The story of Geiler Romaña

Geiler Romaña is 38 years old. He was born in the Pacific Colombian region and is one of around a million afro-descendants in Colombia forced from their land because of violent clashes between competing armed groups and forced evictions.

Geiler Romaña urges unity to end the crime of racism and racial discrimination - © Jean marc Frere/UN PhotoGeiler Romaña remembers vividly the day paramilitary groups came to his village and took over his family’s home while they carried out a military operation. He also remembers news reaching them of the deaths of 119 people in a nearby village. The people, all of African descent, had taken refuge from fighting between paramilitaries and guerrillas in a church. They died when a cylinder bomb was thrown at the church.

In the face of the on-going violence Romaña’s family decided to move away. They ended up in Bogota, Colombia’s capital.

Life in Bogota, a big city with a different climate and culture from their original home place was really difficult. They had no money, no jobs – nothing to support their most basic needs.

“We had to start all over again, with the hostility of the residents who looked at us for what we were, foreign people who had come to invade their place, with whom they would surely have to share the little they had. It was very difficult to begin again, but we had to stand it in order to protect our lives,” he says.

Confronted with this reality, Romaña says he had no choice but to become an activist. 

In 2003, he took to the country’s Attorney General the story of his two brothers who had been arrested and maltreated by the police on several occasions. Neither had ever committed a crime. Because of their mistreatment, Romaña documented the experiences of other young afro-descendant black men who reported similar experiences. “This situation,” he says, “does not often happen with white or mixed race people.”

Afro-descendant children also live with this racism in their schools from their classmates and in some cases, from their teachers. Romaña’s own son was subjected to racial taunts. “My son had told me, Dad, I don’t want to go to school because the children call me “negrito, slave, chocolatin” and say that “we are superior to the blacks”.”

In relating his story to participants at the Durban Review Conference, Romaña urged unity to end the crime of racism and racial discrimination. His personal experience, he said, is just one amongst thousands of cases which are lived daily by afro-descendants and other ethnic groups in Colombia.

8 June, 2009