Schools, public transport and shops in west Colombia resumed activities on Thursday after government promises to end chronic state neglect in the Pacific Choco province.
The locals went on a massive strike little over a week ago, fed up with the state abandonment that has submerged the province in poverty and violence.
However, after government promises to invest in road infrastructure, healthcare facilities, water supply and other basic necessities in Colombia’s poorest province, the strike leaders called on their fellow “chocoanos” to resume work.
In spite of being tremendously rich in natural resources, Choco’s residents have been plagued by extreme levels of poverty.
More than one third of the population lives in extreme poverty. In fact, only a 35% minority does not live below the poverty line.
Moreover, because of the absence of the state in much of the province, these territories have been taken over by drug trafficking, paramilitary and guerrilla groups that terrorize the population.
Concretely, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos vowed to prevent the closing of the province’s only hospital located in the capital Quibdo.
Additionally, the government promised that within two months a new water supply channel to Quibdo would be in operation to provide the inhabitants’ access to potable water.
The government also promised to guarantee the effective construction of ten more water supply lines. These water supply lines are already under construction, but like with many corruption-plagued public projects in Choco they appear infinite projects.
The national government also promised to increase ongoing efforts to expand the city’s electricity grid and provide electricity to five municipalities.
Of Choco’s 30 municipalities, 11 were never connected to the national electricity grid.
In order to improve security conditions in the province, the government promised to strengthen the military unit active in the area and increase the number of police posts.
Choco has been torn apart by violence between guerrillas and paramilitary successors engaged in a turf war over the control of local drug trafficking routes to the Pacific coast.
The government concessions followed an escalation of social unrest in Colombia’s poorest and predominantly black province.
Decades, if not centuries, of state neglect has converted Choco into a virtually lawless region with poverty levels exceeding 60% and a shocking child mortality rate. Approximately two out of five of babies born in Choco die before reaching their first birthday
While government and province delegates were negotiating, tens of thousands of people took part in marches to support their negotiators, urge the national government to take their demands seriously and end the state neglect that has brought the province to its knees.