Leaders from the western Colombian department of Choco expressed their frustration Saturday about what they call a lack of response of the national government to a shut-down of the area by guerrilla group FARC.
The leaders were able to express their discontent during a security council held in the department capital of Choco that was attended by Colombia’s defense and interior ministers and and military commanders. The President, who usually leads emergency councils like this one, was not present.
“If this shut-down had happened in another department President Juan Manuel Santos and his military staff would have visited the area immediately,” Victor Copete of the Choco-Pacifico foundation said, repeating the words expressed by governor Luis Gilberto Murillo just a few days earlier.
The mayors and social leaders from the Pacific department demanded Bogota send more troops to Choco to curb the increasing insecurity caused by leftist rebel groups like the FARC, neo-paramilitary groups like the “Urabeños” and drug trafficking organizations like the “Rastrojos.”
Because of the lack of state presence, the locals said, the people live in constant fear and groups like the FARC can easily intimidate Chocoanos and enforce a so-called “armed strike” like the one that shut down the department the past week and earlier this year when the Urabeños imposed an armed strike.
The mayor of the Bajo Baudo municipality, located in an area strategic for drug trafficking, said his town only had 14 policemen and kidnapping was going up.
In response, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon vowed to send an extra 300 policemen to the department. Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras called on the people of Choco not to be intimidated by illegal armed groups like the FARC.