(Photo: Alliance DPA)

The ongoing criminal violence in Colombia’s southwestern city of Buenaventura have made it the capital of inter-urban displacement in the country, according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Buenaventura has gone back in time and resembles the worst periods of paramilitary violence against a civilian population in Colombia’s history,” Jose Vivanco, the director of HRW’s Americas division, told Caracol Radio during a visit to the violence-ridden port city on Colombia’s Pacific coast

“It is as if we had gone back to the 80s,” Vivanco added.

Members of HRW traveled to Buenaventura to observe the effects of a recently launched effort by Colombia’s national government, which included establishing an increased military presence to reduce violence in the costal city.

MORE: 112 people displaced in Colombia Pacific port as Buenaventura human rights crisis continues

Situation remains serious despite govt. action

Although assassinations in the city have decreased slightly in recent weeks following the capture of several local gang leaders, Vivanco told Brazilian Mundi magazine that “We continue to believe that the situation in the port in regards to human rights violations without impunity, continues to be the most serious in Colombia and the region as a whole.”

According to Vivanco, growing impunity and a lack of an adequate judicial system are among the top reasons for the killings, dissapearances and displacements that continue in Buenaventura.

“The fact that there is only one prosecutor to oversee 954 cases cannot be justified,” Vivanco told Mundi, “It is easy to understand why there has not been a single conviction this year…this is the perfect recipe for impunity.”

Local prosecution officials have said that they will take efforts address the lack of judicial infrastructure over the next month, hiring four more prosectors and introducing 12 agents from the Prosecutor General’s Technical Investigation Team (CTI).

“Buenaventura has to be given special treatment, which is exceptional and prioritized. The human rights crisis in the city cannot be delayed,” said Vivanco.

MORE: Human rights violations continue in Colombia’s troubled port of Buenaventura: Ombudsman

Vivanco’s statements come a day after the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office reported that at least 112 members of a single family were forced from their homes last week by criminal groups in Colombia’s largest Pacific port.

Fifty-two minors and 32 women were reportedly among those displaced from their homes and businesses in Buenaventura’s La Floresta neighborhood due to threats and extortions from “La Empresa,” a gang currently fighting the “Los Urabeños” neo-paramilitary group for control of the Port of Buenaventura and its increasingly profitable drug trade to Asia and the United States.

With the help of the Ombudsman’s Office, the family is being relocated to a municipality roughly three hours away from Buenaventura.

MORE: Buenaventura crisis could undermine US military aid to Colombia: Human Rights Watch

Criminal gangs fight over important port

Buenaventura has been the stage of an increasingly aggressive turf war between criminal gangs fighting for control of illegal drug trafficking routes.

“Los Urabeños” and “La Empresa,” are the two criminal organizations that are believed to funnel drugs into the Buenaventura, and up the Pacific coast towards Central America. Both groups have terrorized the city over the last few years, with violence increasing drastically in recent months.

Los Urabeños, formed from the remnants of the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) following its demobilization in 2006, has been reported to be Colombia’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations.

MORE: Urabeños ‘last standing’ neo-paramilitary group in Colombia: Report 

Violence between these two gangs has been fierce, with both groups seeking to control the drug trafficking routes that run in and out of the port city.


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