Colombian port city is home to corruption, death, and the impoverished

Buenaventura, a Colombian port city with a population of about 300,000, has emerged as one of the poorest and most dangerous urban centers in South America.

Buenaventura is an important port for both legitimate business and the cocaine trade. In 2005, one-third of all cocaine captured along the Pacific coast was captured in and around Buenaventura. Corruption plagues Buenaventura, even prompting President Alvaro Uribe to demand the arrest of the city’s top security official for taking bribes in 2006.

Cocaine dealers and traffickers combine forces with rebel groups and demobilized paramilitary veterans to fight the overwhelmed 2,000 soldiers and police officers that patrol the area. Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) knocked out the city’s power with a grenade attack a year ago last Friday. These groups control the slums, where young people are recruited to be foot soldiers, informers, or hit men. Killings in this city rose by 30 percent in 2006, giving Buenaventura Colombia’s highest homicide rate (144 per 100,000). This is seven times the rate in Bogotá, the nation’s capital, and twenty-four times the rate of New York City. Two-hundred and forty-four people have been killed so far this year.

Homes here are made of cinderblocks and discarded wood. Fresh water is obtained from rusty barrels that collect drops from metal roofs. The unemployment rate is 28 percent, forcing many to turn to the cocaine trade. The city has a large refugee population: over 42,000 people, mostly Afro-Colombians, have arrived since 1998. Some nongovernmental groups say that Afro-Colombians make up a quarter of the Colombian population. Over 80 percent of Buenaventura’s residents are black, and live on less than three dollars a day. Critics say that authorities have neglected Buenaventura’s problems because Afro-Colombians do not receive sufficient federal attention.

For more info, see:

“Cocaine Wars Make Port Colombia’s Deadliest City” New York Times: 22 May 2007

“Colombia Port City Is Battleground” Washington Post: 28 December 2006

“Colombia City Power Grid Attacked” BBC News: 20 May 2006.

Homemade Bomb Kills Six in Juliaca, Peru

A bomb made of dynamite and nails concealed in a backpack exploded in a market in Juliaca, Peru on Friday, May 18th. The blast occurred around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. local time, officials say. The blast killed 6 and wounded 48 attending a 40 year anniversary celebration. Juliaca is just over 500 miles south of Lima, Peru’s capital, near the Bolivian border.

Officials have made contradictory statements: one claimed it was merely fireworks for the celebration, but local police have stated that they have not ruled out a terrorist attack.

The influence of Peru’s rebel group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) has decreased in recent years. Sendero Luminoso was responsible for massacres, bombings, and assassinations in the 1980s and 1990s. Their leader, Abimael Guzman is serving a life sentence after being captured in 1992. It is worth noting, however, that this terrorist group made their first armed attack almost to the day over 27 years ago, when it burned ballot boxes before a presidential election on May 17th, 1980.

“Homemade Bomb Kills 6, Wounds 48 in Peru” New York Times: 19 May 2007.

“Homemade Bomb Kills 6 during celebration in Peru” 19 May 2007.

“Blast kills 6 in southern Peru” BBC News: 20 May 2007.