Law 70 and the Pacifico

Skimming a recent Economist article on how change comes slowly for the people of the Pacifico, I saw the following quote:

“…as 84% of land in the Pacific region is subject to collective-title rights granted to black and indigenous groups. The introduction of such rights in 1993.” [1]

Having read several Colombian history books, I didn’t recall reading about this before so I looked it up and found out more.


From “The territorial turn: Making black territories in Pacific Colombia” [2]

As “ethnic communities” distinct from the national culture, many rural blacks who are able to demonstrate a history of customary tenure arrangements often emulate indigenous strategies for land recognition (Thorne 2001). The Pacific region of Colombia provides a case in point. In order to address calls for democratic reforms in a country torn apart by 40 years of civil war, Colombia elected a constituent assembly and changed its constitution in 1991.

Although the constitution did not set out to address ethnic issues per se, it redefined the country as multiethnic and pluricultural. Backing up rhetoric with deeds, the new constitution’s Transitory Article 55 (AT-55) required Congress to pass a law granting “black communities” (comunidades negras) of the “Pacific watershed” collective property titles to the rural and riparian areas that they occupy “in conformity with their traditional systems of production.

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As a result of AT55, Law 70 (PDF) was passed two years later. Law 70 guarantees black communities of the Pacific “territorial rights.” By 1995, procedural Decree 1745 required a multitude of governmental institutions and agencies to work together to demarcate and title black territories to representative community councils (consejos comunitarios). Required by law to receive a title, the councils were newly created ethno-territorial and political entities required to solicit and administer the new territories.

Between 1996 and May of 2003, the Colombian government demarcated and titled 122 black territories. These territories enclose over 4.5 million hectares, contain 1,250 black communities, and represent 270,000 people (Figure 1). Size and population vary dramatically; one territory contains as few as 30 people living in a single community, while the largest territory contains 30,000 people in 90 different communities and encompasses more than a half million hectares. Not yet complete, the project is already among the most ambitious and radical territorial reorderings ever attempted in Latin America (Table 1).

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The Barranquilla Group – “La Cueva”

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 1.16.39 PMFrom Wikipedia…

The Barranquilla Group was the name given to the group of writers, journalists, and philosophers who congregated in the Colombian city of Barranquilla in the middle of the twentieth century; it became one of the most productive intellectual and literary communities of the period.

Among the most influential and notable members were Gabriel García Márquez, Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, Germán Vargas, and Alfonso Fuenmayor, all of whom also comprise the fictionalized Barranquilla Group referred to as the “four friends” of Macondo in Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) (1967), by García Márquez. They were all journalists at the onset of the informal group, working mostly for El Nacional, El Heraldo, and El Universal; most were also novelists and poets, often publishing their own literary work in the hitherto-mentioned newspapers. Another “itinerant” member, as García Márquez refers to him in his memoir, Vivir para contarla (Living to Tell the Tale) (2002), was José Félix Fuenmayor, the father of Alfonso, who was also a journalist, as well as an acclaimed poet and novelist. Referring to the group in his memoir, García Márquez writes

Never did I feel, as I did in those days, so much a part of that city and the half-dozen friends who were beginning to be known as the Barranquilla Group in the journalistic and intellectual circles of the country. They were young writers and artists who exercised a certain leadership in the cultural life of the city, guided by the Catalan master Don Ramón Vinyes, a legendary dramatist and bookseller who had been consecrated in the Espaca Encyclopedia since 1924.


The Youtube-based documentary that retraced the history of the Barranquilla Group and their hang-out spot, La Cueva, was taken down some years ago, but I found what seems to be another documentary (ES) on the Group here (there’s a video download link on the page, too).

Policarpa Salavarrieta – Colombia’s 1st Heroine

Policarpa Salavarrieta (c. 1791 – November 14, 1817), also known as La Pola, was a Neogranadine seamstress who spied for the Revolutionary Forces during the Spanish Reconquista of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. She was captured by Spanish Royalists and ultimately executed for high treason, she is now considered a heroine of the independence of Colombia.


