Local commerce in the largest port on Colombia’s Pacific coast ground to a halt Wednesday as business owners closed their storefronts and joined citizens protesting the city’s escalating violence, according to a regional news source.
Crime in Buenaventura, a coastal city in the western state of Valle del Cauca, has reached disastrous levels in recent months, as gangs fight to control the strategic port, now one of the primary export hubs for the country’s narcotics trade. In addition to the violence directly connected to narcotrafficking, criminal organizations such as “Los Urabeños” and “La Empresa,” an offshoot of the “Los Rostrojos” neo-paramilitary group, threaten many business owners with extortion.
Residents told the El Pais newspaper that the protest was an “historic date” in organizing the local population to address what the United Nations recently declared a humanitarian crisis.
The closing of storefronts was reportedly intented as a sign of solidarity among members of Buenaventura’s business environment against extortion. El Tiempo reported that while residents will acknowledge the role played by drug money in fueling the local economy, legitimate business owners are beginning to band together to resist criminal elements.
The Director of Buenaventura’s Chamber of Commerce Alexander Micolata reportedly said Wednesday, “This is the sum of our responsibilities that were not met by many local sectors, including our businesses. But the time has come for change.”
Taxi drivers and informal vendors joined bankers and business owners in protesting throughout the day , reported Caracol. Even members of Colombia’s National Tax Office took to the streets to protest the violence and insecurity in Buenaventura that is rapidly gaining national and international attention.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the Ministry of Defense to send almost 800 state security forces into the city to restore order and security last week after the discovery of four “chop houses” used by gangs to torture and dismember victims before disposing of their remains in the ocean.
Later, the president announced a number of “short term investments” to improve public functions such as the city’s university and aqueducts, as well as fund a program designed to incentivize young people to avoid criminal activity.
At the time of publication, neither the Buenaventura Mayor’s Office nor the local Chamber of Commerce could be reached for comment in this article.
- Comercio de Buenaventura cierra sus puertas como protesta contra la violencia (El Pais)
- Plantón en Buenaventura, día histórico y de resurrección para la ciudadanía (Caracol Radio)
- He dado la orden para que intervención de la Fuerza Pública en Buenaventura sea indefinida: Presidente Santos (President of the Republic)
- War for Cocaine Corridors Consumes Colombia’s Busiest Port (InSightCrime)
- Press Release (President’s Office)