Buenaventura’s mayor said Monday that incitement by local politicians, not the police opening fire at unarmed protesters, spurred an outburst of violence in Colombia’s main port city on Friday.
Mayor Eliecer Arboleda claimed on Monday that comments by local political figures spurred residents to engage in violence that killed at least two people and left several injured as tensions led to widespread looting across the city of Buenaventura.
“By the phrases that they ran in social networks and local media they put the municipal government and some members of the community to fight,” he told reporters.
Locals, who have denied their mayor’s authority, have said on social media violence erupted after police unexpectedly opened fire at the protesters, almost immediately talks broke down.
After talks with the national government over the chronic neglect and rampant poverty and violence of the port city broke down, days of peaceful protests turned into a revolt.
According to locals, Colombia’s feared anti-riot unit ESMAD began opening fire at protesters without visible provocation, sparking a violent response. Until then, locals from all ages had massively been taking to a street to denounce their living deplorable conditions.
The mayor claimed that “certain politicians” will be investigated for allegedly inciting the violence that brought the city to a standstill on Friday.
“The authorities have the names and I will not say them so as not to torpedo the investigation,” he added.
In the aftermath of Friday’s outbreak of violence and looting, the mayor banned public manifestations and imposed a curfew on the city, but was ignored. The mayor’s three predecessors are already in prison for corruption and also the current mayor is facing corruption allegations.
Locals disobeyed the order and on Saturday resumed their peaceful protests as they desperately demand action from the national government to improve living conditions.
In spite of hosting the country’s largest port, Buenaventura has long suffered extreme poverty due to rampant corruption and state neglect.
Out of a city with a population of 400,000, half of Buenaventura’s residents have no access to drinking water.
Despite these clearly apparent problems, the mayor claims that the city is the subject of government investment and is suffering due to problems dating back four decades.
“The National Government is making an investment in Buenaventura and I recognize it. What happens is that Buenaventura comes with a problem from 40 years ago,” he claimed.
Last week, the city’s inhabitants had enough and joined a civic strike that had been called in the neighboring Choco province.
The violent outbreak in Buenaventura followed decades of state neglect, extreme violence related to drug trafficking and corruption levels considered exceptional even for Colombian standards.
Talks with the national government have since resumed, but so far without result.