History indicates that Policarpa was not involved in politics before 1810, but by the time she moved back to Bogotá in 1817, she was actively participating in political issues. Because Bogotá was the stronghold of the Reconquista, where most of the population were Spanish Royalists and approved of the take over by Pablo Morillo, it was very difficult to get in and out of the city. Policarpa and her brother Bibiano entered the capital with forged documents and safeguards, and a letter of introduction written by Ambrosio Almeyda and José Rodríguez, two Revolutionary leaders; they recommended she and her brother stay in the house of Andrea Ricaurte y Lozano under cover of working as her servants. In reality Andrea Ricaurte’s home was the centre of intelligence gathering and resistance in the capital.

In Guaduas, Policarpa was known as a revolutionary. Because she was not known in Bogotá, she could move freely and meet with other patriots and spies unsuspected. She could also infiltrate the homes of the Royalists. Offering her services as a seamstress to the wives and daughters of royalists and officers, Policarpa altered and mended for them and their families; at the same time she overheard conversations, collected maps and intelligence on their plans and activities, identified who the major Royalists were, and found out who were suspected of being revolutionaries.

Policarpa also secretly recruited young men to the Revolutionary cause; with assistance from her brother. Together, they helped increase the number of soldiers the insurgency in Cundinamarca desperately needed.


Policarpa Salavarrieta has been depicted on Colombian currency many times over the years. While many idealized or mythological female figures have also appeared, her portrait is the only one of an actual female historical personality ever used.

More Info

If you like television or more specifically, Colombian novelas, there’s a new one called La Pola (trailer) that will air on RCN. Also, you can read this chapter on Google Books.

How the US stole Panama – Part 2

Last year, I wrote about how the US stole Panama (from Colombia) and while everything I wrote is based on facts, there are facts that were withheld simply because I didn’t read further into the subject…until now. There is more to consider when coming to a conclusion about the story of Panama and how it relates to Colombia.

When Colombia gained independence from Spain, it didn’t include Panama as part of its territory. Panama gained independence separately and being separated from Spain while wanting to show solidarity with Bolívar, they voluntarily accepted Bolívar’s call to create the Grand Bolivian Nation, or La Gran Colombia (together with Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru). Upon Bolívar’s death in 1830, Panama didn’t see much of a reason for the continuance of said union and that is when it searched out a way to separate itself, only to fail as a result. It is said that there were 17 attempts in the history of Panama to declare itself a sovereign nation from Spain and later Colombia, all prior to the dealings of the US with Colombia.

What this means is, in the sense of the loss or ‘rape’ of Panama from Colombia, in a certain form, it did happen and the way it happened was plain evil on the part of the US. On the other hand, there was a 308 year old Spanish-ruled Panama (1513-1821) that pre-dated La Gran Colombia (1819-1830). One year into their independence from Spain, Panama joined La Gran Colombia until the union’s demise in 1830. In 1831, after a failed military coup by Panama, they joined The Republic of New Granada (ie, Colombia) for about 70 years until the day came when the US intervened. 

So who should be indignant about what? Well, that is a good question and the answer can only have merit once all the facts are brought to light. I hope I’ve helped in doing just that.

Photos of the Old Country

I have always been interested in old photographs and even though they aren’t interactive and surely don’t fit in with the Web 2.0 and beyond, they have a way of speaking to the viewer. I study any old photos I come across as if I could somehow study the places and the lives of the people in them. Despite the fact that these mini portraits come in black and white, I wonder if their lives were full of color and if their mostly stern looks were more telling of posing etiquette rather than of their day to day experiences.

