By Martin Elías Pacheco, EL ESPECTADOR, February 9, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo, Bishop of Buenaventura, talked with El Espectador about the situation in the municipality, located in Valle del Cauca, where the confrontations among the criminal gangs have occasioned the displacement of 856 people in recent weeks.
The humanitarian crisis that’s being experienced in Buenaventura because of the continually simmering confrontations between Los Shotas (The HotShots) and Los Espartanos (The Spartans), subdivisions of the La Local criminal gang. Organizations and social, political, and religious leaders are calling for an urgent humanitarian and social intervention by the municipality, because the homicides, the lockdowns, and the displacements are getting worse. On Monday, February 8, for example, Deiner Castillo, a young artist in Buenaventura, was murdered, in an event in which eight other people were injured. There had been armed confrontations the night before.
According to data collected by the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes), on February 4 there was a massive displacement of at least thirty families from the Juan XXIII, Litoral, Caguán, El Otoño, La Unión, and Buenos Aires neighborhoods. In addition, verified data from municipal officials show that the new crisis of violence has already resulted in the displacement of 112 families, which translates into 856 people who have been forced to flee. In spite of the direct effects that the violence has precipitated, the government’s response has not been clear, and the communities have taken to demonstrating in the streets in Buenaventura, Cali, and Tumaco, demanding their right to live and have peace in the region.
For the people of Buenaventura, the problem is based on the lack of opportunities: there’s no access to education or employment, and that results in the absence of planning for a life of dignity. “The issue is the opportunities. There is no work. Sadly, many armed actors can take advantage of the reality that Buenaventura is experiencing. They take advantage of the vulnerability of the young people, using it to make them part of initiatives that don’t contribute to peace,” explains Leonard Rentería, a young leader in the municipality. Codhes also identifies this reality as a risk. “We are worried about the effect of the violence on the young people. Because of their precarious social and economic situation, they are especially vulnerable to recruitment and to being used by the armed groups in their strategies for territorial control,” maintains the organization.
And even though one of the historic methods adopted by the government has been to boost the Armed Forces, that strategy has produced very few results for the communities: “Even though the Police are present, for a lot of people, that doesn’t represent security at all. Deiner’s murder is an example; he was killed in a place that was close to a considerable number of police. The people continue to be afraid because they don’t see the police agencies furnishing guarantees of protection of their lives,” Rentería adds. Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo, Bishop of Buenaventura, talked with El Espectador about the situation in the port city, and he expressed serious doubts about the work of the Armed Forces in opposing the advances of the illegal armed actors.
How do you see the work of the Armed Forces in the municipality?
What we need in Buenaventura is the government, which is a whole: local governments, provincial, and national. The people are feeling that there are no authorities, that the authorities are the bandits that are out in the street with their guns, ruling over the territories. They are the authorities here. With regard to the Armed Forces, we need to perceive a government that is present and supportive, so that the people can see it taking all-encompassing actions. But that isn’t happening; here the illegal armed groups are in charge. They aren’t the majority, but they are causing great harm.
You have said that there is no confidence in the Armed Forces, in large part because there are serious problems of corruption.
That is sad, because the Armed Forces are here to defend the citizens’ honor, their property, and their lives. But many of them are doing the wrong thing and allying themselves with the gangsters. They buy them with money. The gangsters know that they can win when they buy off the police, and nothing can be done about it. Then the citizens, seeing that, become demoralized. There will have to be a very significant change in personnel, making it clear that not everybody is willing to go along with the gangsters’ whims.
There is also dissatisfaction because of the government’s minimal attention and its security councils, that don’t solve anything.
We have so many security councils, every time something happens, there is another security council. They bring in a few more police, they go out and capture some of the criminals, but the problems continue. It’s like putting rags with lukewarm water on a fever that’s caused by an infection. In this case, the infection would be the drug trafficking and the criminal gangs. What that’s leading to is that the community loses all hope and loses confidence in the agencies.
Is there generalized fear?
The criminal gangs are very strong, they are connected to the drug traffic, with groups that are outside the law, with drug cartels, and they are the gangsters that are in the neighborhoods, on the corners, in the communities, in the towns (veredas). They are dividing up the plunder. They are the ones that stimulate activities like extortion, homicides, and lockdowns, and they are the ones that make the decisions. That is what causes pain to a community that is living in fear and that demands the presence of the government.
What are they asking the authorities to do as an effective intervention in Buenaventura?
It can’t just be the responsibility of the national government, because they can’t do anything without the districts. We have to get them both going. Those that are here in the municipality have to make a decision to confront the gangs; they haven’t done that, instead they have joined them and are hoping that everything will just calm down. But the snake still stays here, sticking out its poisoned fangs and then lying still. And that’s how it keeps on doing damage to destroy community life. We need to have the intervention of the district, provincial, and national governments.
Traditionally, the local mayors’ offices have ducked the problems. None have faced them. For one thing, because they don’t have the capacity; the criminals and the gangsters are more powerful than local governments.
As you see it, from your work as Bishop, what is happening with the communities?
The people are terrified. They are afraid of the bullets. On Sunday, February 7, for example, there were bursts of rifle fire in three neighborhoods for several hours. There is no guarantee of safety. They bring the police, and when the situation calms down they go away and we are left in the hands of the criminals. In Buenaventura they ought to be searching every vehicle that comes in, as well as all of the boats that are docked, but that isn’t done; that is the government’s lack of control. What will be the objective of the mobilization this Wednesday? This February 10 we are going to have a big human chain for peace; that’s what we want to call it. This is how we hope to shield the city, with a journey of 22 kilometers where we will join hands and walk together for our city. We want to send the message that the evildoers can’t continue to dominate and to make these people kneel down before them. We want the national and district government to know that they can count on the support of the community. What do you think is the best way to achieve a real transformation in Buenaventura? We think that only if the national government will take the reins in this district, we will be able to do something. Because there is a great lack of capacity here. We need to have them look at us and start to develop big projects to create jobs and new industries. If not, because of the extortion and fear, many businesses will be leaving the city. We have to generate some confidence.