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“The relationship between the Raizales and the Colombian State has been conflictive”

BY DEBATES INDÍGENAS

Sally Ann García Taylor is a Raizal woman who studied Political Science and Government at the Universidad del Rosario, and a Master's degree in Caribbean Studies at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. She holds a PhD in Social Sciences with an emphasis in Social Anthropology from the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social Occidente (CIESAS-Mexico). She currently works as Deputy Director at the Ministry of Social Prosperity of Colombia.

José Miguel González: How have the Raizal ethnic people living in the Archipelago of San Andres, Providence and Santa Catalina been historically constituted?

Sally Ann García Taylor: The formation of the Raizal people is a product of the dynamics and interrelationships that occurred in a fragmented, but at the same time united territory, such as the Caribbean Sea and its islands. The Raizales are the descendants of the first settlement processes that took place between Europeans and Afro-Caribbean descendants, also by the black population that had been enslaved and that is mixed with Asian communities (such as Arabs and Hindus). In other words, we are talking about a sort of rhizome. That is why we speak of processes of creolization of the Caribbean peoples. So, in order to think about the Raizales, we must begin by recognizing this sum of parts and, at the same time, this melting pot.

JMG: Can we speak of a creolization process in the case of the Raizal people?

SAGT: Anyone would say that I am making an apology for miscegenation, but it is important to talk about the Caribbean and to understand that it is a specific native population; and that, in addition, there are Indigenous people that crossed in this interethnic matrix. All of them converged in the territory of the Archipelago giving the substratum to what we know today as the Raizal people. In some constructions that come from the political, but also from the academic, it has been given to understand that the Raizales are only circumscribed to the Afro- descendant part or to the part of the inheritance and influence of the Baptist Church because they were early architects of the processes of emancipation and liberation from slavery.

JMG: How is the link with the Colombian population?

SAGT: The Raizales are those born in the Archipelago and are the product of a process of differentiation to un-frame themselves from the influence of the Colombian settlers who came from the continental zone and who, when they began to settle in the island, called themselves Sanandresanos. Thus, the Raizal were forced to differentiate themselves from all these populations. Although the Raizal were still Colombians, we had to make a distinction: the identity of the natives was trying to be diluted by an enterprise of national integration promoted from the center of power in the country. At that time, the construction of the nation- state required a monolithic vision: we all had to be believers of the same God and speakers of the same language. And, of course, that vision did not represent us, nor did it include the Raizales.

IWGIA DebatesIndigenas Mexico Sally Noviembre2023 3The formation of the Raizal people is the result of the dynamics and interrelations that took place in the Caribbean Sea and its islands.

JMG: What has the historical relationship with the State been like?

SAGT: The Colombian State knew that it had some islands that were under its domain, that were under its tutelage, but it did not know them because of the geographical distance, because of the cultural distance and because the Raizal people speak English and have a closer relationship with the Caribbean. For the State the Raizales were inhospitable, disconnected and even 'uncivilized' territories. Consequently, it has been an oscillating relationship, between the presence and absence of the State. The conflictive point has always been that the State presence implied the imposition of a vision, without wanting to understand what the islands are like. When they finally wanted to understand them, it was to dominate them and not to recognize or accept them.

JMG: So, it was a conflictive relationship?

SAGT: When you start a relationship on those terms, the outcome will be more or less conflictual. At times there will be empathy and understanding about what the Raizales want, but there will also be times when the State does not respond to their demands. The separation movements that took place in the Caribbean also played a role in this. Let us remember that in 1903 Colombia lost a very large territory (present-day Panama) and this provoked the fear of also losing the islands of San Andres and Providence. Then, the fear of losing more territories led the Colombian State to not end up recognizing the other that is different. In this context, there have been critical moments of estrangement that have led us to think about the path of separation. At other times, they have sought to integrate us by accepting the differences and promoting public policies that respect the specific character of the territory.

JMG: Did the Raizal people think about separation?

SAGT: Indeed, at times, there have been reactions, sometimes strong and belligerent, from certain sectors of the Raizales, demanding separation from the Colombian State. But, at other times, they have also sought integration based on respect for differences, that is to say, a relationship between equals. It is important to point out that there is a foundational myth that we joined the Colombian State in a free and voluntary act: this myth hides the fact that we were already in its jurisdiction since always, since before the foundation of the State.

JMG: How did the Raizal people live the moments of integration?

