By FOR Peace Presence

On a Monday morning in Bogotá, two FOR Peace Presence accompaniers have two days left to prepare for an upcoming accompaniment of the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission in the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero in Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca.

FOR Peace Presence began accompanying within the Humanitarian Space in July of 2014 in order to raise the visibility and physical security of a community that joined efforts to live in a space free of illegal armed groups when it established the Humanitarian Space in April, 2014.

Paramilitary groups have long-controlled the port city of Buenaventura. It is one of the most militarized cities with one of the highest rates of violence in all of Colombia. Paramilitary groups that were supposedly demobilized in past years seem to continue functioning under similar structures but with changed names over time. These groups operate narco-trafficking and micro-trafficking routes out of the region under almost complete impunity. Police and soldiers are present on every corner, yet the violence continues.

The community of Puente Nayero, largely made up of families that were forcibly displaced from other areas of Valle del Cauca and El Chocó in the years preceding, came together to say no to such violence, with legal and capacity-building support from the Colombian non-profit organization, the Interchurch Commission of Justice and Peace.

Preparing for another accompaniment in Buenaventura entails a careful collection of information about recent news events and security incidents in and around Puente Nayero, making calls and sending letters to relevant civil and military authorities in the region to let them know we will be traveling to accompany, and packing up for the long journey by bus.

Recent news articles and reports show that the situation around the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero is worrisome. Looking only to the first week of January 2015, this list of unfortunate events reflects the ongoing violence in Buenaventura, all of which have happened with little to no response or with negation of the facts by local police authorities:

  • On December 30th, two 15-year-old boys were targeted only 50 meters from the front gate of the Humanitarian Space by a young paramilitary member and recruiter named “El Chinga.” Prior to arriving to the gate, El Chinga attempted to cut one boy’s neck, but both of them were able to escape and found refuge in the Humanitarian Space, of which they are both members. It was then that El Chinga got together five other paramilitary members. Armed, these six paramilitaries entered the Space with the intention of killing the two adolescents, who remained protected after entering.
  • On January 2nd, only 3 days later, a distraught young man ran into the Humanitarian Space to deliver the news that both his girlfriend and male friend had been dismembered in the neighborhood situated directly alongside the Space, Alfonso Lopez, in what are commonly known in Buenaventura as “casas de pique” or “chop houses.” He himself had been tied up at the neck and hands, and donned injuries by machete on his arms, but was able to escape then fled into the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero. As we further prepare for the accompaniment, we learn that parts of the man’s remains have been found. Authorities and community members have yet to find the woman’s remains and the rest of the man’s.
  • On January 4th, 2 days later, Doris, an Afro-Colombian leader of the Humanitarian Space, who now lives outside the Space, received a call threatening her life. She left the Space with her family in May 2014 due to prior threats to her family.

Considering these events in the immediate proximity of the Humanitarian Space, it is frightening to imagine how many violent acts in Buenaventura remain shrouded in secrecy, and how many aggressors remain free. At the same time the incidents reflect that the Humanitarian Space has become not only a place for community members to seek safety, but also a place where outsiders have come to be protected or seek help.

Moving closer to departure for our accompaniment, we schedule meetings with relevant Buenaventura authorities to denounce these instances mentioned, and we thought you should know about them too.

Finally, we are headed out to the bus station to depart for our monthly accompaniment in Buenaventura.