Within the first three months, the Biden-Harris Administration has defined advancing racial justice, tackling global climate change, and furthering peace across the Western Hemisphere as key priorities. These priorities have been ratified in recent reports – particularly the Biden-Harris Administration’s Statement on Drug Policy Priorities for Year One, and the State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, and the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – and they set the expectation for President Biden’s Latin American policy.
In Colombia, as elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean, Afro-descendant communities have higher rates of poverty, lower educational attainment, and are underrepresented in positions of leadership.
Afro-Colombian communities have sometimes been marginalized not only in discussions about the internal conflict, but also in those regarding peacetime development and conservation initiatives. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country worldwide. Its forests are vital sites of carbon sequestration: preserving them is crucial to meeting global climate mitigation goals.
Today, deforestation, due to both illicit and sanctioned activities, poses a grave threat to the Amazon and the predominantly Afro-Colombian Pacific region. The response in protecting these vitals forest must include strengthening the implementation of Law 70. The law paved a legal pathway for the collective titling of these traditional territories. With the passage of this law in 1993, Colombia became the first country in Latin America to encode the right of a non-indigenous minority group to receive collective title.
Collective titling has strengthened the ability of Afro-Colombian communities to conserve and protect their lands. Multiple studies have found that collectively titled lands have, on average, lower deforestation rates than individually titled land– and, in some cases, than traditional national parks. Strengthening and funding collective titling can present a promising pathway of advancing not only peace and wellbeing but also climate and conservation goals.
In Colombia, as worldwide, racial justice, peace, climate mitigation, and biodiversity conservation are intertwined. During my term as the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development under President Juan Manuel Santos, we addressed these issues in tandem in the formulation of key policies such as Colombia’s Paris Commitments and the 2016 Peace Agreement. However, there is much more work to be done.
With Congressman Gregory Meeks, a strong Afro-Colombian ally, leading the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a party majority in Congress, President Biden can pursue a Latin America foreign policy that reflects the centrality of racial and ethnic minorities in advancing the region. As the case of Colombia demonstrates, investing in Afro-descendant communities throughout Latin America offers one means to fulfill these promises. * Luis Gilberto Murillo, former Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia (2016-2018) and a current Martin Luther King Fellow at MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative. Caroline White-Nockleby, research affiliate of