SAGT: When the Colombian State tried to integrate the islands it was through measures that promoted a process of whitening and cultural assimilation where those who were considered different were going to become a minority. And that is what happened throughout the 20th century. This also generated a reaction and a mobilization of citizens demanding special measures to curb the accelerated population growth. Another way of undesired integration was the environmental devastation generated by the so-called "modernization": the State began to think of the islands as a sort of free port or as a territory to build an international airport. By designing an infrastructure of such magnitude, the territorial rights of the Raizal families living in the central area of the island were destroyed.

IWGIA DebatesIndigenas Mexico Sally Noviembre2023 2Sally Ann García Taylor during the Social Dialogues sessions for the development of public policy with the Raizal people and organizations on the island of San Andrés. Photo: Twitter

JMG: What have been the demands of the Raizal people?

SAGT: There has always been a persistent claim that the islands were not being treated fairly, that they did not have quality public services or that taxes were excessive. At the end of the 1980s, there were citizen mobilizations with the purpose of influencing the construction of the Political Constitution of 1991, which was a turning point for the Raizal people because before we did not know very well to which category of citizens we belonged. It was not until the 1991 Constitution that the Raizal people began to actively participate in a democracy. Until then, it was believed that the category of Afro-Colombian was enough to include the inhabitants of the Caribbean territories. This was not the case. The Colombian State thought: "There, we have already included them and there is no need to take a special look at them". On the contrary, there were such sensitive issues that allowed us to say that the Raizales needed a special look, as in the case of overpopulation. This is how we finally achieved the inclusion of article 310 of the Political Constitution, which recognizes the Archipelago as a special territory that needs special measures. Based on this recognition, we began to discuss what we mean by autonomy or what special management means.

JMG: Could you explain the current state of autonomy?

SAGT: In order to build autonomy, we must start from a communitarian and inclusive process that recognizes the different vectors that are part of the Raizal people. This process is heterogeneous both in its origin and in its development and, therefore, there are differing views between what our elders think, what the new generations think and what women think. This heterogeneity has been blurred within the construction of the Statute.

IWGIA DebatesIndigenas Mexico Sally Noviembre2023 4
Sally explains that the Raizal people feel that the islands are not treated with a certain level of justice.

JMG: How has progress been made with regard to the Raizal Autonomous Statute?

SAGT: The Raizal Statute is a battle horse to keep the attention of the State. And in that process, the 2012 Hague ruling was key, during the government of Juan Manuel Santos, through which the International Court decided in favor of Nicaragua and Colombia lost 75,000 km2 in the Caribbean Sea, including the surrounding marine areas of the Archipelago. The crisis generated by the ruling allowed the configuration of a new relationship between Colombia and the islands: the Raizales thought that there were no more excuses for not accepting our claims. That was the beginning of the process for the construction of a Statute.

JMG: What challenges exist for its formulation?

SAGT: An important issue is the border delimitation: what is the limit of the Archipelago? This question could not be answered and was postponed in the articles of the Statute for the simple reason that its drafting was not participatory. Only the members of the Raizal Authority, better known as the Raizal Council, made up of 22 Raizal members from the island of San Andres and 11 from the island of Providence, participated and they handled the issue behind closed doors. Although it was known that they were drafting a Statute, the process of its construction was not widely socialized.

JMG: And how was the relationship with the non-raizal communities during the drafting of the Statute?

SAGT: There were interethnic tensions among the Raizal who thought they had been displaced by the non-Raizal. On the other side, they asked themselves: "Could it be that the Statute means that the non-raizales have to leave the area? Some Raizales had a belligerent nature and said that those who were not from the territory should leave. There was a lot of resentment. How to manage a statute that harmonizes that? It is difficult because the Raizal Statute, beyond defending our culture and our territory, must also defend the Archipelago.

JMG: What is different about the government of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez regarding the relations with the Raizal people?

SAGT: This government has empathy for some of the demands of the Raizal people and it seems that the Statute could come out, that it could be approved. However, I believe that the State is falling short in the management of the social dialogue and in the way of dealing with the groups that in some way affect or do not affect the construction of this Statute. I say this as someone who is a scholar of the subject and not as someone who is part of the voices of the government. It is important to mention this, and here I am taking a very great distance. The Statute cannot remain only within the framework of the Raizales, it also must be socialized with the other ethnic groups living in the islands, since it is the defense of an entire territory and the special character it requires for its management. This seems to me that it is important to vindicate and recognize the basis of these claims and not to see it as a danger, but as something that can also improve the relationship with Colombia from the point of view of difference.

 
 

Tags: Indigenous Debates

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