Situation in war-torn west Colombia going from bad to worse: Ombudsman urges action

ELN guerrilla

Colombia’s western Choco province is increasingly torn apart by turf wars between left-wing guerrillas and their neo-paramilitary rivals, putting hundreds of people at extreme risk of displacement.

Choco is located in the northwestern part of Colombia and is predominantly home to afrocolombian and indigenous peoples. It is rich in valuable resources such as gold and platinum but is nevertheless the poorest region in the country.

Moreover, it is one of the places where Colombia’s drug-fueled armed conflict has left most victims and continues to generate victims on a massive scale.

Only last week, an entire village in the south of the province was abandoned amid warfare between the ELN rebel group and the AGC neo-paramilitary group, a.k.a. “Los Urabeños.”


Entire village displaced in west Colombia amid fighting between guerrillas and neo-paramilitaries

Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office sent out an alert on Monday saying the situation in that part of Choco has since worsened.

The Ombudsman urged authorities to provide immediate security to 1,200 inhabitants in the south of the department and along the Pacific coast who are vulnerable to the ongoing violence.

Earlier this year, the violence forced as many as 3,000 to flee their homes.


Clashes between ELN, Urabeños and army displace 3000 in west Colombia

Confinement is one of the main effects of the terror that civilians are currently faced with. Many residents stay hidden away in their own homes in fear of getting caught up in the conflict should they step outside.

This confinement is also worsened by combatants who leave dead bodies in the streets as part of their intimidation tactics.

Last week in a town called Lloró, a dead body appeared in the street with the intention of terrorizing the town.

Although 77 displaced families could return to their homes in Lloro with the support of the Colombian army, now people in other areas such as Novita, Rio Iro, El Litoral de San Juan and Nuqui are being victimized while there is no sign of any authority.

These areas have been subject to state neglect since the country’s colonization and the lack of military presence in such towns only reflects this negligence.

Colombia’s Obudsman wants to alert authorities to take action and establish military presence in these remote conflict zones.

Displacement and house confinement are just a fraction of the human rights violations that the Choco people have suffered.

According to the UN Human Rights Commission, 81% of people in the Choco don’t have access to basic necessities such as drinking water and primary education. Almost 72% of the population is a victim of the armed conflict and more than 65% live below the poverty line.

The appalling health system in the Choco has been labelled “a failure” in a report by indigenous groups in the area. There is only one hospital in the region’s capital Quibdo, but it’s on the brink of bankruptcy.

Furthermore, illegal mining activities have inflicted devastation to the environment that communities directly depend on for their food, water, hygiene and general health.


Mercury poisoning adds to humanitarian crisis in west Colombia

Todd Howland, Colombia’s representative of UN Human Rights Commission previously commented on state neglect on the Choco saying the Colombian state needed to treat the situation as a crisis “it is their obligation, not a question of solidarity.”

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