Colombia

Report: Violence persists in Colombian port city

A woman cleans up blood after officials have removed the body of a murder victim and placed it in a refrigerated truck (rear) for transport to the Medical Examiner's Office.
A woman cleans up blood after officials have removed the body of a murder victim and placed it in a refrigerated truck (rear) for transport to the Medical Examiner's Office. Human Rights Watch

A year after the government said it would crack down on horrific crimes in the port city of Buenaventura, problems persist, including child recruitment and dismemberment, Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday.

Armed gangs that are the successors of former paramilitary groups are still kidnapping, killing and extorting residents of the predominantly Afro-Colombian city, the report found.

Buenaventura was militarized in 2014 after reports emerged about police finding casas de pique or “chop houses” where victims were being dismembered. The news rattled the South American nation and President Juan Manuel Santos vowed to crack down on the violence.

Since then, however, the remains of 16 people have been found in the city and all but four were thought to have been killed after the government intervention, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, at least 6,900 residents have been driven from their homes by the gangs since the government’s “special intervention” last year.

“A year has passed since the government announced it was going to take action in Buenaventura, and powerful criminal groups are still terrorizing residents,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Government measures have helped reduce violence, but the gangs’ brutal control over many neighborhoods remains fundamentally unchanged.”

Even so, there has been some progress. Last year, authorities arrested more than 280 alleged gang members belonging to the Urabeños, Empresa, and Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia. Also, from April to December, 96 homicides were reported, down from 150 for the same period in 2013.

The gritty Pacific port city has long been coveted for its drug routes to Central America and the United States, leading to battles between rival gangs. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas are also active in the area.

“The Santos administration is a long way from fulfilling its promise to change conditions in Buenaventura,” Vivanco said. “Authorities must do a lot more to end the terror in Colombia’s main Pacific port and deliver justice for victims of abuse.”

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