It is a place of peace, but it looks like an open-air prison. We are in Puente Nayero, a sector protected by the Colombian Army in the La Playita neighborhood, in the port city of Buenaventura.
“It is a street, but we feel imprisoned, because for us, going to the side, left, right, or whatever, we are always going to face a risk. So, we feel confined, imprisoned in our own territory, that is serious” explains Jhony Viveros, community leader.
Some 2,000 people live in this poor and marginal area condemned not to go outside its limits if they do not want to deal with the gangs, which terrorize a large part of the population of this town of 300,000 inhabitants, inhabited mainly by Afro-Colombians. The misery and lack of opportunities have been primed with the youngest:
“In Buenaventura, we young people are victims, but we are also perpetrators. We young people cannot ignore that it is young people, due to the lack of opportunities, who today are swelling the ranks of many criminal groups,” adds Yudi Angulo, also a neighborhood leader.
During the years of the civil war, Buenaventura suffered from the blows of the guerrillas and paramilitary groups. At that time, savage executions and live dismemberment of the victims were frequent. When peace arrived, drug traffickers, who are also involved in kidnapping and extortion, took over, although now their victims are quietly disappearing. In both periods, the corpses ended up in the sea:
– “People saw their heads, hands or thrown in garbage bags floating in the sea, in the coastal area. They no longer used practice or buried them. They are already totally disappearing in areas many kilometers away so that no one else will hear from them again “, explains the Bishop of Buenaventura, Ruben Darío Jaramillo
A dispute between gangs has left almost fifty dead so far this year. Another 13 people have disappeared, adding to a list of almost 800 people in the last 20 years. Everyone senses that they are in the mangroves or estuaries, a remote area with difficult access. A small chapel honors their memory so that they do not fall into oblivion. It is coordinated by former priest Adriel Ruiz:
– “The estuary continues to be a macabre place to murder, to disappear people, there are current disappearances this year. Many of them are committed here in the neighborhoods, many of them say that the groups take them in boats and it is presumed that they are towards these estuaries (mangroves) “, confirms Adriel Ruiz.
Social, civil and religious leaders in the area believe that the mangroves are a gigantic mass grave for the victims of the violence that plagues the region. Paradoxically, Buenaventura, which has been suffering blockades from activists from the anti-government movement for weeks, is a prosperous port, through which 35% of Colombia’s foreign trade transits. However, the wealth it generates does not affect the well-being of its population. Before the pandemic, half of its inhabitants already lived below the poverty line.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.