Afro-Colombians - Economy

In the Pacific region, economic activities are varied and include agriculture (principally cultivation of plantains and maize), the raising of pigs, fishing, hunting, and, in suitable areas, mining. Contract logging has been of growing importance since about the 1960s: independent cutters sell their produce to intermediaries, on whom they depend for credit. Some large national and transnational timber companies also employ local labor directly. Since the 1970s mining has become increasingly mechanized, with small gasoline-driven pumps and minidredgers widely available on credit. Multinationals have used large-scale dredging techniques in very specific zones since the 1900s. In the southern Pacific region, intensive capitalist shrimp farming and the cultivation of African palms have also made inroads during the 1980s, causing environmental degradation: the former is destroying the mangrove swamps, an ecologically specialized niche, and the latter is causing more generalized deforestation.

Landholding in this region is often not legally regulated. Where individual private property titles do not exist, Black communities are held by the state to be squatters on public lands; this makes their displacement by capitalist entrepreneurs all the easier. A collective system of ownership has been documented for the southern part of the region—and seems more widespread—in which a consanguineal kinship group tracing ancestry to a common ancestor exploits a given territory that has a communally worked mine, plus family mines and agricultural plots. People can move from one territory to another by activating kinship links. Men and women both work in mining and agriculture with no sharp division of labor. Generally, women are very economically active outside the domestic sphere.

In the Cauca region, the growth of the sugarcane industry from the 1930s has meant intense pressure on peasant landholding, which here is by legal title. Smallholders (who may be women) still cultivate cocoa and coffee for regular cash income alongside subsistence crops. Labor is organized along kinship lines within a broadly defined kindred. There is no sharply defined sexual division of labor. Peasants also work in the sugarcane industry for cash wages, and increasing pressure on land has intensified this and migration to the cities. In Cali, Medellín, and Bogotá, they join many Black migrants from the Pacific region working chiefly as domestic servants (women migrants outnumber men), in the construction industry, and in informal occupations, although there are small numbers of Black students and professionals.

In the Caribbean region, land-extensive cattle ranches have dominated since colonial times and have employed Blacks and mestizos as sharecroppers and laborers. Families may combine agriculture on privately held land with sharecropping and wage labor in rural areas and/or the cities. For maritime Black settlements, fishing is an important source of subsistence and cash income. In certain areas, tourism also generates income—not only in cities, where Black people may work as boatmen, for example, or selling food, but in more rural areas, where tourists from the interior of the country come to rent beach houses. From 1900 until World War II, the United Fruit Company's banana plantations near Santa Marta employed Black laborers (some of them from the West Indies). In the 1960s a banana boom began in the west of the region, near the Gulf of Urabá, and Blacks migrated from the Pacific region to work there, usually as drainage-ditch diggers.

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