Colombia has an interesting history due to its geography and as I wrote here, that geography led to a diversification of customs, habits and tastes among the Colombian people. This fact makes looking through photos of the old country an interesting experience because you can imagine the myriad of microcausms of Colombian society that existed back then. These pockets of towns that peppered the divided landscape of Colombia most likely led to the regional pride which can be found in many of Colombia’s 33 departments today.

Here are a few ways to look at photos of Colombia’s past.

Biblioteca Virtual (press ‘siguiente’)
Skyscraper City

Palenque: Colombia’s 1st free black community

Back in August of last year, I wrote about an article I had read on a Colombian Palenque near Cartagena, but the link is now defunct. Here’s what I wrote along with a part of the article plus a 1992 documentary, which is why I’m reposting it.

There was an interesting story over at Colombia Journal (now nonexistent) on what has been deemed the first free black community of the Americas living along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Here’s the intro…

“Four hundred years ago, Afro-Colombians living along Colombia’s Caribbean coast would cry when a child was born because the youth was destined to suffer a life of slavery under Spanish colonial rule. And when an Afro-Colombian died, people would engage in a nine-day and nine-night wake to celebrate the deceased’s return to Africa. Back then it appeared that death was the only path to liberation. But today, parents in the remote village of San Basilio de Palenque no longer cry when their children are born thanks to the bravery and resilience of their ancestors, who successfully gained freedom from the Spanish crown in 1603.”

“1992 documentary on the Caribbean Colombian Maroon Community of San Basilio Palenque located near Cartagena in the department of Bolivar. The focus is on present day descendants of African maroons who resisted against the Spaniards and claimed their liberty early during the colonial era with the escape of slavery and establishment of free communities termed palenques also known as maroon communities in English. This particular community was founded by the maroon leader Benkos Bioho, which is a hero to many Colombians of African heritage.”

How the U.S. stole Panama – Part 1

As few people know, Panama as an independent country came about due to the disingenuous actions of the U.S. government in the early years of the 20th century. Prior, it was part of Colombia and acted as its own department within the country. It’s important to know how the underhanded actions of the U.S. led to what has been called ‘the rape of Panama’. It is important to note that long before the Colombian Panama there was a Spanish Panama which you can read about in Part 2 (link at the bottom).

The Basics

The Hay-Herran Treaty was a treaty signed on January 22, 1903 between Secretary of State John M. Hay of the United States and Dr. Tomás Herrán of Colombia. Had it been ratified, it would have allowed the United States a lease that was to remain in force in perpetuity on a 6-mile wide strip across Panama (which was then part of Colombia) for $10 million and an annual payment of $250,000. It was ratified by the United States Senate on March 14, but it was not ratified by the Senate of Colombia, and did not go into effect.

It has been considered by later observers that this happened mainly because Herran had negotiated the treaty with little government or legislative oversight. It has also been mentioned that many of the politicians and congressmen found the amount offered to fall short, considering that the United States was willing to pay $40 million for the New Panama Canal Company.

The United States government was not willing to renegotiate the treaty with Colombia or alter the amounts involved and soon gave its support, both political and military, to a planned uprising in Panama, which led to its independence and to the eventual construction of the Panama Canal.

The Details

Upon the ratification by Colombia, Secretary Hay specifically said that no time should be taken for further discussion of the treaty, that it must be signed and accepted immediately or the deal was off. Someone in Washington must have been familiar with the Colombian senate and the way in which things were easily drawn out. Knowledge of this fact would mean that the treaty, if ratified immediately by Colombia, effectively tried to treat Colombia as a chump, for lack of a better word. As Colombia failed to come to a quick agreement on the matter,  plan B was therefore to take the canal by force while also taking advantage of the popular ‘Panamanian’ uprising going on at the time.

