By Haidy Sánchez Mattsson, SEMANA, August 19, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

It all became clear when we asked some young people what they think the city of Quibdó needs in order to leave its underdevelopment behind, and they answered, “Fight poverty, zero corruption, more social sensitivity from the politicians and administrators of public funding.”

We’ve been hearing it from local officials for decades, but mainly from the national government, when they say that we have to pay off the historical debt that the nation owes to the Chocó. You also hear, most of all at election time, phrases like, “now’s the time for development,” “no more backwardness in this region,” and uncounted empty slogans, cleverly created, from many that would like to get in power. It looks as if a lot of those that want to be municipal leaders, regional leaders, or members of Congress, had some coach or assistant that keeps playing the same rhetorical tune, perhaps a little more modern and sophisticated, but then, history has shown the residents of Quibdó that the wind blows most of those words away.

It’s worth mentioning that when it comes to public order, economic development, or social investment, the situation of the capital of the Province of Chocó is terrible. Out there, there is enormous concern about the very mediocre direction in which security is headed, and about development in the city of Quibdó, in spite of the fact that all of the predictions are clear that this is not a path that will work.

In an article that I published in this magazine on July 24 of 2020, I referred to the labor market indicators by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE in Spanish), which showed that during November 2019 and January 2020, in Quibdó the unemployment rate was 20 percent, the highest rate in the whole country. Sadly, during the period between April and June of 2021, Quibdó’s statistics showed an increase, with unemployment of 21.9 percent, according to DANE’s report. Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic was no help, but I’m not sure that the picture would have improved without the pandemic. This is an alarming indication, because we can’t see even the slightest sign of progress in this city.

Added to this desolate situation are the approximately 83 homicides so far this year, nonstop attempted homicides, unchecked robbery, threatening and intimidating pamphlets with a defiant tone distributed by the criminal gangs, and a sensation that it’s not safe to speak out about the public control situation, or the current social disintegration in the city, because you might be the target of threats or be profiled in one or another political camp. These are the aspects that are increasing in the already tense situation in Quibdó.

Recently, the existing criminal gangs have been identifying anybody they care to as a “military objective”, sometimes even giving themselves the luxury of intimidating the entire population. Many of their victims feel obliged to leave the city right away, to avoid the risk of losing their lives; others don’t get that far. The situation is so serious that recently there was a pamphlet that warned the entire city in general of the risk they would run if they were out after a given time in the evening. That means you could be murdered; this is a serious situation that has the whole city kidnapped, very afraid, terrorized . . . What helplessness!

The fact that the local leaders have migrated toward incomprehensible silence is something that’s worth keeping in mind, because before, they at least spoke out, even though it was a false start, when they had to give the people some kind of explanation of the bad situation of insecurity in the city. But now they don’t even do that, at least not very often or to the extent that’s necessary. So many versions are circulating on the social networks about high officials involved in every kind of scandal, that the last thing the residents of this city need is a resounding silence or more speculation. There are days when you can tell, not just in the social networks, but also in conversations with people that live in Quibdó, a deteriorated mental health at the collective level; besides the terror, there is doubtless a lot of frustration, anger, and desolation.

I don’t know if it’s too much to ask, but things would probably be easier if the current officials would admit publicly to the complicated situation of public order that is being experienced in this locality and, in addition, would tell what they are doing to defeat the crisis. How reassuring it would be for the residents of Quibdó to feel that there are not just decisions announced in press releases, but also that they will see concrete actions.

But, with all the chaos and worry, I have to ask the following questions: Why so much ineffectiveness, lack of control, and mediocrity in public management? Why don’t the officials be more transparent, show more empathy and sense of belonging to the city?

Without trying to have the answers to these questions, I do think that there are sufficient reasons that make me think that probably matters like personal and political interests and lack of values are placed ahead of the interests of the people, and so they don’t do enough to get the city on track.

Fortunately, in spite of the lack of ownership that some officials and politicians feel, there is an undercurrent of new voices representing the young people, young leaders, some independent communications media, and entities of oversight and social control that are trying with their activities to make the situation more visible, and to send a clear and forceful message to the officials of the moment, so that they would act in accord with the size of the problems that are going on right now. The message that these new voices are trying to send largely emphasizes the necessity for those who lead the city to reassess, to make substantive decisions, and put forward some real actions to mitigate the generalized panic that the community is experiencing. But they also hope that they will make social investments, so that there can be opportunities for the youth and for the most vulnerable in Quibdó’s society.

Everything becomes so clear when you ask some young people about what they think is needed in the city of Quibdó to leave the underdevelopment behind, and they answer, “fight poverty, zero corruption, more social sensitivity by the politicians and those administrators who make funding decisions.”

They want to see progress in the region; they dream of living without insecurity, without fear, to recover their confidence, their hope, and positivity, but most of all they want the people not to be left alone to their fate. Is that too much to ask?

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