IU L.OL% y

which can account for the constitution of knowledge, discourses, domains of

objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is either

transcendental in relation to the field of events ....." (Foucault 1980: 117). A

genealogical analysis shows "how" human beings are constituted as subjects

by others and how they participate in our constituting themselves as subjects

in history through bio-power, or other technologies of the self (Simons 1995:

31). Through truth we constitute ourselves as subjects of knowledge, through

a field of power relations we constitute ourselves as subjects acting on others,

and through our ethics we constitute ourselves as moral agents, as individual


However, these embodied and constructed subjects of postmodernism

differ from liberal feminist or Marxist subjects in that they do not necessarily

engage in any liberatory political struggles. Postmodernists rejection of all

ideas of universal, causal or linear notions of human struggle for justice and

freedom makes such political action impossible. For Foucault and other

critics of modernity truth and reality are constructions whose meanings are

open to different interpretation. The processes of uncovering the multiplicity

of meanings associated with ostensibly universal terms and symbols are at th(

heart of political action.

From the above discussion it is evident that within postmodern

approaches to subjectivity and power, differences are analytically more

significant than similarities. Indeed, understanding the interrelated concepts

for the "controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production" (Foucault 1978:
141). Bio-power, no longer concerned with the purely juridico-political mastery, was
fixated "with living beings, and the mastery it would be able to exercise over them
would have to be applied at the level of life itself; is was the taking charge of life,
more than the threat of death, that gave power its access even to the body"(Foucault
1978: 143).

J. .L.L..L.;Ll. %ALDU .J. U C, CLI.U LLL CL LL.- I L L .ULL I 1 L i llL.i IAL L1M.
genealogical methods of postmodernism.

Following the work of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, French

philosopher of "difference" Jacques Derrida argues that language is a system

of signifierss "(words, symbols, concepts, etc.) where there is no fixed

correlation between words and their meanings. Rather, the meaning of

signifiers can only be understood in terms of their internal relations of

"difference" (Agger 1998). Derrida's work focuses on "deconstruction" as a

mode of analysis in which binary opposites are reversed and then displaced to

reveal "the interdependence of seemingly dichotomous terms" (Scott 1990:

137) within a specific context. Deconstructing language shows how

opposition are constructed to seem natural for particular purposes. For

example, masculine and feminine, and black and white, are constructed as the

natural binary opposites of gender and race, respectively. Deconstruction

also involves understanding how differences function within texts and

structure meaning. However, postmodernists take a very broad view of

language. According to Scott, language is

[A]ny system--strictly verbal or other--through which meaning is
constructed and cultural practices organized and by which, accordingly,
people represent and understand their world, including who they are
and how they relate to others. (1990: 135)

Postmodern approaches focus on such systems of meanings and ask: What

particular rhetorical strategies, metaphors, and other figurative devices are at

work within a text or discursive field? What meanings do they highlight?

What are the nuances and differences of meanings that these strategies hide?

How does power operate within these strategies?

bcott notes that some ot the answers to these questions are found in
:ault's concept of discourse or discursive practices. The term "discourse"

vs on the broad understanding of language outlined above. Words, texts,

:ies, theories of knowledge, institutional and organizational structures,

d relationships and cultural practices can all be considered part of a

ursive field. Scott notes,

A discourse is not a language or a text but a historically, socially, and
institutionally specific structure of statements, terms, categories, and
beliefs. (1990: 135)

cault's work on the analytics of power discussed above focuses on how

vering meanings is a process fraught with conflict in which different

ursive fields overlap, intersect, and compete with each other for claims to

1 and authority.

With their focus on differences, and the role of power in constructing
nings, discourse analysis and deconstruction provide important tools in

ng a critical view of traditional approaches to politics and power. In the

ion that follows I discuss how these methods have informed recent

inist efforts to the understand social change, and how such efforts provide
table insights for my study on Afro-Colombian ethnicity and territorial


Gender As Theory of Power

Since the early part of the last century women, slaves, third world
onalists, blacks, gays and other groups have pointed out how their

usion from the political arena has been premised on the fact that they

e denied subjectivity. Thus, early social movements such as the

litionist, women's suffrage, and civil rights movements in the USA and
anti-imnorialiqt natinnnlictk mnvmnpntc in thP third wnrld wprp ftrioIlolp

ror excluaea groups to oe recogrnzea as subjects witn equal ngnts ana
representation within democratic political institutions.10 However, claims to

equality based on the demand for recognition of the sameness of heretofore

excluded subjects began to shift in the 1960s. In the USA, following the Civil

Rights movement, women, gays and lesbians, and Afrocentric and other

African-American activists stressed the importance of specific identities and

rights based in differences.

It was at this time that "second wave" feminism emerged in the United

States. The subsequent developments in feminist scholarship in the North

American academy provided crucial insights into the gaps and fissures in

western social theory.11 Feminist analyses of patriarchy, western philosophy

and history noted how liberal notions of subjectivity privileged masculinity,

and disguised the specific identity and interests of white, property-owning,

bourgeois males as universal qualities. In order to problematize masculinity

and male power, and address women's exclusion and subordination due to

gender, "standpoint" feminists stress "women-centered" or "gynocentric"

approaches to social inquiry (Ferguson 1993: 78). These "interpretative"

approaches focused on recovering the knowledge and experiences of women

and other subordinated groups, and giving voice to their heretofore hidden

10 Liberal feminism, for instance, has been a voice throughout the 300 odd-year history of
liberal political theory. The goal of liberal feminism has been to apply liberal principles to
women as well as men. Early feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft, J. S. Mills, and Harriet
Taylor Mills argued that women as well as men had natural rights and they lobbied for equal
rights for women under the law. Recent liberal feminists want to use these laws to oppose othel
forms of discrimination and to persuade the state to implement social reforms to ensure equal
opportunity for women (Jaggar, 1983).

11 For an overview of various (often overlapping) feminist approaches such as liberal, marxist
radical, socialist, black, lesbian, etc see Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, Schneir,
Feminism in Our Time or Maggie Humm's Moder Feminisms. Ferguson (1993), Flax (1990)
Spelman (1988), and the volumes edited by Butler and Scott (1992), and Weed (1989) for some
excellent analytical discussions of various feminist alternatives to traditional social theories.

UI uiLVimUitc bLUrlI tu pfUVIUC a Inuret represenaudLlve picture or mne Irutn.
According to Ferguson, these "interpretative" feminist approaches believe

that political (and theoretical) alliances forged due to similarities in "identity"

and experiences of oppression have the potential to subvert the status quo of


On the other hand, several feminist scholars influenced by

postmodernists problematize subjectivity and attempt to deconstruct

categorical identities, including "women." These "genealogical" approaches

claim that the "interpretative" strategy of reversals reproduces the

shortcomings of foundationalist, center-periphery discourses by displacing the

essentialism and determinism of maleness to some other location. For

instance, Benhabib and Cornell (1987) note that the essential notion

underlying the universal human norm is reproduced in the assumption that

there is an organic category "women," and that a connection exists between

feminist theory(ies) and the unique experience of women as women. This

critique has also been forcefully iterated by third world women and women of

color in the West (hooks 1990, 1992; Mohanty 1991; Moraga and Anzaldiia

1981) who argue that "women-centered" approaches often essentialize the

identity and experiences of all women, and leave no room for differences of

race, ethnicity, class, age, regional location, and so on.12 They claim that

women's identities are not necessarily formed in opposition only to men's,

but could be in opposition to those of other women, of the same or different

class, culture, or ethnicity. Social movements emphasizing the centrality of

racial, ethnic, or class subordination, by comparison, often ignore gender

12 Similarly, many theorists and activists have denounced the classical Marxist political
actor as being too homogeneous, too fixed, and the class-based socialist politics of the Left too
narrow, to allow room for the different, often interdependent, struggles against racism, sexism,
and capitalism (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, Rutherford 1990).


(1993) note that the Eurocentric construction of the continent, its people and

politics has served to suppress the heterogeneity of Latin American societies

and trivialize the complex identities of its people. Both genealogists and

women of color highlight the need to be wary of unanticipated essentialisms

and universals buried within political alliances based on ostensibly similar

identities or experiences. They also signal attention to the linkages between

power and claims to truth or a more representative reality.

Recently, several feminists, including many women of color, have

argued that genealogical strategies to subvert any fixed positions, to expose

gaps, slippages, and contradictions within discourses of power, and search for

multiple meanings within narratives can be crucial to transform our current

understanding of gender, social relations and oppression. These scholars

claim that it is important to hold modern and postmodern approaches in

conjunction to explore the limits and possibilities of both. One such attempt

is Joan Scott's definition of gender as a category of analysis.

In her essay, Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis, Joan

Scott shows how feminists have long noted that gender is a fundamental

aspect of social relations and structures our knowledge of culture, society and

history. Before outlining her alternative concept, Scott reviews several

attempts to theorize about gender from within traditional social science

frameworks and finds their "interpretative" strategies limiting.13 She notes

13 Scott classifies traditional feminist approaches as being based on three theoretical positions:
feminist attempts to explain patriarchy; Marxists feminists frameworks; and psychoanalytical
approaches from within French post-structuralism and Anglo-American object relations
theories. Theories to explain patriarchal domination were developed by Mary O'Brien and
Shulamith Firestone among others, Catherine Mackinnon, Joan Kelly and Michele Barrett'ss
work exemplifly the historical approach of Marxist feminists, Nancy Chodorow and Carol
Gilligan are two of the most well-known feminists who develop the object-relations approach
of psychoanalysis.

These theories have been limited at best because they tend to contain
reductive or overly simple generalizations that undercut not only
history's disciplinary sense of the complexity of social causation but
also feminist commitments to analyses that will lead to change. (1988:
Scott's definition depends on the integral links between two propositions--

that gender is a constitutive element of social relations (based on perceived

differences between the sexes), and that gender is a primary way of signifying

relations of power. These propositions contain within them several
interrelated but analytically distinct subsets, and help to address the gaps in
Gaventa's model to study the third dimension of power.

The first proposition has four interrelated elements: first, culturally

available symbols evoke multiple and often contradictory representations.

The questions one needs to ask are: which representations are invoked? To
symbolize what? Why, and in what situations? Second, certain normative
concepts set forth the interpretations of the meanings of these symbols and

limit their possible meanings. Seeking to understand the tight coupling or

linkage between certain symbols and their meanings is part of the third aspect
of gender relations. According to Scott, the dismantling of these linkages
between symbols and meanings is a political action that opens room for a

multitude of alternative meanings.

The fourth aspect of Scott's first proposition of gender is related to

subjective identity. One needs to ask how gendered identities are constructed
-that is, what range of activities, social organizations, and historically specific
cultural representations and symbols lead to such identities. Although Scott
notes that these four elements are closely interrelated, she warns against
assuming any linear or predetermined relation between them. TUsing
gender as a category of analysis allows us to find out how gender functions

and to clarify the relationship among the above four elements within a given


Clarifying the relationship between the four elements of Scott's first

proposition leads us to the second proposition of Scott's definition--an

understanding of gender as a means of signifying and theorizing relations of

power. Scott notes that "... gender is a primary field within which or by

means of which power is articulated"(45). However, gender is not the only

field within which power is articulated, nor are concepts of power always

about gender itself. Rather, the concept of gender provides a way to "decode

Vorld War II scholarship on political development informed by the

Paradigms of modernization, characterized the newly emerged, largely non-

vestern, and primarily rural post-colonial states as backward and

underdeveloped in socioeconomic and political terms. One of the basic tenets

if political development approaches (and of resource mobilization theory)

vas that socioeconomic growth and increased political consciousness would

,ring about and consolidate the unity of nation-states with homogeneous

populations and destroy those with heterogeneity and conflict (Deutsch 1961,

ipset 1959, Pye 1966).15 The emergence of modern nations, whose people

rade ethnic, religious, or other primordial ties for the enlightened secular

values of nationalism, was considered an inevitable consequence of the

industrial age (Gellner 1983, Inkeles and Smith 1974).

Scholars of political development often considered ethnicity6 a

marginal and temporary feature of politics, at odds with the secular values of

4 See Thomas Hylland Eriksen's (1993) Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological
'erspectives for a detailed overview of how "ethnic groups," "ethnicity," and "ethnic conflict"
Lave been defined and perceived in social analysis.

5 Sociologists and political scientists have written extensively on political development,
democratization, and third world underdevelopment. See Chilcote 1981: 271-346, Almond 1987:
.37-490, Isbister 1991/1995: 33-68 for detailed discussions on this debate within political
science. Also see Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) for a early critique
of modernization and political development.

