Reflections in Colombia:

Reflections in Colombia:
Film, community dialogue, and peaceful protest as methods for social and political change
November 27, 2012
Lauren Satterlee
On November 19, 2012, the UN's highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), came
to a decision on a more than ten-year-old territorial dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia
(Nicaragua v. Colombia) involving the archipelago of San Andrés, Old Providence and Santa
Catalina, located northwest of Colombian's north coast, but geographically closer to Nicaragua.
The archipelago is Colombian territory, but the recent ruling gave Nicaragua ownership of a
section of sea territory around the archipelago’s northern keys. The Colombian government
believes it was the incorrect decision. Many native fishermen who depend on the sea for their
livelihoods and to support their families also feel that this decision was made without
consideration for them. The ruling affects a significant portion of the existing Seaflower
Biosphere Reserve, which was declared by UNESCO in 2000 to protect the immense
biodiversity of sea and land ecosystems within the archipelago. The ruling will very likely
increase the challenge of protecting natural marine resources in the area, as well as human wellbeing for those who rely on these resources. Furthermore, while the people of the archipelago
have opposed oil exploration in this area, Nicaragua now has the power to choose to proceed
with oil exploration.
The ruling was made while I was visiting the island of Old Providence to conduct interviews
with local fishermen, and I had a chance to hear first-hand about their lamentations about the
decision and worries about the future of their work. The evening of the declaration, a small
protest was staged in the downtown area of the island. Community members were standing in a
circle around a hand-built coffin, which was filled with fishing lure and line, and scrawled
across the sides in black marker were statements about the loss of human rights of the
fishermen to make a decent living according to their native traditions. In the evening rain the
ink was running down the wood, matching the somber mood of the people. There was an
increased police and naval presence on the island the day of the ruling, anticipating violent
riots, which one islander I spoke to found ridiculous because the community there is very
peaceful in nature. Another man I spoke with said he was selling his boat that day and looking
for another source of income. He sees no point in continuing to fish with such a large portion of
water being restricted. It certainly is very concerning, since the islands already struggle with
high unemployment rates and as San Andres one of the highest populated islands in the world,
the natural resource base will become even more limited and the division of the MPA will
further threaten an already very fragile ecosystems. The people of Old Providence and San
Andrés, as well as those in mainland Colombia and beyond, have organized several marches
and protests the weeks following the ruling. Although Colombia cannot appeal the ruling, it is
said that other routes of action are being considered to defend the human rights of the
indigenous people to earn their livelihoods, as set forth in the ILO Convention 169 and the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
I have felt the concern, hope, and strength of the islanders around issues of social justice. There
was a peaceful march a few weeks ago in San Andrés against the potential closing of one of the
island's largest educational institutions (SENA) because of funding cuts. During the island's
Green Moon Festival I attended one of the film screenings, which included documentaries such
as "The Black Creoles" and "Calypso Dreams." I went to the screening of a film about the life
of Harry Belefonte called "Sing Your Song," which portrayed the famous singer's life and
journey as an artist and civic leader. It explored the influence of his music, performances, and
deep involvement in the civil rights movement, and how he used his artistry and fame to help
progress that movement as well as other social justice causes in his later years. When the film
ended and the lights came up, people spoke about what moved them. A woman from the United
States, who has lived in San Andrés for many years, spoke of her concern for the well-being of
the minority native population. A Latina woman spoke about her vision for justice for native
peoples and to learn more about these kinds of peaceful movements for social change. A native
woman who works with incarcerated youth expressed concern that no youth were present for
the screening, and how important it is for them to learn about inspiring public leaders such as
Harry Belefonte, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. This small
demonstration of interest in community dialogue about these issues was very inspiring, and
gives me hope that the people here can continue finding peaceful avenues for expression,
dissent, education, and advocacy for their own human rights.