At least 112 members of a single family were forced from their homes last week by criminal groups in Colombia’s largest Pacific port, according to the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office.
Fifty-two minors and 32 women were reportedly among those displaced from their homes and businesses in Buenaventura’s La Floresta neighborhood due to threats and extortions from “La Empresa,” a gang currently fighting the “Los Urabeños” neo-paramilitary group for control of the Port of Buenaventura and its increasingly profitable drug trade to Asia and the United States.
According to a report released Friday by the the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, the local ombudsman has been sending assistance to the displaced family and has issued a formal request for Colombia’s child services to intervene on behalf of the affected minors, many of whom apparently have respiratory conditions.
With the help of the Ombudsman’s Office, the family is being relocated to a municipality roughly three hours away from Buenaventura, the largest port on the Colombian Pacific and the scene of a worsening human rights crisis several years in the making.
Located in the conflict-stricken state of Valle del Cauca near the border with Choco — the birthplace of Los Urabeños and the now-defunct AUC paramilitary bloc from which it stems — Buenaventura has become one of the most violent cities in Colombia. Its port, through which roughly 60% of Colombia’s international trade passes, is the point of export for international drug trafficking routes to Central America and to the increasingly profitable southeast Asian markets.
Recently, authorities began uncovering a series of “chop houses” where the warring drug factions that control much of the city dismembered their victims. Extortion, restricted movement, kidnapping, theft and aggravated violence are constant threats for much of the population.
A combination of institutional neglect and unchecked violence has seen unemployment rates reach 60%, with as many as 40% of the city’s some 360,000 inhabitants considered below the extreme poverty line. A recent Human Rights Watch attributes the situation to structural racism, among other factors, pointing out that officials such as the local ombudsman have been warning of the precipitous violence and poverty now afflicting the city for years.
The director of the Human Rights Watch in the Americas visited Buenaventura on Sunday in an effort to maintain international pressure on the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. The Santos government has announced various short term investments in the city, considered a strategic hub for the president’s free trade policies in the Pacific, but no comprehensive solutions have been forthcoming.
Human Rights Watch Director Jose Vivanco was said to have visited a self-declared humanitarian safe zone, a community initiative to buffer residents from the violence afflicting their city.
At the time this article was published, the Human Rights Watch was unavailable for comment about the visit or the present efficacy of the emergency measures put in place to guarantee security in the city.
- Insólito desplazamiento de una familia entera en Buenaventura (National Ombudsman)
- Un portón para cuidar la zona humanitaria en Buenaventura (El Tiempo)