6 The definition of ethnicity in political development was probably influenced by early
anthropological notions or "primordialist" explanations of ethnic and cultural groups. Ethnic
nd cultural groups were terms designated to a population characterized by a particular 'race'
descent), who shared a common language, followed certain normatively defined social customs
of marriage, exchange, religious practice and so on), and who recognized themselves and were
recognized by others as forming a distinct category separate from other such distinct categories
f people (Narroll 1964).

a democratic state.17 Most early "instrumental" analyses of ethnicity focused

primarily on material factors and objective conditions characterizing ethnic

groups, and rationalist explanations assumed that the ultimate resolution to

ethnic conflict would be integration and accommodation.18 The class-based

analysis of dependency theorists and neo-Marxists relegated ethnicity to the

status of epiphenomena. Alternative "primordialist" approaches reacted to

this perceived overemphasis on material factors and drew attention to the

affective, non-rational, psychological and emotional aspects of ethnonational

identity (Connor 1987, 1993; Horowitz 1985; Smith 1986).19 Although

students of ethnicity had long seen it as "contextually shifting phenomena"

(Young 1976: 46), it was not until the mid- to late 1980s that political studies

questioned the cultural givennesss" of ethnicities and acknowledged the need

17 For instance, it is only in the recent editions of standard comparative politics texts such as
Gabriel Almond and Bingham Powell's Comparative Politics Today, that ethnicity is
discussed as one of the key features of political life.
An exception is Cynthia Enloe's Ethnic Conflict and Political Development (1973).
Enloe not only calls for an reexamination of the relegation of ethnic groups to the level of
dependent variables, but also questions the use of nation-states as primary units of analysis of
political development.

18 Arend Lijphart (1968, 1985) elaborates on the concept of "consociationalism" or "power-
sharing" as a means of accommodating ethnic heterogeneity through proportional
representation and mutual veto, especially in Western democracies. Nordlinger (1972) suggests
an approach similar to Lijphart's to resolve ethnic conflict and arrive at mutually acceptable
solutions. See also Horowitz (1985) for an extensive comparative analysis of ethnic politics in
Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Horowitz's treatment of ethnicity goes beyond materialist,
rationalist explanations but is still embedded in the framework of ethnic conflict resolution.

19 These discussions of the role of ethnicity in political development paralleled the debates
within cultural anthropology over the definition and formation of ethnic groups. The
anthropological investigations have revolved around the views of the "prinordialists" and
the "instrumentalists." The former theorists suggest that ethnicity is the product of primordial
sentiments of common descent, or sometimes common culture, often evoked in response to the
dehumanizing influences of many modem socioeconomic changes. The instrumental models,
influenced by Leach (1954) and Barth (1969), hold that in response to socio-economic and
political change, people with common interests aggregate under the rubric of a common "ethnic"
or cultural group to pursue those interests (often economic ones). The instrumentalists suggest
*hat rtl ml .0tc1 ownirhc tun h'M/IA muk,. ,d /\*nur amvrr ir y ctrrvnr tk cLfv Irtmrhmr, ,(

to look at ethnicities as a consequence of, or a response to, changes in the

social, economic, and political arenas (Young 1986, Kasfir 1988, Brown 1989).

Recent approaches to the study of ethnicity focus on the processes that

lead to the formation and articulation of ethnic identifications and demands.

These "constructivist" approaches stress the dialectic creation, recreation, and

transformation of ethnic, racial, and national identities within a particular

historical context (Fox 1990, Gilroy 1987, Vail 1989). These recent works

examine which social beliefs and practices underlie and shape the formation

of such categorical identities as ethnicity, race and nationality; and look at the

processes by which these conceptions develop, alter, and interact in real life

(Fox 1990).

Reviewing twenty years of cultural anthropologists' attempts to define

ethnicity and disclose its meaning, Brackette Williams (1989) concludes that

it is imperative to analyze the nation-state in the context of ethnic groups

especially since the state's policies and ideologies often constrain or define the

boundaries of an ethnic group.20 Brass (1985) and Harrell (1990) postulate that

in practice, ethnic groups in the modern context are defined not so much by

their internal characteristics as their external relationships with other ethnic

groups and the state. Recent studies note the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in

which the modern nation-state shapes a group's conceptions of self-identity,

20 It is important to note that much attention has been directed to questioning the primacy of
the nation-state as a principle unit of analysis in political studies. As Benedict Anderson
(1991) notes, modern nation-state themselves are "imagined communities." See Anderson
(1991), Bhabha (1990), Chatterjee (1986), and Hobsbawm (1990) for discussions on the
emergence, persuasion, persistence of nationalism as the "natural" characteristic or the
collective sense of belonging of a people belonging to the discreet territory of a nation. Also see
ft'. C---f ;_ m T 1Q- f\\

as well as how it relates to other groups and the state.21 B. Williams presents

a useful summary definition

... the visibility of that aspect of the identity formation process that is
produced by and subordinated to nationalist programs and plans--plans
intent on creating putative homogeneity out of heterogeneity through
the appropriate processes of a transformist hegemony. Although the
elite members of the race/class/ culture/nation conflation direct the
construction of a link between putative homogeneity and civil society,
non-elite members sharing a common 'blood' form key elements of the
historical bloc that comes to represent and 'protect' the tribal past. (1989:
That is, rather than being intrinsically 'primordial,' note recent scholars,

ethnicity is constructed as 'primordial' in its discourse to render it more

generally appealing in the national context. This is a distinct shift from

instrumental explanations that define ethnic struggles as demands for equal

national rights, and from primordialists approaches that focus on the primacy

of affective elements of ethnic ties at odds with national aspirations. These

constructivist approaches make it possible to examine the role of power in

shaping discussions about ethnic identity and the specific demands of ethnic

groups within a particular context. It is within the context of these

constructivist approaches that I locate my study of the construction of Afro-

Colombian ethnic identity and the struggle for territorial rights.

21 Vail (1989) talks about the creation of ethnicity, as an ideological statement of popular
appeal in the context of profound social, economic and political change in Southern Africa. In
the same volume, Jewsiewicki (1989) discusses the formation of a "Luba" culture in the Belgian
Congo (Zaire) through the indigenization policies of the colonial administration, aided by
missionary work in writing and legitimizing a "proper" form of the language, and
anthropological studies that define cultural characteristics of a people. Harrell (1990) notes
that in China, the state classifies the Chinese people into fifty-six minzu based ostensibly on
four kinds of markers as outlined by Stalin: common territory, common language, common
economy and common culture.

The Politics of Constructing Afro-Colombian Ethnicity

In Colombia as in most of Latin America, the aforementioned

nationalist ideologies based on mestizaje played a significant role in shaping

the racial and cultural identities of its minority populations. The role of the

state in ethnic politics is particularly salient in Colombia in the wake of the

diverse political changes heralded by the new constitution. It is important to

remember that the Colombian state is by no means a monolithic entity, and

its interests in the Pacific region are multiple. Dover and Rappaport note,

"The [Colombian] state is both the cause of ethnic marginalization and a

vehicle for indigenous revindication" (1996: 13). While several scholars

examine the double-edged effects of ethnic and cultural legislation in

Colombia on its indigenous population (Correa 1993a, Gros 1991, Rappaport

and Dover 1996), comparatively little attention has been given to the effects of

current black legislation on Afro-Colombian identity and on black political

mobilization.22 Heretofore, blacks were classified as "racial" groups, whereas

Amerindians were classified as ethnic groups in accordance with the

biologically deterministic criteria of race and essentialist notions of culture.

As I discuss at length in Chapters 3 and 4, the inclusion of Afro-Colombian

rights in the new constitution opened discussions about the definitions of

ethnic groups and debates over blackness as an ethnic versus racial category.

Recent scholarship has shown how race, like gender and ethnicity, is

not a natural, biological or essential category but has been socially and

discursively constructed within specific historical and political contexts (Gates

22 The new constitution and the subsequent political reforms afforded expanded political rights
to the indigenous peoples of Colombia. However, it is not the intent of this dissertation to
discuss the impact of the 1991 constitution on other Colombian minorities, including the
indigenous peoples. For a treatment of the indigenous literature see COAMA 1994-1995, Correa
199Qh r)nver and Rannnnnart 1 A

1986, Gilroy 1987).23 I claim that with respect to Afro-Colombian studies,
'race' and 'ethnicity' must be considered analytically distinct categories of

analysis. I agree with Peter Wade (1993, 1995), that 'race' is an important

analytical category in understanding how economic factors and notions of
'race' have shaped black identity in Colombia, especially historically.

However, in this study I focus on the 'ethnic' elements of Afro-Colombian

identity for three reasons. First, with the new constitution's emphasis on the

"multicultural and pluriethnic" character of the country, a focus on ethnicity

is more specifically useful in understanding the current trend of social and

political change. Second, within the black movements that arose in the wake

of Ley 70, Afro-Colombians stress the need to focus on blackness as an
"ethnic," and not a "racial," identity. Third and most important, I feel that

highlighting the processes that lead to the discussion of Afro-Colombian as an

ethnic, not racial, identity is at the heart of understanding the role of power in

the Colombian state's rhetoric about the Pacific region and it's inhabitants.

In this study I argue that the issue of the Afro-Colombia struggle for the

power to define themselves, and their world, in their own terms is at the

center of the discussions about black ethnicity and territorial rights. Blackness

as 'race' is understood as a derogatory category imposed on Afro-Colombians

by law and mainstream society, and is associated with the discriminatory

practices that function to marginalize blacks as a group. Conceiving Afro-

Colombian as an ethnic identity is part of the process to construct collectively

23 The work of African-American scholars, intellectuals and activists in North America has
played a crucial role in deconstructing 'race' as a biological category and in restructuring black
politics. See hooks (1990, 1992) Gates (1986, 1992), and West (1994) among many others. In
Britain, where the term 'black' refers to all people of color, the work of black diasporic
intellectuals and activists has played a key role in structuring the black cultural politics. See
Bhabha (1994), Gilroy (1987), Hall (1992a, 1992b), Rutherford (1990), Anthias and Yuval-
Davis (1992).

a positive selt-identity based on black cultural practices, traditions, rituals,
values, and the history of resistance against slavery and racism. In addition, I

contend that the struggle for ethnic territorial rights is also related to this

conflict over meanings, and is not just about access to or control over the land

and resources of the Pacific region. It is within this context that the
construction of Afro-Colombian ethnic identity is genderedd" in Scott's sense,

as outlined above.

In this study, I explore how Afro-Colombian ethnicity is constructed
within a particular historical, socio-political, and economic context, and

demonstrate the contradictions and specificity of the concept of black

ethnicity. I examine the processes by which the state, the new constitution,
and the demand for control over land and other material resources shape the
construction of Afro-Colombian identity, and highlight the mechanisms of
power of power at play in these processes. I also examine the linkages

between black ethnic identity and other categorical identities, focusing

especially on the connection between ethnicity and gender in the Pacific

Lowlands. Finally, I discuss the limits and possibilities of my theoretical
framework by addressing how notions of ethnicity inform the different
strategies of political representation, mobilization, and organization. In the

section that follows I give a brief overview of how I collected information to
address the above issues.

Methodological Remarks

While Indians have been glorified objects of Colombian anthropology

and have received much legal and technical assistance from supporters of

indigenous rights, blacks have not been as legitimate a subject of study. Much

of the existing research on Afro-Colombians consists of ethnoaraohies of

specific local communities or historical studies of various aspects of slav(

and consolidation of black social relations.24 With the exception of the A

of a few scholars and long-term advocates of black rights such as Colomb

anthropologists Nina de Friedemann and Jaime Arocha, and the Afro-

Colombian physician and anthropologist Manuel Zapata Olivella, Afro-

Colombians had until recently been largely invisible to mainstream

Colombian society and scholarship.

The inclusion of AT 55 in the new constitution in 1991 and the pa&

of Ley 70 in 1993, combined with the new interest in the Pacific region, se

to break this invisibility. Afro-Colombian issues by no mean occupy cent

stage; however by the time of my research in 1995, blacks and black issues

were apparent on the academic, popular and political maps of the country

unprecedented ways. Innumerable state agencies, researchers, and NGOs

were involved with Pacific and black issues: bibliographies listing the exi

scholarship on Afro-Colombians were compiled and published, seminars

workshops were organized on various aspects of Ley 70, and much resear

was being directed at various aspects of black culture, land use, relation wA

the Pacific environment, socioeconomic development, etc. Many black

intellectuals, activists, and organizations were deeply involved in debate,

over the definition of Afro-Colombians as an ethnic group, and their deb

were often at the center of the above-mentioned activities. It was amid tl

activities that I focused on the questions of what factors and markers

constituted black ethnicity, how black subjectivity was being constructed i

represented in the public arena, and how the issues of ethnic and territory

24 See de Friedemann (1984, 1985a), Restrepo (1996b), and Wade (1993) for overviews anc
discussions of the study of blacks in Colombian history and anthropology. See Visquez (1!
for a compilation of legislation on blacks in Colombia. See also laramillo Uribe (1986).

rights were being framed by black groups and the states. These multiple

discourses, as well as the social and political organizing of blacks struggling

for the implementation of Ley 70, were thus the perfect source of "data."

