CARTAGENA, Colombia — Before leaving Colombia, President Obama spent some time with the people of Cartagena, participating in a cultural event to recognize the historically marginalized Afro-Colombian communities and to grant the descendents of slaves the formal title to their land.
“This a historic day, decades, even centuries in the making,” Obama said. “For generations many of you have lived on these lands, toiled these lands, raised your families on these lands and now, from this day forward, you will at long-last hold title to this land.”
Standing alongside President Santos of Colombia and singer Shakira in the Plaza de San Pedro, Obama reflected on his own ancestry.
“Early in my presidency, my family and I visited Ghana in West Africa and we visited the historic Cape Coast Castle and I’ll never forget my two young daughters, the descendents of Africans and African-Americans, looking out through the door of no return where so many Africans began their forced journey to this hemisphere,” he said.
“Today we gather in a port city where so many of those Africans arrived in chains,” he said. “Like their brothers and sisters in both our countries and across this hemisphere they endured unimaginable cruelty, 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 United States has allocated $61 million to improve the quality of life in predominantly indigenous communities and provide support to Colombia’s land restitution efforts.
“Giving you and so many Afro-Colombian communities title to this land is part of ending this nation’s long conflict,” Obama explained. “It gives you a new stake in a new Colombia. Not far from here your ancestors were brought and sold. Going forward, Colombia can realize its full potential by empowering all of its people, no matter what you like or where you come from.”
Shakira, who has a foundation that runs early childhood programs in the communities, introduced the event, but did not showcase her famous singing voice. The president spoke before a group of rather rambunctious children enrolled in her program, but praised their patience nonetheless.
“I am especially thankful to all the children because they are sitting very still and well-behaved and I want to get lessons for my own children from the parents and teachers,” he said, as the children continued to squirm.
After his brief remarks, Obama worked the ropeline, interacting with the Colombian people face-to-face for the first time during his visit to Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas. The president then headed straight to the airport and back to Washington.