Visiting U.S. President Barack Obama Sunday joined his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos and pop superstar Shakira at a ceremony in Cartegena to hand over land titles to descendants of the country’s runaway African slaves.
The ceremony outside a church in Cartagena’s old colonial district took place on the sidelines of the Summit of Americas which both Obama and Santos attended along with 29 other democratically elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere.
The attendance of the first black American president at the event was seen by White House officials as having high symbolic significance, given the large Afro-Colombian population in the Cartagena region.
Representatives of some 1,000 Afro-Colombian families descended from runaway slaves received ownership titles to more than 3,350 hectares (8,200 acres) of ancestral land they occupy.
The families hail from the nearby towns of San Basilio de Palenque and La Boquilla, Afro-Colombian communities that do not have land titles.
“This is a historic day — decades, even centuries in the making. For generations, many of you have lived on these lands, toiled these lands, raised your families on these lands,” Obama said to loud applause from the largely Afro-Colombian crowd, that included 80 children.
And now, from this day forward, you will at long last hold title to this land — La Boquilla and Basilio de Palenque.”
San Basilio de Palenque, located in a jungle area near Cartagena, was founded centuries ago by runaway slaves. Its residents speak a unique local language, called Palenquero, derived from African languages.
It is the only surviving palenque, or enclave that served as refuge for escaped slaves in the 17th century, and was declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
La Boquilla is a small fishing village outside of Cartagena.
Cartagena was Spain’s largest slave trading port in the Americas during the colonial era.
“Today, we gather in a port city where so many of those Africans arrived in chains. Like their brothers and sisters in both our countries and across this hemisphere, they endured unimaginable cruelty,” Obama said. “But in their suffering — which revealed man’s capacity for evil — we also see the spirit of this day — man’s capacity for good, for perseverance, for healing; the belief that we can overcome.”
The White House said the event marked an important milestone in Colombia’s efforts to build a durable and just peace, and to recognize historically marginalized communities.”
Colombia has South America’s second largest black population after Brazil, and the largest in the Spanish-speaking Americas, but the black community here is much less well known than the one its Portuguese-speaking neighbor.
Experts estimate that Colombians with African ancestry, including those mixed with white or Native American heritage, comprise about 20 percent of the country’s population of 45 million people.
Source: The China Post