However, having called into question the fundamental assumptions of

traditional rational theories of politics and power, I was forced to evaluate the

utility of positivist methodologies.

I take an interdisciplinary, feminist approach to comparative political
analysis in that I attempt to exploit and juxtapose the theoretical tensions and

methodological debates between modernist and postmodernist approaches.

Drawing on my training as a biologist, I focused on "the systematic collection

of comparable information about recognizable events, actions and situations"

(Agger 25). However, I find that positivist approaches that aim to discover
the patterns in social behavior and the causes of social phenomena

inadequate to address the multiple, often contradictory events and discourses

in the Colombian Pacific. Instead, genealogical methods that stress the

meanings of certain phenomena, understand the shifting significance of

language and discourses, and focus on more specific explanations of social

relations are analytically more useful in exploring the dynamics of the Afro-

Colombian situation. I do not claim that postmodernist methods are

inherently better for understanding social and political phenomena. And by

emphasizing the discursive nature of social and political events, I do not

mean to suggest that there is no material reality, or consequences. On the

contrary, the study of a current political situation which is laden with conflict

and which is potentially explosive encourages me to take a critical stance with

respect to my interpretation of the "realities" I viewed. Since such

approaches are relatively rare in political science I am taking a risk in
~\nl~:1r ,:,C, ^-- ^,^L^ ^1:,L-LL- TT---*-- --!A L1:!- !- It^ --- -C

this section and in the rest of this dissertation, I make an attempt to clarify my

operative assumptions and to focus on processes that led to the problems I

identify and define.

Interviews and participant observation were key ethnographic

approaches of my research methods, although I drew data from a wide variety

of secondary sources. I conducted structured and unstructured interviews

with members of black organizations and women's cooperatives in the Pacific

region as well as with members of several state institutions and others

involved in the implementation of Ley 70 (see Appendix A for a Schedule of

Interviews).25 The dialogues initiated during these interviews often

continued as I met my companieros (friends/comrades) at various activities

and events. At other times, these interviews were continuations of

exchanges begun during seminars or workshops on black issues. Several

public meetings, academic seminars and other institutional spaces for

political discussion were created to discuss and debate the statutes of Ley 70. I

took advantage of these spaces: participant observation was an integral part of

my study (see Table 3 in Appendix A for a Schedule of Public Events

Attended). Finally, published and unpublished documents on various

aspects of Afro-Colombian ethnic identity, black social movements, Ley 70,

and the Pacific region constituted important supplements to the information

obtained through interviews. For instance, much of the data for Chapter 5

25 For the most part in this study I have chosen to use the real names of my informants. This is
for two reasons: first, much of what was communicated to me in interviews has often appeared
in printed sources, or repeated at public events. Second, the opinions of my black companeras/os
has been "invisible" too often. I feel that concealing their identity by using ficticious names
would deny them their agency as active participants in the black mobilization process. Where
I felt that the comments would have negative consequences on my informants I have not
lAt -#_A t 0- ;Al)i i4r

was obtained from a detailed perusal of unpublished government plans for

the region.

My research efforts were informed by the relationships I established

with members of several black social movements during my preliminary

visits in 1993 and 1994 as well as at the beginning of my fieldwork in 1995.

Black activists and members of social movements were suspicious of

researchers, curious journalists and disinterested state officials who either

reinforced (purposefully or otherwise) the stereotypes of blacks and black

culture, or paid lip service to participation. At the onset of my field work I

presented my research proposal at the Palenque Nacional de las Comunidades

Negras (the National Palenque of Black Communities) and received their

approval as well as comments and suggestions for my work, including ways I

could share my research results.26

The good relations I established with members of the black movements

and with state officials stood me in good stead. I had little difficulty in

obtaining interviews and was always informed of and welcomed at the

various meetings and workshops surrounding Ley 70. Furthermore,

Colombian activists and researchers were more than generous in making

available to me various published, unpublished, and recorded information

that has been crucial to this study.

Initially I had planned to conduct several months of local-level field

work, including participatory land use maps at the community level, in an

effort to understand how black ethnic identity was related to the physical

26 This approach is influenced by Gayatri Spivak's notion of moving beyond neutral dialogues
and to render visible the historical and institutional structures of the representative space"
from which one is called upon to speak (1990: vii). Spivak is not alone in stressing the need to
historically and institutionally situate subjects, as well as situate the researchers of these
subjectivities. Several scholars have advocated the need for alternative methodologies to
,av*--,-l, ,.,-,,;- ; lh *-.U._ . 1; tu-1 --A, .-,;. . 4 1. . .;:

environment. However, it soon became evident that this task would require

an in-depth understanding of the formation and consolidation of black

cultural practices which was beyond the analytical, methodological, and

theoretical aims of my study. Furthermore, I realized that the time

constraints and the logistical difficulties of travel to and between remote

riverine communities would make this aspect of my study impossible.

Nevertheless I did focus my attention on local communities to consider how

local blacks understood the terms of Ley 70 and to observe and understand the

effects of the changes in the Pacific region on these communities. During

these field visits I also helped regional black organizations to disseminate Ley

70. I also assisted environmental NGOs in their efforts to conduct

participatory and socially responsible field studies.

At the end of my year in Colombia I shared my research findings with

as many people involved in the black mobilization process as I could.

Fundaci6n Habla/Scribe (FH/S), an organization working closely with

communities all over the Pacific coast, helped to translate into Spanish and

circulate among my informants the final research report I prepared for

Fundaci6n FES (the Colombian organization that funded and facilitated part

of my research).27

Sharing the results with riverine Pacific communities, especially

among local Afro-Colombian women who often do not read, was an

important issue for me. With the help of FH/S, I prepared and disseminated

a short, simple summary of the research results in both oral (taped
interviews) and written forms. I also gave two other interviews: one

27 I also published an academic article on ethnic and gender identity (Asher 1996), as well as a
brief piece on participatory research (Asher 1995)that was published by the Bogota based
organization EVALUAR, the sister organization of the Inter-American Foundation who
supported my research.


conductedd and aired by ICAN, the Colombian Institute for Anthropology, was

aimed at a Bogota audience; the second was aired through a local Chocoan

radio station.

Drawing on my skills as a biologist and perspectives as a feminist, I also

conducted gender workshops in conjunction with two Colombian

conservation NGOs to helo biologists understand the immediate economic


As in much of Latin America, the post-independence political
philosophies which shaped national development in Colombia also played a
crucial role in shaping black identity. On the one hand, blacks and especially
indigenous people were romanticized in the depiction of a distinct Latin
American nationhood and identity, defined by the region's mestizo

population of mixed European, Indian and black origins. On the other, the
very process of mestizaje, race mixture, was intended to produce a
homogeneous people speaking one language and believing in a single god
(Arocha 1992, Whitten and Torres 1992), and such aims could not but imply

the eventual integration, assimilation and whitening of blacks and
indigenous peoples. Indeed, mestizaje and blanqueamiento (whitening
through miscegenation, common throughout Latin America) were supposed
to help control the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity which was viewed as

subversive, a challenge to the official nation (Arocha 1992, Wade 1993,
Whitten and Torres 1992).1 Wade (1993) notes that this process had a twofold
effect on blacks in Colombia. Some subscribed to the above nationalist
ideologies and assimilated culturally within the dominant society. But other
black populations, such as those in the Pacific region, remained isolated from

1 Peter Wade (1993, 1991) discusses at length the complex coexisting and interdependent
dynamics of mestizaje and discrimination in Colombia that arise as a result of the fundamental
contradictions within these national ideologies: they at once foresee a final homogeneity and
insist upon hierarchical distinctions based on "race." See Wright (1990) for a similar analysis
of race and national images in Venezuela.

show in the sections that follow, the inclusion of AT 55 in the new

rnn-tihifinon anr thfp !hcoPnllPnt nacinOC of T. v 701 or thi T.aw of Rlarnl

In this chapter I also focus on how and why the issues of black identity and

territorial rights are inextricably linked.

From a Mestizo Nation to Pluricultural One

In the 1980s, a constitutional reform process was set in motion in

Colombia as a result of a peace accord signed between President Virgilio Barco

and the M-19, a democratic alliance of disarmed guerrilla groups.2 In 1990, a

seventy-member Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (ANC) was elected to

draft a new, more democratic Colombian constitution to replace the 1886

charter. The ANC was unique in that it was the first legislative body in

Colombia to include representatives from indigenous, religious and political

minorities.3 Although there were a number of black candidates for the ANC,

the black vote went to the indigenous representatives.4 This was because

Afro-Colombians felt that the indigenous people shared common problems

with respect to ethnic and land rights, and that indigenous representatives'

greater experience with state politics could be a significant advantage in

pursuing legislative goals. Prominent among these goals was the extension

2 See Arocha (1992 fn 1; 1994: 94) for further details on the conditions under which the guerrilla
groups agreed to lay down their arms and participate in Colombian democratic politics. See
Fals Borda (1992) for the development of M-19 prior to the peace accord of the 1980s. See the
last chapter of Bushnell (1993: 252-259) for a more general discussion of the role of leftwing
guerilla groups in modern Colombian politics.

3 The ANC included two indigenous representatives, a Guambiano (Lorenzo Muellas) and an
Embert (Francisco Rojas Birry), an evangelical pastor, and over 30 ex-guerrillas from the M-19,
The Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) and the armed
Indianist group Manuel Quintin Lame (Arocha 1992).

4 Most of the black candidates to the ANC were linked to the traditional Liberal party with
the exception of two members: Carlos Rosero and Juan de Dios Mosquera. The former is an
anthropologist from the Pacific region who is active in the black social movement or the
Process de Comunidades Negras. The latter is the president of the urban based black group
CIMARRON. Details of their role and involvement in the struggle for black rights will be
discussed in detail in the following chapters.

LU DlaCK cmmuIlUULles or U1 lte lerai, LUILULili citlU LtiLILULICU llgiLLs WILILHH
Colombian indigenous communities have had since 1890 (Arocha 1992,
Wade 1995). However, the proposal of the Subcommision on Equality and
Ethnic Rights of the ANC was ignored, the term "ethnic" remained
synonymous with "indigenous," and black ethnic and territory rights were
conspicuously absent in the initial roundtable meetings to discuss drafts of a
new constitution (Arocha 1989, 1992).

The struggle for black rights and autonomy is not without precedence.
Black organized resistance developed in parallel with the institution of
slavery and has continued since manumission to the present day. During
the constitutional reform process, black organizing -intensified and brought

together diverse sectors of the black communities, including grassroots

peasant, pastoral, and cultural groups; urban and regional organizations, blacd
politicians from traditional political parties, and left-based organizations.5 In
1990, several national meetings of black communities were held in Cali to
bring together various sectors of the black population and to develop a united
proposal for black rights to be presented to the ANC (Arocha 1994, Grueso et
al. 1998). However, the Coordinadora Nacional de Comunidades Negras

(CNCN the National Coordinator for Black Communities) which was formed
during these meetings, could not accommodate the cultural, regional,
historical, political, and ideological divisions of the heterogeneous Afro-
Colombian communities and remained riddled with internal divisions.
Eventually, a proposal for black rights was taken to the ANC by Lorenzo
Muelas, the indigenous representative in the ANC.

5 See Wade (1995, 1993) for a treatment of the history of black mobilization and organization
in Colombia especially before Ley 70.

