Protesters on Tuesday called for the Colombian government to create an exclusive fund to tackle pressing public needs as they work towards a solution to the civil strike in the country’s largest port city Buenaventura.
The protesters have established eight points that they want the national government to help address. One of the most pertinent points is potable water, which only is available for a few hours per day in many sectors of the city. Another issue is healthcare; the city’s hospital has been closed for two years, and it isn’t planned to be open again until the end of 2017.
Buenaventura protest spokesperson Narcilo Rocero said that once the government agrees to the fund’s creation, the civic strike, which has lasted 16 days and shut down the country’s largest port, could be lifted immediately.
The strike began over two weeks ago when tens of thousand of locals in the Pacific port city took to the street to protest decades of neglect and abandonment on the part of the National government.
Last week, hundreds of Buenaventura inhabitants escalated the protests and blocked the entrance to the city’s port, refusing to allow any truck to come either in or out.
The widespread protests have not shown signs of calming down yet, even though the mayor’s office issued a decree declaring a halt to public demonstrations.
On Monday, a video featuring local artists “Buenaventura No Se Rinde (Buenaventura doesn’t surrender)” was released, and has since gone viral.
Fed up with state neglect, Buenaventura shuts down Colombia’s largest port, hitting Bogota where it hurts
Despite the fact that Buenaventura’s port generates $1.8 billion in revenue for the Colombian government each year, only 3% of that money ends up in the city of Buenaventura.
The city has long suffered extreme poverty; half of Buenaventura’s 400,000 residents have no public access to safe drinking water. Furthermore, the city suffers from extreme violence related to drug trafficking and corruption levels considered exceptional even for Colombian standards.
Local corruption is also a pressing problem for Buenaventura’s residents. The city’s three former mayors are in prison for corruption, the current mayor is investigated, and even the former prison director is in prison for corruption.
While the protest started out peaceful, it turned violent on May 19 when police opened fire at protesters and locals went on a looting rampage.
Before negotiations resumed Monday in the morning, Rosero told local radio station LaFM that while the government was “opening up,” and that the presence of UN delegate Todd Howland had also contributed to “change [things] a little.”
The strike leader said that up to the moment there have been 80 injuries during the strike. Rocero denounced the heavy-handed tactics being used by Colombia’s anti-riot ESMAD unit “where they’re entering homes, and gassing the population.”
“There was one [protester] who lost an eye, there are various injured children,” said Rocero. “We don’t understand the drastic repression against a population that has some of the greatest social problems in the country.”
Video sobre accionar del ESMAD anoche en Buenaventura. Reiteramos pedido de escuchar justos reclamos de población y limitar uso de la fuerza pic.twitter.com/OWakRmtey8
— José Miguel Vivanco (@JMVivancoHRW) May 29, 2017