Contract: January 2020-October 2020
Funds: USD 4,500
Project Implementer: Baru Community Council
Collaborators: Observatory of Ethnic and Peasant Territories OTEC-Pontifical Javerina University, Attorney General, Colombia’s Coalition for Black Communities (PCN), Silvio Garces, Dejusticia
Beneficiaries: The Afro-descendent community of Barú
In 2020, RRI coalition successfully restored the collective titling of the Afro-descendant community in the Barú Island off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia. After the Land Agency ’s abrupt cancellation of its land titling process, the Barú Community Council — alongside RRI, OTEC Javeriana University, the PCN and Dejusticia; and Afro-descendant legal expert Silvio Garces–successfully restarted the titling process through a drawn-out legal battle.
The Baru Afro-descendant community has inhabited the island of Barú since the 16th century, over 200 years before Colombia achieved independence from Spain. The community of Barú was considered a Palenque, or sovereign territory, describing the towns created by enslaved Africans who escaped slavery. On May 19, 1851, five “baruleros” bought their land as a collective property on behalf of the community. The property was ratified in 1957 by the public notary of the city of Cartagena. Since its founding, the Afro Colombian community in Barú has maintained its presence, but not without conflict over its land use and rights.
To affirm and protect its rights to this land, the Baru community council filed a claim for collective titling before the National Land Agency (ANT) on June 30, 2017, which included areas across the former Palenque and the island under its customary use (a total of 2,476 hectares). The titling process finally began in December 2018, but was abruptly revoked in April 2019 by the ANT.
The wrongful cancelation of the process led to the launch of a grueling legal struggle by RRI and its collaborators ggle against the ANT to restore the process and protest the violation of the community’s fundamental rights to their territory. The RRI coalition was composed of the Barú Community Council, OTEC-Javerina University, the Attorney General, PCN and its leader and lawyer Silvio Garces (who helped create Colombia’s Law 70 in 1993 for the collective rights of Afro-descendant in Colombia), Dejusticia and RRG staff, who together embarked on a legal battle to fight the ANT’s decision.
After a series of court decisions and appeals in favor and against the collective titling, in 2020 RRI’s coalition successfully achieved a definitive court ruling to restore the administrative process to continue the collective titling for the Barú community. The ANT initiated the collective titling in August 2021. Since the victory, RRI has continued to support the Baru community in the update of its cartographic and community information for the titling process, and internal land arrangements to ensure a complete and successful titling.
The Baru collective title is a powerful symbol of the reaffirmation of the territorial rights of Afro-descendant peoples in Colombia. The success of this strategy paves the way for other Afro-descendant community struggles in the Colombian Caribbean.