Concurrent with black mobilization efforts and those of black rights

activists were debates regarding the ideological and practical implications of

"multiethnicity" for ethnic groups, the state, social actors, and the

constitutional reform process. The debates raged in the ANC and in the

Subcommision on Equality and Ethnic Rights.6 Especially bitter debates

ensued in the Subcommission over the definition of "ethnic groups" and the

granting of territorial rights to Colombian blacks. Some members of the ANC

argued that only indigenous people and not blacks have territorial, historical

and cultural rights because of the latter's supposed "difference." Finally, after

much controversy, Article VII was included in the Constitution, declaring the

multiethnic and pluricultural nature of the Colombian state and allowing for

a broader concept of "citizen" by which ethnic groups have the right to

govern themselves according to their own cultural criteria (Dover and

Rappaport 1996). Under the new constitution, Amerindians are granted
rights including greater administrative, financial, and territorial autonomy

through the proposed creation of Entidades Territoriales Indigenas (ETIs,

Indigenous Territorial Units). The concept of ethnic groups and ethnic

territory was also broadened to include the Articulo Transitorio 55 (AT 55)

which legally recognizes blacks living along the Pacific region rivers as a

separate ethnic group with collective land rights.7 According to the terms of

AT 55, a proposal to turn the article into law was to be presented to the

6 See Cano Correa and Cano Busquets (1989) for a coverage of a discussion among some of the
members of the ANC, including leading Colombian academics and social activists, that
followed, the publication of Arocha's (1989) piece "Hacia una naci6n para los excluidos"
(Towards a nation for the excluded) in a leading national newspaper, El Espectador.
In response to much lobbying by activists for black rights, the Subcommision did come up
with a document that aimed at doing away with the practice of equating "ethnic" with

7 See Appendix B for the full text of AT 55.

Congress within two years. Before discussing the process by which AT 55 was

ratified, however, I examine the linkage between ethnic and territorial rights

in the Pacific region.

Black Territorial Rights in the Pacific

Although Afro-Colombians have occupied the Pacific region since

colonial times, they have had no legal claims to their land. Under the old

constitution, blacks in the Pacific region were labeled colonos or squatters on

the tierras baldias of the state. In many parts of the Choc6 the struggle for

black rights was shaped by struggle to obtain land rights long before the

constitutional reform process. For instance, in the early 1980s, the peasants i

the Atrato region organized with the help of the Catholic Church to resist the

appropriation of their lands by large timber companies (Arocha 1994, Tamayc
pers. comm.). Later they sought advice from the Organizaci6n Regional

Embera-Waunana del Choc6 (OREWA, the Regional Organization of the

Embera and Waunana of the Choc6), because of OREWA's experience in the

struggle to keep and expand control over their communal resguardos.
However, ACIA's proposal to get title to their "ethnic lands" did not hold

water with INCORA, the Colombian land reform agency, which only

recognized Amerindians as "ethnics." Furthermore, for the past decade the

Pacific region had been the target of major macrodevelopment and

conservation schemes.8 These projects increase the migration of colonists

from the Andean interior, threatening to displace the Afro-Colombian

8 See Piedrahita and Pineda (1993) for a list of current development projects in the Pacific
region. I discuss their impact on land use and the controversy over these projects in detail in
Chantpr .

peasants from the lands that they have traditionally occupied.' It is therefore

hardly surprising that in the changing political climate of the constitutional

reform, black grassroots organizations included land rights as part of their

political demands.

Regional and grassroots Afro-Colombian groups, especially those from

the Pacific, contend that their cultural and economic practices are different

from those of the rest of the nation. They point out that traditional black

cultural organization includes the subsistence lifestyles, collective land use

practices, and sustainable use of natural resources. In Chapter 4, I discuss at

length how these organizations believe that they can only maintain their

culture and way of life if they have autonomous legal and administrative

rights to their land and its economic development. Jaime Arocha and Nina

de Friedemann argue that it is imperative to legally sanction black ethnic

rights, including land titles, under the terms of the new "pluricultural and

multiethnic" Colombian state. They also note that giving special ethnic and

cultural rights to Afro-Colombians is a way of recognizing the historical

contribution of blacks to Colombian economy and culture.10

9 In addition to state-sponsored macrodevelopment, construction and infrastructure projects,
blacks are being displaced from their lands by commercial logging, mining, fishing and tourism
interests as well as by drugtraffickers and guerrillas. Narcotrafficking and guerrillas have
been a problem in the Uraba region of the Choc6, and the Sanquianga-Satinga region of Narifio
for several years. Guerrilla presence became prominent in the Rio Anchicaya region near
Buenaventura as I was completely my field research in 1995. Jaime Arocha mentioned that his
team was unable to continue to their research in the Rio Baudo region in the Choc6 because of
increased guerrilla presence. Recent reports from informants in Colombia indicates that
guerrilla activity has intensified in the Pacific region.
The issue of the Colombian state's ability, or. inability, to protect its citizens from the
threat of drug traffickers and guerrillas is complex, and is one that is beyond the scope of this

10 The document making the case for black rights was presented by Arocha to the CECN, of
which he was part, in February 1993 and later published in America Negra, the journal edited
by de Friedemann. See Arocha and de Friedemann (1993).

However, despite future guarantees listed under AT 55, in November

1992, the regional development corporation of the Choc6 (CODECHOCO)

granted logging concessions for about 45,000 hectares of lowland forests to a

large timber company called Maderas del Dari6n (Arocha 1994, Gom&z 1994,

Rosero 1993).11 The conflict over these logging concessions, and over other

state-sponsored development projects in the region, focused further attention

on the Afro-Colombian demand for territorial rights. Many analysts and

Colombian state officials see this claim as nothing more than a strategic

demand for land. As mentioned earlier, Colombian political ideology and

popular opinion only recognize indigenous peoples as culturally distinct, and

therefore, claim that only indigenous peoples have "original" connections to

their "ethnic land." The argument that black ethnicity is a false and strategic

invention to gain political capital arose repeatedly in the ANC during the AT

55 ratification process, and is still voiced today as the black ethnic struggle


Some members of the ANC, CECN, and others involved in the

constitutional reform process argued that Afro-Colombians have denied thei

"African" past, and have assimilated culturally into the Colombian national

identity, and been integrated into mainstream Colombian society and

economy. These views combined with the fact that the black proposal was

taken to the ANC by an indigenous representative further serve to make

black efforts invisible. In my conversations with state officials involved witl

the implementation of Ley 70, I repeatedly heard claims that the indigenous

11 Some scholars see the granting of ethnic and territorial rights to indigenous and blacks as a
attempt at serving broader interests (See Field 1996, Jackson 1996, Padilla 1996 for a discussion
of indigenous territorial rights). Many black leaders claim that by restricting the nature of
land use on black lands, the state hopes to conserve and protect biodiversity until such time as
can be controlled by the State. I discuss this at some length in Chapter 5.

representatives of the ANC fought for the rights of their black "brothers or
cousins," because "it is notoriously obvious that the blacks are disorganized,
lazy and inefficient."

The Long, Winding Road from AT 55 to Ley 70

In the two years following the adoption of the new constitution, the
mobilization to turn the transitory article into law intensified at two levels:
within the various black sectors, and between the state and the black sectors.
In the Pacific, regional organizations began massive campaigns to disseminate
copies of AT 55 and discuss what it meant to be black and to have collective
land rights. Discussions about black identity and especially territorial rights
took center stage in the national media when the logging concessions
mentioned above in the Atrato region of the Choc6 were contracted out to
logging firms.
AT 55 stipulated that a commission for black communities, the
Comision Especial para las Comunidades Negras (CECN) was to be appointed
by the Congress to study the situation of the black communities. In
collaboration with black representatives, this commission would draft a
proposal for a black law to be presented to the Colombian Congress by mid-
1993. Among other responsibilities, the CECN was charged with the task of
demarcating the area in the Pacific Lowlands that the black communities use
in traditional ways, to establish mechanisms to protect the ethnic identity of
the blacks, to protect their political rights, and to ensure the socioeconomic
development of these communities (Cifuentes 1993). The CECN, which was
to include representatives of the black communities, scholars of black culture,
and officials from various government agencies involved in the Pacific, got
off to a latp and rnck-v start duei to Povernment footdracrrinf. lack of

communication and misunderstandings between the various actors involved

in this process. After months of delays in appointing representatives and in

releasing travel funds allocated for black representatives, the CECN finally

met for the first time in mid-1992.12 The lack of basic demographic

information and systematic studies on Afro-Colombian populations and

political maneuverings to include black politicians who were not part of the

black organizational process further affected the work of the CECN, and the

controversy over the meaning of black identity and territorial rights

continued. In addition, the tendency among Colombian anthropologists and

Colombian society at large to conflate ethnicity with indigenous identity led

some members of the Subcommision on Cultural Identity to suggest that

Afro-Colombianness was being falsely invented as an ethnic and cultural

identity based on racial characteristics (Arocha 1994: 98). Other members of

the CECN reiterated the charge that the current Afro-Colombian ethnic

struggle was a strategic move to obtain land rights in a moment of national

political reform. In November 1992, following the logging concessions

disputes and attempts to replace regional black delegates with black party

politicians, the black delegates of the CECN declared that they would not assist

in the implementation process until the government fulfilled its obligations

and sought the real participation of black communities (Arocha 1994,Wade

12 The CECN was established by Decree 1332 on 11 August 1992. Among the members of the
CECN were: 12 black representatives, 2 from each from the departments of Atlantico,
Antioquia, Cauca, Choc6, Nariio, and Valle del Cauca; several scholars on Afro-Colombian
issues, the directors or representatives of the following State agencies: the Ministry of
Government, IGAC (The Agustin Codazzi Geographic Institute), INCORA (The Colombian
Agrarian Reform Institute), INDERENA (The Institute for Natural Resources and the
Environment), ICAN (The Colombian Anthropological Institute), DNP (the National Planning
Department. In addition, certain members of the Chamber of Representatives, of the Senate, as
well as certain Pacific region politicians participated in some of the CECN discussions. See
Vasquez (1994: 51-52) for a text of the decree and on further details on the members of the

1995). In the context of these conflicts, different versions of a black law were
drafted and discussed.
The national-level black organizing that began during the
Constitutional Reform process intensified in an attempt to expand the
mandate of AT 55 and draft a law that would recognize the rights of diverse
Afro-Colombian communities, not just those along the Pacific rivers. The
first Asamblea Nacional de Comunidades Negras (the National Conference of
Black Communities), was held in Tumaco in July 1992, and brought together
representatives from all over the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the northern Cauca
regions to lay the groundwork for a black law. However, divisions among the
communities increased, revealing a major rift between those that primarily
sought political participation within established institutions and black social
movements for whom electoral participation was but one element in the
struggle for black rights (Grueso et al. 1998). The former attempted to gain
more concessions in state politics as a result of the new constitution. The
latter engaged in extensive organizing and mobilization among the Pacific
riverine communities to discuss the needs and aspirations of a broad sector of
black communities using what Grueso et al. (1998) call the "logic of the
rivers;" i.e., notions of identity and rights based on the quotidian life of blacks.
Despite differences and manipulation of the process by black politicians
associated with the Liberal party, these views were translated into ideological
and political principles and included in a draft text of a black law which was
revised, discussed and approved at a second Asamblea Nacional held in
BogotA in May 1993 (Grueso et al. 1998). This was the draft law the Asamblea
carried to the government negotiating table.13 After three more months of

negotiations and foot dragging President CUsar Gaviria Trujillo ratified the

draft, and Ley 70 was born on August 27, 1993.

Ley 70 (the Law of Black Communities) in Brief

Ley 70 contains 68 articles in eight chapters which focus on three main

issues: ethnic and cultural rights, collective land ownership, and

socioeconomic development.14 Legally recognizing "Black Communities" o

Colombia as an ethnic group, Ley 70 aims to establish mechanisms to protect

their cultural identity and ethnic rights, including rights to culturally-

appropriate development and education, i.e. to "ethnodevelopment" and
"ethnoeducation". It also mandates that black communities be given

collective land ownership of the rural, riparian lands of the Pacific coast

where the majority of the black population lives.15 The law requires that th(

black communities manage these lands using "traditional" practices of

production and indicates that subsistence use should precede commercial

exploitation of natural resources so as to maintain the ecological integrity of

the region. In addition, the communities have limited rights over the

renewable and non-renewable natural resources, and especially over

subsurface resources of their territory.

participation among various black sectors, and presented a version of it to the Colombian
Congress, labeling it her own.
14 See Appendix C for a list of the salient features of Ley 70.

15 The law extends collective land rights to black communities in other parts of the country
"that live in conditions similar to those in the Pacific region and who use land in traditional
ways". However, the interpretation of terms such as "conditions similar to the Pacific" and
"traditional land use" are subject to much debate. For a discussion of the situation of blacks in
the Colombian owned Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia, see Gallardo (1986),
Pedraza G6mez (1986), and Villa (1994).