The department of Panama actually had attempted to sucede from Colombia on various occasions and it was the Thousand Days War between 1899 and 1902 which gave rise to the final attempt for independence. Upon the ‘failure’ of the Colombians to ratify the Hay-Herran Treaty,  in 1903, President Roosevelt sent in the U.S. warship Nashville. U.S. soldiers landed, and declared Panama an independent nation. In November 1903, during a mere 17 day period, Panama proclaimed its independence and concluded the Hay/Bunau-Varilla Treaty with the United States. The treaty granted rights to the United States “as if it were sovereign” in a zone roughly 10 miles wide and 50 miles long. In that zone, the U.S. would build a canal, then administer, fortify, and defend it “in perpetuity.” In 1914, the United States completed the existing 52 mile canal.

The man referred to in the new treaty, Bunau-Varilla, was a French engineer and soldier, newly employed by the very company (Panama Canal Company) to be contracted to build the Panama Canal. Now it starts to become clear how the U.S. ended up getting exactly what it wanted out of the deal. In simple terms, they wanted the canal and therefore intentionally undervalued it in order to pay Colombia less than its worth. Next, they used a popular uprising to give merit to and support for their taking of the canal while dealing not with the Colombian governement, but with a Frenchman who “coincidentally” happened to work for the company they wished to hire.

It gets worse

A few years after Roosevelt passed away, the U.S. being oh-so generous, decided to offer an apology to Colombia via a “gift” of $25 million in 1921. Colombia, wishing for continued relations with the U.S. (being an important recipient of Colombian exports), accepted the apology. The gift carried with it a stipulation though, which stated that Colombia must allow Standard Oil into the country. Fortunately for Standard Oil, the 360 mile-long pipeline they built, turned them into the largest (read: richest) oil producer in the world at the time. In the end, Colombia lost Panama and much of their oil reserves for the one-time fee of $25 million dollars. I wonder how much the U.S. made from it all…

Here’s Part 2

Medellín travel links

What follows are two links on ways to find out what’s new in Medellín and to wrap things up, a nice photo slide of the old Medellín.


Arepa. No, I’m not talking about the one you eat, but rather about a guide to nightlife and culture in Medellín called The Arepa. It’s a free magazine and downloadable via the main site, with physical editions around Medallo (slang for Medellín). The Arepa covers a wide range of topics and for those in the mood for shopping, the localized ads will let you know where to buy what. The magazine comes to you thanks to a fellow Californian so go check it out!

Also, I wanted to mention the site Medellín Traveler which covers pretty much anything and everything in Medellín. I’m not sure who runs it but they have a Youtube channel (take the video below as proof), a Flickr page and an account on PBH (Poor but Happy, see links page).


In other news (ok, it’s not really news), I found a 9 minute clip with photographs of the antigua Antioquia, you know, the good ol’ days, in case you are like me and enjoy black & whites (thinking of a different Black and White?).

More on the Legend of El Dorado

One of my first posts here was on the Muisca indians and the origin of the legend of El Dorado. The purpose was to explain that El Dorado was not a place, but a person. What follows is a video (in SP) on the legend as well as an excerpt from the book History of Colombia, written in 1938, which I am reading.

“Belalcázar could not bear the thought of being a subaltern, and, his chief Pizarro having failed to make him the governor of Quito, he conceived the idea of pushing northward beyond the frontiers of Peru to discover new lands which he could govern with royal license. In Latacunga, Ecuador, Luis de Daza met an Indian who was not a native of that region and who spoke of his country as a land filled with gold and emeralds. He also referred to a peculiar ceremony in which the chief of one of the villages would cover his body with gold dust and then bathe himself in a small lake into which the jewels offered to the gods were thrown. When Belalcázar heard this tale, he exclaimed: “Let’s go and see that Gilded Man;” hence the name El Dorado given to the region in search of which so many hardships were suffered by the Spaniards. The chroniclers say this Indian called his country Cundinamarca…”

Here’s a link to the English-language version of the Museo del Oro in Bogotá. The actual lake referenced in the tale is called the Laguna de Guatavita (pictured below) and it lies 35 miles north-east of Bogotá in the department of Cundinamarca.