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: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/22/world/americas/22colombia.html 22 May 2007
“Colombia Port City Is Battleground” Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/28/AR2006122800636.html 28 December 2006
“Colombia City Power Grid Attacked” BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5001442.stm 20 May 2006.