Ley 70 outlines opportunities such as increased access to education,
credit, and technical assistance to help Pacific blacks to address their
socioeconomic marginality. The law also prescribes organizational assistance
for communities in the implementation of its mandates, and that all plans
and projects affecting the communities be discussed with community
representatives. In addition, it requires that the National Development

Council, Regional Development Corporations, and Territorial Councils
should have black representatives on their executive boards. Finally, the law
establishes a special division for Black Community Affairs, Asuntos para las
Comunidades Negras, in the Ministry of Government, and reserves two seats
in the Chamber of Representatives of the Colombian Congress for black
The terms of Ley 70, like those of AT 55, are broadly conceived and are
subject to different interpretations. In the chapters that follow I focus on how
ethnic identity, territorial rights and "ethnodevelopment" are understood by
various sectors of the black movements as well as by the state entities
involved in the Pacific region. However, before I turn to interpretations of
Ley 70, I briefly outline the divisions and characteristics of the various black
sectors involved in the black struggle following the law's ratification.

Post-Ley 70: Further Splits in the Black Social Movements

The third Asamblea Nacional de Comunidades Negras was held in
October and November 1993 in Puerto Tejada, near Cali, to discuss the
political and organizational situation of the black communities, and to

establish strategies to implement Ley 70. As no agreements were reached
regarding the meaning of key terms in the law or over the basic strategies of
the black movement, the fragile coalition of black sectors broke down into

three actions: black sectors angnea to tne traaitionai pontica parnes,

organizations from the predominantly black department of the Choc6, and

the black social movements from the southwest states who rallied collectively

under the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN).16 While the PCN adopted

an "ethnocultural" political stance which aimed at consolidating a black social

movement based on the reconstruction and affirmation of black identity, the

two former groups focused on gaining entry into traditional state politics and

political institutions.17 There were twelve black candidates for the two seats

in the Chamber of Representatives, most of whom were black politicians

from the traditional parties of the Pacific. Among them was Agustin

Valencia, a Conservative candidate from Valle del Cauca. Valencia,

capitalizing on the political mood of the moment, adopted a rhetoric of

blackness based on skin color, appropriated the slogan "social movement of

the black communities" and was elected as one of the representatives to the

Colombian parliament (Grueso et al. 1998). PCN activists accuse black

politicians like Valencia of engaging in politiquerfa, i.e. of assuming a

rhetoric of blackness and appropriating elements of an ethnic discourse

formulated by the black movements to obtain the support of the black

electorate. The second seat went to Zulia Mena, a young activist of the

Organizaci6n de Barrios Populares y Comunidades Negras de Choc6

16 The PCN or the Process of Black Communities, is a network of about 120 grassroots
organizations from the southwestern departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Narifio (or
VACUNA states) as well as some black organizations from the Atlantic coast and the Andean
interior. For this study I interviewed members of, and focused on the work of three of the most
active organizations of the PCN: the Organizaci6n de Comunidades Negras de Buenaventura
(OCN, the Organization of Black Communities of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca), Cococauca
(the Coordinating Organization of Black Communities of Cauca), and the Palenque Regional d
Narinio (the Narifio Regional Palenque).

17 See Velasco and Preciado (1994) for a details of the electoral campaign of these and other
black candidates during the 1994 parliamentary elections. Velasco and Preciado also discuss

(OBAPO, the Organization of People's Neighborhoods and Black
Communities of the Choc6). While these representatives focused on black
equality and integration into society through increased participation in
traditional politics and state-sponsored socioeconomic development, the PCN
began articulating a new "ethnocultural politics" based on identity, territory,
and autonomy.


In the previous chapter, I discussed the process by which Ley 70 became

law and how the issues of ethnic identity, territorial rights and ethnic

development were put on the Colombian agenda-that is, how Afro-

Colombianness and the Pacific became focal points of national debate. In this

chapter I focus on the discourse and practice of the various black social

movements as they define and construct "Afro-Colombian" as an ethnic,

cultural, and political identity in the wake of Ley 70.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the diverse political positions

and approaches within and between black social movements reflect the

cultural, regional, historical and ideological heterogeneity of black

communities in Colombia.1 In addition, class and gender divisions cut across
the above spectrum of positions. For the purpose of my discussion of black
identity construction, I focus on two sectors of post-Ley 70 black social

movements: first, those that emphasize the equality and integration of blacks

into Colombian state and society through increased participation in

traditional politics; and second, those for whom black identity is the locus of

the struggle for a new "cultural politics." There are internal differences

within each sector, as well as overlaps in the positions between the groups.

Here I focus on some important differences between these two stances.

1 In this dissertation, I use the term Chocoanos to denote the Afro-Colombian people of the
Choc6, and the term VACUNA to denote the Afro-Pacific people of the southwestern states of
Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Narifio.


Barranquilla .
Cartagena -

SMedellin 4
z I -. - -

Buenaventura 0
OCEAN Guapi / Cali
Tumaco ,.. .-..,,
--- '-. Pasto "-.' -"
'. O a. sto

) I.*

0 250 500 ''.i .
I I I .
Kilometers MBI

Figure 2. Black Presence in Colombia: Caribbean and Pacific Coasts;
Cauca, Magdalena and Patia River Valleys.
Note: San Andres and Providencia Archipelagos not shown

Black Ethnicity: Equality, Identity and Difference

Article 1 of Chapter I of Ley 70 calls for the establishment of
mechanisms to protect the cultural identity and the rights of black
communities as an ethnic group. In Article 2, No. 5 of Chapter I, a black

community is defined as

all families of Afro-Colombian ancestry that have their own culture,
share a history and have their own traditions and customs, that show
and conserve an identity that distinguishes them from other ethnic

The issue of blackness and black identity took on a new significance in the

context of the 1991 constitution and the resulting socioeconomic and political

changes in the country. Afro-Colombians as a group began to gain national

public attention in 1990 with their struggle to include AT 55 in the new

constitution and subsequently to pass Ley 70. The passing of the Law of Black

Communities focused fresh attention on issues of blackness, and especially o:

the black peoples of the Pacific region, or the Afro-Pacific people.

The legal definition of a black community raises several questions:

what is this ethnic identity and culture based on Afro-Colombian history?

What are the traditions and customs of the Afro-Colombians that need to be

conserved? And what does it mean to conserve that identity?

Among the organized black sectors of VACUNA and the PCN, definin
and constructing black cultural identity is the focal point of ethnic politics.3

2 Translated from Spanish by this author. All translations are mine unless indicated

3 All discussions about the position and strategies of the PCN in this chapter are based on
milltinli mPatinaP and cnnvprsatinnc with memhbrs of the PCN ornni7ations listed in footnote

For them, the struggle for ethnic rights is the struggle for the right to be
different from the rest of Colombian society, to have the power to define that

difference, and to base political practice on that meaning. That is, it involves

the ability to exercise all the three dimensions of power outlined by Gaventa

(1980). In contrast, for the organizations from the predominantly black Choc6

department, other organizations linked to traditional political parties, urban

based groups such as CIMARRON (The National Movement for the Human

Rights of the Black Communities of Colombia), as well as black politicians

aligned with the Conservative or Liberal parties, the meaning of ethnic

identity is an important cultural issue but separate from the political struggle

for constitutional rights. While the politics of VACUNA groups stem from

the need to establish the ethnic and cultural difference of Afro-Colombians,

the latter groups' politics are based on a struggle to gain equal participation for

blacks according to the democratic principles of the new constitution. Such

principles would involve the deployment of the first, and perhaps the second

dimension of power. This is a fundamental difference that structures

discourses and practices of the various organized black sectors in Colombia

since Ley 70. Thus, both sides "construct" blackness as an ethnic identity,

often drawing on and mobilizing similar cultural symbols, but towards

different ends.

For the equality sector of black communities, Afro-Colombian
collective identity is based on shared black history: African origins, the

oppression of slavery, cimarronismo 4 (the organized resistance to slavery),

articulated their views. See Appendix A for a schedule of interviews and public meetings
attended. In this chapter I also cite any published sources which reflect PCN views.

4 Cimarr6n literally means wild, untamed or feral livestock in Spanish. In colonial times, the
term was used to denote runaway slaves in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. In
recent history, cimarron serves as a symbol of resistance to slavery as an instituinn. Rpe WadP

palenques5 (fortified communities of escaped slaves), and discrimination

based on race. The terms cimarr6n and palenque are important icons for
the Bogota-based CIMARRON, one of the oldest national level black

organizations, and the expression, "iiiHagamos de cada comunidad un

palenque y de cada colombiano un cimarr6n!!!" (Let us make every

community a palenque and every Colombian a cimarron) is an important

rallying call for Afro-Colombian solidarity. The many brochures outlining

CIMARRON's objectives and principles, written mainly by the founder and

president Juan de Dios Mosquera, claim that black solidarity implies

recognizing that the discrimination against Afro-Colombians is linked to

historical and current oppression of blacks everywhere.

By the principles of cimarronismo, black identity is based in the past

and present material conditions of Afro-Colombians, and as such three types

of blacks are recognized: those of African descent, whether or not they have

black skin; those from different ethnic origin who share the same material

living conditions as those of the black communities; and those from a

different ethnic group who support the black struggle and are united in their

demands for historical, cultural and national human rights (Serna Arriaga

1990: 142).

According to CIMARRON, the struggle for black rights is part of the
struggle of universal human rights for all subordinated groups, including

women, all over the world. Wade (1995) and Hurtado (1996) note how this

5 Palenques were fortified camps and communities formed by rebel black groups that escaped
from the slave masters. Colonies of escaped slaves were found throughout the Americas. Thr
were called palenques in Mexico and Cuba, cumbes in Venezuela, quilombos, mocambos,
ladeiras y mambises in Brazil. In the Caribbean, the Guyanas and the Southern USA these
were known as maroons. See de Friedemann and Cross (1979) for a detailed study of the

Jeology is influenced by the Leftist politics of the study group SOWETO from

vhich the present-day CIMARRON emerged. In addition, Mosquera draws

>arallels not only between the black struggle in Colombia and the struggle

against apartheid in South Africa, but much of CIMARRON's rhetoric and

discourse is influenced by the north American civil rights movement and

lack movements in the Caribbean (Mosquera n.d., Wade 1995, 1993). For

IMARRON, Afro-Colombian marginalization and Colombian black culture

re linked to the conditions of African diasporic peoples worldwide. Thus,

developing the African aspect of Afro-Colombian identity is an important

-tep in revalidating cultural identity, and one of their objectives is to promote

cultural economic and diplomatic exchanges between Colombia and African


CIMARRON activities and influence are largely concentrated in urban

treas, especially among black students. Although CIMARRON supporters are

ilso active in regional capitals such as Buenaventura and Quibd6,6 they have

i limited presence in Pacific riverine communities. Carlos Rosero, an ex-

:imarron and a key member of the OCN,7 claims that the discourse of

universal human rights, racial discrimination, and the struggle for equal

rights is a predominantly urban one and does not resonate among rural


' See Asociaci6n Nacional Cimarron (1992) for a discussion of their activities in the Alto
3aud6 river region of the Choc6.

7 The views and opinions of the members of the OCN expressed in this chapter are based on
personal conversations with several OCN members (Carlos Rosero, Libia Grueso, Leyla Andrea
Arroyo, Victor Guevara, Libia Grueso, Monty Bikila), a presentation by Carlos Rosero at a
nr^"rT>.. MRn-c-. 1QQAr' -.sll -r 11 r- > "iCIIichBO4, i ouT.onniT Itrih (--Tm momhorc 1(fC 1 QQf\

Like CIMARRON, regional black organizations also draw on the
history of the African past, and of black oppression and resistance. Zulia

vIena of the Chocoan organization OBAPO notes

[A]nother important struggle was that of the cimarrons to obtain
liberty, reclaim authority, territory, and autonomy and to get the
"cidula de palenque [Palenque Certificate]. ....... It is not past history
that no longer exists, it is a history that repeats itself today. (Hurtado
1993: 22-23)
Drawing attention to the presence of blacks in Colombia since the early 1500s,

Mena and other members of OBAPO link the current black struggle to obtain

ethnic and territorial rights to the history of resistance and the cimarrons'
struggle to establish independent palenques (OBAPO 1993). Chocoan rhetoric

also tends to focus on African traditions in cimarron resistance, as well as

current black identity and the struggle for ethnic rights.8

On the other hand, members of the PCN such as Libia Grueso agree
)nly partially with the linkage between the current black struggle and the
historical struggle of the cimarrons (Hurtado 1993, Grueso personal

communication).9 For Grueso and others, current black identity is a syncretic

one that arose not only as a result of their resistance to the institution of
slavery, but also from the processes by which black communities adapted to
conditions in the Americas, in colonial times and in recent history, and
constructed new distinctly Afro-Colombian social structures.10 The

8 This line of argument is influenced by Nina de Friedemann and Jaime Arocha's thesis of
huellas de Africania (footprints of Africanism) which stresses the unconscious repetition of

celeorauon or ius syncreusm is eviuen m e way some members or me

PCN have adopted African names while at the same time maintaining their

Afro-Colombian names. In a radio interview Leyla Andrea Arroyo of the

OCN in Buenaventura notes11

For us adopting African names is to validate our African ancestors who
constructed their own culture and customs in their own land, as we did
and are doing in our own [land].

