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The Relationships to Sustain Violence. Disjunction Between Port and Social Development

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The relationships to sustain violence. Disjunction Between Port and Social Development.

“the bad guys took advantage of him, they played with his body,

 and there it goes another one that fall in the port”[1]

Port cities have typically been identified as places for creativity, innovation, and economic development. This may give a general perception of a prosperous relationship between the port and the city when they are connected to global trade, but this is not always the case. For instance, literature has already identified situations in which the waterfront becomes a place of undesirable things such as crime.

Additionally, there may be few cases in which the port is developed and receives high levels of investment while the city suffers from abandonment and high levels of violence. That is the case of Buenaventura, the main port of Colombia, where the control of the land and the port has triggered a series of violent acts perpetrated by different stakeholders prioritizing their economic interests on the expense of the rights of the inhabitants of the city. The paper seeks to understand how violence in Buenaventura has hindered its development. The paper argues that the main factor to understand its current state is the relationship among the stakeholders (such as illegal groups, government, and companies) that have made the violence to last over generations.

The main reason of conflicts in most regions of the country has been the fight over the control of land. In the case of Buenaventura, its inhabitants claim the control of the territory, particularly the waterfront, as it was built by their ancestors. With its architectonic, social, and cultural aspects, the waterfront constitutes essential part of the identity of the black communities[2] in the pacific coast (Centro Nacional de Memoria Historica, 2017). On the other hand, the port needs further investment and extension to enhance its privileged position and to improve its competitiveness in South America. This would require the relocation of hundreds of people and total transformation of the waterfront[3] destroying what the community perceives as their heritage. Furthermore, the community opposes these projects even stronger as they realize that port activities have hardly benefited them. In addition, illegal groups (paramilitary, traffickers, and guerrilla) fight among themselves to control the principal routs of drug trade, which has caused high levels of murders, displacement, disappearances, and terror in the city.

It seems unreasonable how the government fails to protect the territory where the most important port of the country is located. The main explanation can be that it does not intervene in the conflict because that helps to pursue its development agenda -megaprojects in the port and the waterfront - with less resistance, less legal procedures, and paying irrisory prices for the land to its owners. In fact, leaders of the black community claim that the State not only has not protected the city, but also has financed and enforced violence[4]. Thus, although violence has hindered the progress of the city, the main factor to explain this phenomenon is the relationship among stakeholders that sustain that violence.      

Illegal groups

In Buenaventura the main illegal actors have been the guerrilla (controlling mainly rural areas), paramilitary (mostly in the urban area), and to a less degree drug traffickers. Particularly paramilitary have toughened violence during the last decades and are the most powerful force in the city nowadays. This distribution of the land may explain the conflict in the waterfront as the guerrilla controls the river transit of cocaine but paramilitary blocks the entrance to the port (Espinosa-Bonilla, 2011).

The port is in the middle of the American continent and it is one of the closest to Asian markets and close to Panama and connected to the center of Colombia by many rivers. The port is responsible for 60% of foreign trade in Colombia including 100% of sugar and 80% coffee exports (Meza, 2008), and one of the main corridors for drug trade. Illegal groups compete to control the shipment, circulation, transport, and export of drugs, guns, cocaine supplies, in addition to charge for goods, construction, and other port activities as a type of tax (Espinosa-Bonilla, 2011). To sustain this control, illegal groups have made links with civil servants from the DIAN (taxes control agency) and customs police. Although everyone is aware of these relations, no one can denounce because they are a very powerful cartel that threaten all citizens (Noticias Uno, 2018).

There are many casualties when illegal groups fight among themselves for the control on the streets in the urban area of the city. Additionally, they deliberately torture and kill inhabitants to exercise social control, as part of their ‘security’ services portfolio for companies. Thus, they persecute union and social leaders, journalists, and peace makers or anyone against their violent acts[5]. The ones that have suffered the most from this policy of terror may have been rural residents that have been displaced by the guerrilla, escape to the urban space but there they are accused of being related with guerrilla members, generating a second displacement within the city or forcing them to move out of it (Espinosa-Bonilla, 2011). Overall, Buenaventura has ranked many times as the most violent city of the country and the one with the largest population internally displaced people (Human Rights Watch, 2014). In 2006 there were 485 people murdered and 38 terrorist attacks. Between 2006 and 2009 there were 357 cases of forced disappearance which have been increasing during the last years. In addition, just in 2013 more than 13.000 Buenaventura residents were displaced (Espinosa-Bonilla, 2011). However, these figures may be considerably higher as most people avoid denouncing and because corrupt civil servants hide information or delay justice processes.

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