Curiously enough although Chocoans emphasize huellas de Africania

(literally footprints of Africa) in Chocoan culture, none of the Chocoans I met

or interviewed had adopted African names.

Comparing the black mobilization process in the Choc6 with one in the

southwest Pacific region, Hernmn Cortes of the Palenque Regional de Narifio

notes that differences arise due to the distinct histories of the two regions.12

For instance, the southwest Pacific Coast from the lower San Juan river to

Esmeraldas province in Ecuador was settled by freed and escaped slaves, who

established free settlements. With the exception of the Palenque de Castigo,13

the settlements in the southwest Pacific were different from the fortified

11 Leyla Andrea Arroyo was interviewed by Lavinia Fiori at a workshop in Rio Yurumangi
during the mobilization process between AT 55 Ley 70. The program was aired on Javeriana
Estereo as part of Fiori's Diario de Campo: (Field Diary), a program sponsored by ICAN and
the Universidad Javeriana in BogotA. I received the recording of. this particular episode,
called Construcci6n de un nuevo pars (Constructing a New Country) from Lavinia Fiori.
Arroyo's sentiments were echoed by two other members of the OCN who have also
adopted African names.

12 Interview with the members (Jos6 Caicedo, Luis Hernando Hurtado, Omar Hurtado, Hernan
Cortes, Nelson, Edith Vasquez, Porfirio Becerra) of the Palenque Regional de Nariiio,Tumaco,
October 3, 1995.

13 The Palenque de Castigo was a well known refuge in the southwestern Rio Patia for slaves
who escaped from the Pacific mines. According to Zuluaga (1986) it was established around
1732 at the same time that mining activities increased in the Patia region. Also see Zuluaga
(1994) for a discussion of the formation and consolidation of communities of freed or escaped
blacks in the Pacific during slavery.

northern palenques were primarily fortified camps of organized resistance to

slave holders, the southwestern palenques were primarily settlements

housing free blacks. Although it can be argued that resistance to slavery and

consolidation of black cultural practices occurred in both palenques, scholars

and activists argue that these historical differences play an important role in

differentially shaping social structures and cultural practices and account for

many of the regional variations in the black groups of the Pacific.

In addition, Cort6s claims that the widespread interactions between

black politicians and a black electorate in a majoritarian black department are

limited to the Choc6. In the rest of the Pacific there has been a constant

struggle against the traditional politics of the centrist state and the

white/Andean politicians. Giving examples of some recent protests in the

region--the Peasant movement ANUC's resistance to the construction of a

highway from the state capital Pasto to Tumaco, the civic strikes in the

department, etc.--Cortes claims that the history of the region has been a

constant struggle for territory that belongs to the local people, and notes:

The organizations here [in the southwest departments] also have this
local or regional flavor. History shows that this process of land
recuperation is not new, but has been going since the first palenque.
Therefore, we call this the Palenque regional--we see it as a political
struggle, it is a space from which we administer the struggle for land
rights. The Palenque is not just an organization but a continuation of
what our ancestors started, it takes the place of a traditional, ethnic

Cortes and others of the PCN call for a more nuanced view of black history

and identity and emphasize that the current struggle is not just an extension

of resistance against the colonial institutions by African slaves but also of a

series of struggles by Afro-Colombians against a variety of hegemonic forces

11L %..UIUI.UiC. TCitMfLtLlCa I.UL UIIiy 1Y11UUILL4 1 al cluLUtuiIILU Ul _IS. D_-c l u 1
cultural reconfirmation, but also independent territory for physical expansion

(PCN y OREWA 1995: 33). These sentiments were repeatedly expressed by

members of the PCN organizations during interviews.

Unlike CIMARRON, for both Chocoan and PCN organizations, Afro-

Colombianness as a collective identity is based on more than historical and

material conditions of existence. It is also defined in the specific cultural,

quotidian, and especially local and regional practices of the Afro-Pacific

people, and this factor is seen by many as more significant than the global

experience of black oppression. However, for the Chocoans, given that the

majority of the state's population is black, the term Chocoano epitomizes

Afro-Colombian ethnic and cultural identity. Thus, several members of

Chocoan organizations feel that Chocoans represent the true base of the black

movements, and therefore were called upon to train black organizers in other

parts of the country where blacks are not a majority.14 Ethnic politics for the

Chocoan organizations, then, means increased access and participation in the

political, administrative and bureaucratic institutions of the state at the

departmental and national levels. It is assumed that local Chocoan

representatives in these state institutions will help to represent and obtain

black rights for Afro-Colombians as a group. Thus, OBAPO members-argue

that as a grassroots leader from a majoritarian black state, the Chocoan Zulia

Mena can represent real black interests in the national political arena.

However, PCN leaders such as Carlos Rosero feel that without a fundamental

restructuring of state institutions, a gain in the traditional power base can

result in a loss of the cultural and social power base of the black communities

14 Interview with the members of OBAPO, of ACIA, and with Jairo Cordova. All interviews
were held in Ouibd6 on March 7. 1995.

in the country. In otner woras, Kosero teels that without reform, the social
and cultural interests of the black communities become appropriated and
subsumed within the traditional clientelistic politics of the state.
In the southwestern departments of VACUNA, the Afro-Colombian
populations are concentrated in the lowland forest and coastal region of the

Pacific, whereas political power is concentrated in the hands of mestizos and

whites of capitals in the Andean interior. In these departments blackness is
based on specific, local cultural practices, which signify difference from the
rest of the population in the departments. Carlos Rosero (1995) notes that the

black organizations that focus on black marginality and needs for equality do

not pay adequate attention to the specificity and the heterogeneity of blacks

and black social relations in Colombia, nor do they address the issue of
redefining social relations between blacks and the dominant society. Rosero,

Grueso and others in the PCN rejected their previous affiliations with

CIMARRON based on the position that black rights implies more than

equality and participation in traditional political institutions. For the PCN, a
black social and political vision should be structured by specifically Afro-
Colombian cultural practices-however these may be defined. These views

are embodied within the fundamental principles of the PCN adopted at the

Third National Conference of Black Communities in September 1993-(Grueso
et al. 1998, OCN 1996). These principles are as follows:

1. The reconstruction and affirmation of black identity.
2. Autonomy to be black, i.e. the right to be different and to construct
visions of socioeconomic development and of politics based on
this black cultural identity.
3. Rights to an ethnic territory where one can be black.
4. Solidarity with other black movements around the world, but
from the particularity of the Afro-Colombian situation.

Sne imaginanve recuperanon, reconstruction ana armrmation ot Diack
history and identity are principle components of the social and political

strategy of the PCN. According to Libia Grueso, the construction of black

ethnic identity is both a cultural and a political issue, in that the reclamation

of a collective black identity is a necessary first step in the struggle to obtain

ethnic rights and the construction of a black vision of politics. In the

following section I highlight some aspects of the cultural diversity of black

communities, and their implications for the PCN's goal of constructing a

collective black identity.

Constructing a Collective Black Ethnic Identity

Although blacks have not been the objects of as much academic

attention as Colombia's Indigenous populations, a century of anthropological

research has generated much information on various aspects of their culture,

symbolic systems and socioeconomic relations. Several ethnographers

(Arocha 1991; de Friedemann and Arocha 1986; Izquierdo 1984; Losonczy

1993a; Price 1955; Velasquez 1959, 1962; West 1957; Whitten 1986) elaborate in

detail the specificities of black oral culture, religious customs, kinship

relations, economic practices, and symbolic-cognitive cultural practices.

These studies emphasize the diversity and richness of all such black identity

manifestations.15 As Restrepo (1996c) notes, current approaches to the study

of ethnic groups indicate that neither ethnicity nor culture is an

unproblematic summation of beliefs, customs and laws. Based on his in-

15 The formation, and consolidation of black cultural practices has been the focus on much
research by social historians, anthropologists, geographers, and other scholars.
It is beyond the scope of this dissertation to summarize this vast literature. See Restrepo
(1996b) and Wade (1993) for detailed and critical treatments of the anthropological studies on
the cultural characteristics of black groups in Colombia.

aeptn stay or ruqueros m ne sournwestern racinc region knestrepo 1"OD,
1996c), and corroborated by much other ethnographic material,16 Restrepo

contends that certain unique or specifically black models of economy and

culture originated among the Afro-Colombian communities of the Pacific

region. This can be observed in their perceptions of the universe, relations

with their physical environment, explanations of the advent and meaning of

death, and the perceptions of the body and/or sexuality. Restrepo concludes

that the cultural practices and ethnic identity of black groups is a result of the

complex interaction of factors: the history of slavery, the colonial economy,

relations with non-black groups, and interactions with their physical


Furthermore, notions of Afro-Colombianness as a cultural identity are

closely interconnected with gender, class and local and regional identities.17

For instance, Grueso, et al. (1998) note at least six important geographic and

sociocultural areas of black presence: the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts; the

Cauca, Magdalena and Patia river valleys; and the Archipelago of San Andres

and Providencia in the Caribbean (Figure 2). The geographic location of a

particular black community not only influences the historical experience of

the community, but also strongly influences the everyday lives of the people

and how their identities are constructed. Indeed, regional identity was one of

the primary identifiers of my interview subjects. Wade (1993: 64) discusses

the "regionalization of race," in the context of mestizaje and discrimination,

and stresses the importance of spatial geography to the emergence of social

16 Particularly by Anne-Marie Losonczy's work among blacks in the Choc6 (Losonczy 1983, 1989

17 The interrelation between ethnic identity and gender is discussed at length in Chapter 6.

relations among DiacKs in Annoqula, me aanroDean ana tne .noco
These diverse notions of black self-identity are evident in the various

labels used by black groups to denote themselves. Unlike the urban-based

CIMARRONs, among rural and regional-based blacks, the reference to a

common "African" ancestry often conjures up images of a return to a dark,

unknown continent with which they feel no connection. The term "Afro-
Colombian" does not serve as a common identifier at the local level.

Restrepo (1996a) notes that blacks in the southwestern Pacific communities

call themselves "libres" (free people) in relation to a series of other groups--

such as indios bravos, cholos, paisas, serranos, and. culimochos .18 In the

northern coast of the Choc6, I heard blacks call themselves negros in relation

to cholos or indios of the region. On the Rio Anchicaya in Valle del Cauca,

the blacks I worked with often identified themselves as campesinos (peasants)

as distinct from the negros from the nearby port of Buenaventura. Similarly,

the term tuquero refers to black loggers in the southwestern Pacific region,
whereas black loggers in the north are madereros. Thus, these identifiers, or

would postmodernist would call signifierss,' are context-dependent and

variable, and cannot be understood as categorical labels for one or another

specific group.
In general the term costeiio refers to the lighter-skinned blacks form

the Atlantic coast, whereas negro is used to designate the darker blacks from

the Pacific. The term negritud (blackness) is deployed by CIMARRON in its

attempts to organize urban blacks and educate whites about discrimination

and the human right of blacks. Among non-black Bogotanos negritud is a

18 Respectively: Indians in general, neighboring Indian groups, mestizo traders, whites from
the interior, whites from the region.

VMJ11iLILMJiLLy U %O t1CU L I1"i.ILl ;i L L L L L VL I Lti L4 L I ALLL VL. L LI..l.L.LtLLL.A d.
the term among local or regional blacks. For instance, while most blacks refei

to Ley 70 as the "Law of Black Communities," non-blacks (especially from th(

Andean interior) tend to refer to it as the "Law of Negritudes." OCN

members disclaim the term negritud for its associations with the discourse of

black marginalization and demand for equality (OCN 1996: 251). In

attempting to form an unified social movement, PCN members prefer the

expression and the concept "black communities." They claim that it is more

closely anchored to the spatial, territorial and everyday realities of local black

communities, and accommodates the interests of a broad base of Afro-

Colombians (OCN 1996: 251).

The PCN's aim is to forge a concept of collective black identity which

recognizes these heterogeneous cultural practices and multiple identities

across communities. They reject not only the derogatory, biologically

deterministic category of race as defined by skin color, but also commonly

recognized essentialist markers of ethnicity such as a separate language or

distinct dress. For the PCN, black ethnic identity is based on the "values of

the black community, which include cultural, ritual and symbolic aspects, as

well as maintaining black family, kinship, and spiritual relations" (OCN 1996

249). At a meeting to discuss the issues of ethnicity, territory and culture and

the relations between them, PCN activists stressed that:

The identity that we have to construct from within the black
communities is not an identity based on race but on the defense of
territory, on a [particular] perspective on life and on our cultural

19 This statement is based on the discussions held at the meeting in Perico Negro, Puerto Tejad
Cauca in June 1995 which I attended, and appears in the unpublished minutes of the meeting.
The reflections on identity, territory and culture raised at Perico Negro are discussed in detail
in Chapter 5.

Scholars and activists ot the current Atro-Colombian movements note that

the physical environment of the Pacific--the ocean, the rivers, the estuaries,

the forest, etc.--has shaped, and in many cases been shaped by, these Afro-

Colombian symbolic and material practices. Thus, PCN members stress that

the control over land and a connection to territory are imperative in

maintaining black ethnic identity, cultural values and material practices.20

As Alexander Wilson notes, "Humans and nature construct one another"

(1992: 13),21 and given that the majority of Afro-Colombians live in the Pacific

region, the continuation and evolution of black culture is intertwined with

the fate of the region. In the following chapter I discuss how the mutually

constitutive influence of nature and culture (Croll and Parkin 1992, Ingold

1992), becomes key in the post-Ley 70 struggle for black ethnic and territorial

rights. In the section that follows I describe at length an event that illustrates

how black ethnicity is constructed in action, and the distinction between the

modes of construction employed by the PCN and the sector struggling for

black equality in state institutions and politics. This event also helps to

highlights the difficulties in building a unified black social movement.

20 From early on, extensive anthropological studies (West 1957, Whitten and de Friedemann
1974, de Friedemann and Arocha 1986) show that in the Pacific lowlands, people living on a
given river consider themselves part of a single community and have a social attachment to
that river. Similarly, these studies show that the connections to the rivers are reflected in
every aspect of social, political and economic life. The local black people construct their
identity from their quotidian practices they live in riverine communities, they fish in the
rivers; they farm, log, hunt, and engage in a numerous other activities in the forests bordering
the river. Thus, the river becomes a primary focus of self-identification. Local people are
likely to say: "I am X from Rio so and so."

21 The link between nature and culture has been theorized and debated within a number of
different disciplines, especially anthropology and cultural geography. For some recent
discussions see the interrelated sets of literature on the social construction of nature (Soper 1995,
Haraway 1991, 1989; Cronon 1995) and feminist critiques of the gendered nature of science
(Harding 1993, Hubbard 1995, Schiebinger 1993).

Ethnic Identity in Action: An Encounter with Los Sin Identidad y Los Con
Identidad 22

According to articles 48 and 56 of Chapter VI (Mechanisms to Protect

Cultural Diversity) of Ley 70, all regional development corporations in the

Pacific region are required to have an elected representative of the black

communities on their board of directors. On February 4, 1995, the

Corporaci6n Autonoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC, the

Autonomous Regional Corporation of Valle del Cauca) had scheduled a

meeting of its board of directors with the black communities, followed by the

election of a black representative to the CVC Board.23 Accordingly, while the

state coordinators held a private meeting to discuss the format and the

protocol for the election, a large gathering of black communities from

various urban organizations, as well as members of the PCN, waited in the

assembly hall.24

As the hours passed, the waiting members of the black communities

kept up a steady rhythm of songs, chants, dances and speeches celebrating

black identity and liberty. Someone had pinned a flag featuring the names of

several PCN organizations on the podium between the flags of the nation and

of the department of Valle del Cauca. The flag was painted in yellow, black,

and green--the colors of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC).

Several members of the gathering were attired in ANC colors or wore

22 "Those without identity, and those with identity."

23 The description of this event is based on my participant observation and conversations with
various members of the state and black organizations present at the meeting.

24 The members present at the CVC meeting included representatives of organizations from the
coastal town of Buenaventura and from the various river-based peasant organizations of the
surrounding rural areas.

paraphernalia featuring slogans from the US Civil Rights movement. A

competition of sorts ensued between the two sides. The urban groups sang

rap, reggae, and salsa,25 while the PCN members sang currulaos, alabaos, and

works by black poets to the sound of bombs, cununos, and other traditional

musical instruments.

Finally at 4:30 p.m., the coordinators, having adjourned their private

meeting, came down and proposed to call the Asamblea to order with a

rendition of the Colombian national anthem followed by the anthem of the

Valle del Cauca. Members of the urban groups joined in the singing of the

anthem, whereas the PCN members interpolated the singing with their

rendition of the Himno de los Negros. The state officials sat down after they

finished singing the second anthem, well before the black anthem was


The director of CVC continued the meeting with a speech, and put

forth the agenda for the meeting. The gathering of black communities

protested and demanded a voice in the meeting, not just a vote. Their

demands were ignored and the official speeches continued. After the fourth

speaker, the heckling from the crowd made it impossible to hear the speech,

and Pastor Murillo, the black lawyer from the Direcci6n de Asuntos para las

25 See Waxer (1998) for an analysis of the association of salsa and black ethnic identity.
Waxer explores in-depth ideas and attitudes towards salsa, and its adoption among the large
Afro-Colombian population in and around Cali (including the views of the student groups
present at CVC) and links them to larger discourses and practices of racial identity,
discrimination, and miscegenation in Colombia.

26 Colombian anthropologists and scholars of Afro-Colombian oral culture are divided over the
origin of the lyrics of several of the black poems and songs, including those of the black anthem.
Some scholars say that the lyrics are derived from Spanish colonial poetry of the romantic
tradition, while others see a syncretic blending of Spanish, African and Latin elements in the
lyrics. See de Friedemann and Vanin (1995), Pedrosa, Vanin and Motta (1994: 84), Vanin (1990:
122), Wade (1993) and Zapata Olivella (1967) for further reflections on this issue.

Comunidades Negras,2 who had just arrived from Bogota, implored the

crowd to calm down and promised to hear their demands. The demands

were divided: the urban groups wanted to continue with the agenda and the

election as presented by CVC, while the PCN organizations wished to discuss

the agenda in the open meeting, and proposed two additional items--a

disclosure of the rules of the discussion, and the right to discuss the

antecedents of the black mobilization process and the broader aims of the


This was the beginning of a dispute that lasted late into the night. The

Cali-based urban groups wanted to elect a representative by individual votes

according to the norms of traditional voting, while the PCN members, on the

other hand, wanted voting by organizations. The latter claimed that such a

process reflected the traditional Afro-Colombian logic of making decisions by

collective consensus.28 Pastor Murillo tried to negotiate between the two

factions, reminding the crowd of the black history of struggle and asking them

to behave in a manner that would uphold the dignity and unity of the 8

million Afro-Colombians. The PCN faction applauded and agreed with

Murillo, whereas the Cali-based urban groups felt that the way to uphold

black dignity was to participate calmly in the meeting decreed by the state.

The event ended with the PCN groups declaring the election invalid for

having violated the agreements made during the previous discussions

27 The Direcci6n de Asuntos para las Comunidades Negras ( the Office of Black Community
Affairs) was formed within the Ministry of Government under Decree 2313 in October 1994 and
as mandated by Article 67 of Chapter VIII of Ley 70..

28 Indeed, presenting black concerns collectively is a basic and important part of the PCN's
representation and participation strategy. All my interviews with regional PCN organization,
were arranged so that as many members of the organization could attend as were in town at the
moment. During the interview, usually more than one member would respond to the questions
that were posed or issues raised during the meeting.

between tne state ana tne DiacK communities. Iney also witnarew their
candidate from the race. The Cali-based groups participated in the election,

and one of their two candidates was elected as the representative to the CVC

Reflecting on this incident the following day, Mercedez Segura, a
member of Fundemujer, a Buenaventura-based women's organization and

part of the PCN, described the PCN activists as con identidad, or with identity,

and the urban groups as sin identidad, without it. According to her, people

with identity who reflected on their past and actively drew upon their history
to construct their ethnic identity. Blacks sin identidad considered their past a

retrazo or a step backward, and did not want to acknowledge their

"difference" from the rest of Colombian society. Although both sectors

present at the CVC assembly mobilized popular black symbols, the history of
black oppression, and the black liberation struggle, the PCN draw on symbols

and cultural codes specific to Afro-Colombians, whereas the urban groups use

the more global, or "imported" symbols of blackness.. Figures of international
black heroes such as Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X were deployed by both
sides. However, according to the PCN, these black heroes provided
inspiration for the creation of a specific Afro-Colombian perspective. For the

urban groups, the figures of international heroes were used to argue the case

for universal black equality.
While the candidates proposed by the urban groups were professionals
and career politicians aligned with the traditional Liberal Party, the PCN

candidates were from riverine communities. affected by development projects

administered by the CVC. Members of the urban groups felt that the

candidates from regional or rural organizations had no political experience
and no knowledge of the realities of urban blacks and therefore could not

represent black interests in the CVC. Conversely, PCN groups felt that the

urban black groups of students and people from the shanty towns of

metropolitan Cali, were manipulated and coopted by Afro-Colombian
politicians. PCN members claim that these politicians did not represent the
interests of the black communities. Here again, in their estimation, was

politiquerfa, an exploitation of the unprecedented legal mechanisms for black

communities that Ley 70 provides by capitalizing on their "blackness" with

the aim of personal advancement through state institutions. According to
PCN, the rural candidates with their close links to the riverine communities
were more committed to black ethnic and territorial rights and to an

alternative, ethnocultural politics.

The CVC incident illustrates how both the equality-minded and the
PCN sectors of Afro-Colombian activists construct black identity, and to what
different ends. While the former seek increased institutional representation

via traditional mechanisms of participation, the latter aim to redefine the

nature of political representation and participation. While the former seek

equality for blacks, the latter insist on the right to define and celebrate black
difference. Whereas the discourse of discrimination and marginalization of
blacks is the locus of black solidarity for the former, for the latter that locus

resides in the diverse manifestations of black cultural and ethnic identity.
The tension between these two positions is analogous to the debate between
the "interpretative" and "genealogical" approaches within feminism
discussed in Chapter 2. Hernan Cort6s'. expresses the PCN sentiments in the

following terms:

We feel that to participate in the economic life of the country means
the right to engage in and live in our own economic systems, and to
relate to the state from within it. To participate in the political life of
the country means that we have to make clear to the state that we have

our own order. o participate in the cultural Iite ot the state means
that we have the opportunity to know and develop our own culture.
This participation means a possibility of coexistence, not a negation of
our blackness. (1994: 26)

Thus, the differences in the discourses of black identity and ethnic rights
influence the mobilization and strategies of the various sectors of the black

social movements as they press for implementation of Ley 70. However, as

Rosero notes, both positions, equality and the right to difference, are two side:
of the same coin. He further notes that articulating a political strategy from
either extreme is risky, and argues for the need to integrate these positions in
the direction of a collective black social movement. As I discuss in Chapter 7,

the articulation and the construction of a unified position is fraught with

In the next chapter, I show how the construction of a collective black
identity and the struggle for ethnic rights are closely linked to the struggle
over the present perceptions of the Pacific region, and the plans for its future.

While the modernist rhetoric of the state constructs the Pacific region as a

development entity or biodiversity hot spot, the black movements struggle t(
maintain their claim on the Pacific as ethnic territory. I investigate how

these competing claims over the meaning of the Pacific region are played out

in the current political struggle for ethnic and land rights, and argue that for
the state the issue of ethnic rights is closely linked to the broader economic

changes in the country and especially in the Pacific region.


Robert West, one of the first modern geographers to conduct a

systematic study of the Choc6, noted in 1957 that although Europeans had

exploited its mineral and forest wealth for 300 years, the Pacific Lowlands

were scientifically one of the least-known areas in Latin America. This view

was echoed by Alwyn Gentry, one of the first biologists to alert the scientific

community of the high levels of biological diversity in the Choc6. At a

seminar in Colombia just before his death in 1993, Gentry commented that

we know more about the surface of the moon than about the biological

diversity of the planet, and especially of the Choc6 (Gentry 1993).

As was mentioned in Chapter 2, relatively little is. known about the

predominantly Afro-Colombian inhabitants of the region, and there is little

informational context for planning, development and conservation. A new

wave of knowledge production began in the region following the changes

heralded by the new constitution, economic liberalization and resulting

capitalist expansion.1 An increasing number of biodiversity conservation and

1 This knowledge production takes multiple forms.. Various aspects of Pacific society, economy,
culture and biodiversity provide the theme for innumerable academic conferences, research
projects, state development reports, evaluative studies and so on. The images of the region --
whether they be ethnic populations, dense forests, exotic wildlife, spectacular seascapes, or
rivers contaminated with the mercury used in gold mining, the people with "basic needs
unsatisfied" -- become the focal points of media attention. The two volume set of coffee table
books Colombia Pacffico -- published by Financiara Energ6tica Nacional (FEN) and Proyecto
BioPacffico perhaps exemplifies this production in 872 pages of spectacular images (maps,

sustainable development projects and a struggle for ethnic rights characterize

the dynamics in the Pacific region today. Since the early 1990s, the Colombian

Pacific Litoral has became a locus of conflicts and alliances between the state,

the private sector, national and international NGOs, and the black and

indigenous communities of the region.

A recent wave of popular media publications, as well as state reports,

depict the region as "tropical Eden", "biodiversity hotspot", "the El Dorado of

modern times", the gateway to the "Orient", a bridge to the economic powers

of the Asia-Pacific Rim,2 and similar terms. Some even label the Pacific

Ocean "the sea of the 21st century" (Escobar and Pedrosa 1993).3 When the

black inhabitants of the region appear in these depictions, they are

represented as impoverished, backward, and marginalized squatters in the

tierras baldias of the nation, whereas the indigenous communities are

glorified as authentic ethnic minorities, noble savages, or wise stewards of

biodiversity. For instance, a National Planning Department report notes that

"Poverty is the predominant characteristic of the Pacific" (DNP 1995: 3). Later

the same report comments on the environmental aspects of the region:

The Choc6 biogeographic region possesses one of the highest
biodiversity and endemism indices on the planet. Historically, the
communities of the zone have exploited the resources of the region in
a sustainable fashion and have managed to identify some medicinal
and edible resources of the region. It is estimated that this natural

2 The term "Asia-Pacific Rim" is itself subject to multiple interpretations and constructions.
See for instance Dirlik (1993). The chapters in this edited volume, What Is In A Rim? take a
critical look at how the Pacific basic region has been spatially and ideologically constituted,
and examine the, and political relationships that have evolved historically and which
account for the prominent place occupied by the Pacific in current geopolitical discussions.

3 The above mentioned descriptors are prevalent in state reports, national newspapers, in
television news and popular programs on the Choc6 region. I also heard similar descriptors and
sentiments expressed by local people especially in Bogoti, but also in Cali. Escobar and Pedrosa
(1993: fn 2, p. 44) note that the above terms originated at the Third Forum "Colombia in the Era
of the Pacific" held in Popaydn from May 13-15, 1993.

richness represents a high potential for biotechnological development,
and warrants further investigation and research.
Such a characterization of the region fits with the state's agenda of

modernizing the region and "bringing it up to par" with the rest of the
nation, as well as to promoting the environmental agenda of conserving the
biological diversity of the region, conceived of as a national and global good.
Conversely, the black and indigenous inhabitants of the region see the
Choc6 as their homeland, and struggle to obtain full legal and administrative
rights to determine the future of the lands that they have traditionally
inhabited. They resist the paternalistic socioeconomic development plans of
the state, and construct alternative models of culturally appropriate
In this chapter I discuss the ways in which the Pacific region is
discursively constituted as economic frontier, biodiversity hotspot, and ethnic
territory by different entities of the Colombian state and the black social

movements. I argue that the multiple and often contradictory meanings and
representations of the region are linked to conflicts for control over the
material resources of the region. Finally, I explore how the strategic, symbolic
and ideological representations of the Choc6 are linked to the political and

ethnic struggle of the Afro-Colombians.

The Pacific Region as a Resource Frontier or Development Entity

The new Colombian constitution, in addition to broadening the
democratic base of national politics through decentralization arid expanded
civil participation, aims to insert the nation into the international arena
through massive neoliberal economic reforms. Within this context, the
Colombian Pacific region is perceived as a strategic link with economic

powers such as Japan, South Korea and other parts of the Asia- Pacific Rim;
and integrating it with the Andean center of Colombia is an imperative part
of the state's policy for the region. Commenting on the need to develop the
infrastructure of the region, the DNP report notes:

The maritime ports of the Pacific region are a privileged instrument for
commercial interchange between Colombia and the countries of the
Pacific basin.' In 1994, 5 million tons of goods were moved through
Buenaventura. This represents 53% of the total volume moved from
the principle public ports in the country (1995: 4).
However, the state contends that a large-scale restructuring of the
administrative, political, technical, and legal institutions of the state, and
especially of heretofore" backward or peripheral" regions such as the Amazon

and Pacific basins, is required to usher in a "new era of political economy."
Thus, preparing the region and its inhabitants for their new role on the
national and international stage is at the center of the state's policy towards
the region.
The current trend of development reform has as its precursor a wave
of projects initiated in the 1960s and 1970s. A series of natural disasters (a fire
in Quibd6 in 1966, and a seaquake in Tumaco in 1979) led to plans to rebuild
the Pacific region, improve the living standards of the impoverished,
"backward" population of the region and integrate them into the interior of
the country. These first projects, such as President Belisario Betancur's Plan
de Desarrollo Integral para la Regi6n Pacifico Colombiano (PLADEICOP,
Integral Development Plan for the Colombian Pacific Region) consisted of
productive agro-industrial projects geared towards generating income and

integrating local people into the market economy. Planned from the Andean
center and insensitive to the socio-cultural realities of the region, these
projects were typical of the first wave of trickle-down macroeconomic


development logic of the time. Ultimately they went awry and gave rise to

waves of migration towards the regional center. This displaced rural

population became incorporated into the cash economy as low-paid laborers

in agro-industry, leaving them more impoverished than before (de Roux

1990/1991, 1992; Lozano 1996; Pedrosa 1996; Rojas 1994, 1996).4

In 1992, after an evaluation of the "needs" of the region, the National

Council for Economic and Social Policy (CONPES) and the National Planning

Directive (DNP) of Colombia, proposed Plan Pacifico, a set of macro-

development projects, investment plans, programs and activities to promote

integrated sustainable development.5 The plans outlined under Plan Pacifico

were considered strategic not only for the western region of Colombia but for

the entire country.6 For instance, the Plan de Acci6n Forestal para Colombia

(PAFC, the Forestry Action Plan for Colombia), formulated in the early 1990s,

lays the groundwork for a systematic exploitation of the extensive forests in

the region to satisfy the country's increasing demand for timber. Given that

4 Several chapters in Escobar and Pedrosa (1996) analyze the ecological, economic, social and
cultural impacts of the first wave of development and modernization in the Pacific. For
instance Grueso and Escobar discusses the formation of agricultural cooperatives in the region;
Lozano, and Rojas Silva discuss the impact of these projects on black women, Pedrosa discusses
the institutionalization of development in the region. Escobar and Pedrosa critique these trends
in the Pacific within the broaden context of modernization and development in the third world.

5 These projects included the construction and modernization of several ports, the construction
of highways linking key regional centers with Andean centers of trade and commerce, building
oil pipelines and hydroelectric plants, as well as an ambitious plan to build and connect two
deep water ports, one in the Pacific, and the other in the Atlantic with an interoceanic railway
bridge linking the two ports. See Piedrahita and Pineda (1993) for a detailed list and
description of these proposed projects.

6 The socioeconomic development in the country is coordinated by five state regional councils
(Consejo Regional de Planeaci6n Econ6mico y Social, CORPES). The departments of Risaralda,
Caldas, Quindio, and the Pacific departments of Antioquia, Choc6, Valle del Cauca, Cauca and
Narifio are managed under Corpo-Occidente, which coordinates all educational, economic and
social development activities in the region. Actions affecting indigenous people and Afro-
Colombians are coordinated by an office of minority affairs located within the social
development sector.


most of the Pacific territory is legally labeled tierras baldias, large tracts of

forest were leased to logging companies in 1992, at the same time that the

state and black communities were discussing the ratification of AT 55.7

These extensive and ambitious plans for the region are evident in Plan

Pacffico, which aims

1. To develop the institutional capacity of the government, and achieve
territorial order (ordenamiento).
2. To improve the quality of, and access to, basic services such as health
care, education, basic sanitation, rural electrification,
telecommunications, and transport.
3. To develop alternative production practices or technologies for the
sustainable use and management of natural resources. Also to
design ways to eliminate or mitigate the negative environmental
impact of extractive agro-industrial operations, as well as large
scale production processes. (DNP 1994, 1995)

These aims for the Colombian Pacific depend on nothing less than a major

infrastructural and institutional overhaul of all the "territorial entities"

(departments, municipalities, districts, ethnic territories) of the region.

Indeed, as Andrade and Amaya (1994) of the Agustfn Codazzi Geographic

Institute (IGAC) note that Ordenamiento Territorial (OT, Territorial

Ordinance) is a key political and administrative instrument to facilitate the

modernization process of the state.8 One of IGAC's missions in the region is

7 Some 42,200 hectares of the remaining 90,000 hectares of"catival" forests in the Atrato
region of the Choc6 were part of the concessions given by CODECHOCO to a major logging
company in 1992 (G6mez 1994; Rios 1994, 1993a, 1993b; Villa 1993).

8 Andrade and Amaya (1994: 36-37) outline the constitutional and legal bases that underly the
politics of OT. For instance, OT helps to address Article 7 which recognizes and proposes to
protect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country; Article 80 which deals with the
planning, management and use of natural resources; Articles 103-106 which focus on achieving a
participatory democracy. Furthermore, the implementation of several new laws including Law
70/1993, Law 99/1993 under which a new Ministry of the Environment is created to address the
protection, use and management of natural resources and the environment; Law 9/1989 which
addresses of urban reform and zoning; Law 136/1994 under which state administration is
decentralized and municipalities are given the authority to plan the economic, social and
environmental development and ordinance of their territories under their jurisdiction, and

to produce basic cartographic, agricultural, and geographic information, with

the help of other state agencies such as ICAN (Colombian Institute of

Anthropology), INCORA (Colombian Institute for Land Reform), and the

recently created Ministry of the Environment (Andrade and Amaya 1994). It

is also IGAC's task to design methods to help to govern and administer the

"territorial entities" of the country, and especially the region. From members

of the OT team, I gathered that much of the international credit for

development and conservation is contingent upon the completion of the

ecological zoning, natural resource inventory and land titling in the region.9

In 1995, the OT projects were in their pilot phase.

The first versions of the development plans and the state's policy in

the region came under fire by ethnic rights groups for ignoring.

environmental and sustainability issues, and the impact of the proposed

projects on the local populations. In 1995, OT proposed new participative

methodologies. Thus, as part of the OT project, black and indigenous peoples

are to be involved in the "Ecological Zoning of the Pacific," which proposes to

map not only the biophysical and ecological features of the region, but social,

economic, and ethno-cultural aspects as well (Echeverri and Salazar 1994;

G6mez and Salazar 1994; Monje and Castillo 1995; Salazar 1994). The

"territorial entities" are recognized as social spaces, and are to be integrated

into, and inform, the political objectives, public actions and private


9 Interviews with Angela Andrade, Director of IGAC's Subdivision of Geography, April 28,
1995; Manuel Amaya, head of IGAC's Division of OT, May 25, 1995; Ricardo Castillo, member
of the "Ecological Zoning of the Pacific" project, May 25, 1995; Juan Carlos Riasco, director
Fundaci6n Herencia Verde, July 28, 1995. Participant at meeting to discuss community
participation in Univalle-UniTolima-CVC's project on Territorial Ordinance Projects, April 11

Under these policies, internationally-funded, state-sponsored projects

are involved in a systematic production of knowledge about the biological,

physical, and demographic aspects of the Colombian Pacific region.
Development plans, conservation and natural resource management
projects, proposals for the social and economic development of black
communities, as well as the consolidation of Entidades Territoriales

Indigenas (ETIs, Indigenous Ethnic Territories), are part of the OT. These

plans are intended to accomplish the successful management and harvest of

the material resources of the Pacific, as well as to achieve the efficient
administration and socio-economic development of the population.

This systematization of knowledge about the-region is doubled-edged,
in terms of both environmental protection and the ethnic rights of black and
indigenous communities. Many scholars and activists (Carrizosa Umaia

1993, Escobar 1996, OCN 1996, Rojas 1994, Ruiz 1993, Villa 1993) argue that the

inclusion of ethnic rights, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable

development in the state's development plans are part of a strategy to
accommodate its long-term economic and political interests in the region. It
is an open question whether the state's policies are progressive enough to
establish mechanisms to strengthen local authority and allow local

communities to manage their territories while meeting its interests.

Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Choc6
Biogeographic Region

Since environmental issues have gained international attention in the
past few decades, it has been claimed that the fate of the living world depends

on the diversity of living nature, i.e. on biodiversity; and that much of this
biological diversity is concentrated in the tropics (Terborgh 1992, Wilson and

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