“To work tirelessly so that all Colombians feel safe.” It is the promise made when the new Defense Minister, Diego Molano, took office. Former Secretary of the Presidential Cabinet, Molano is a man of confidence of President Iván Duque and replaces veteran Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who recently died a victim of COVID-19.
Diego Molano is the third minister in charge of Defense in the last three years. This portfolio is key in a country plagued by violence, drug trafficking, the actions of armed groups and the assassinations of social leaders and former FARC guerrillas who joined the peace process.
Criminal gangs impose their law in different areas of the country. And this does not only happen in jungle or mountainous areas. In Buenaventura, a city of about 300,000 inhabitants with an abundant black population that is home to the largest port in Colombia in the Pacific, hundreds of residents have taken to the streets to demand security and that their basic needs be met. In the first 29 days of the year there have been 22 homicides, triple the number last year. And there are 13 missing. Many Bonaverenses live in distress:
“It was very hard, very hard,” explained a neighbor after an armed altercation between rival gangs. “Because we were 11 people in the house and we were all lying on the ground, not knowing if we could save our lives. And finally God helped us and we were able to save our lives and we are standing still but very stressed, very scared,” explained Omar Micolta, neighbor of the city.
“Actually, I had never experienced a tragedy of tropes (fights) like this. A lot of crowds, a lot of crowds, a lot of bullets. That was everywhere you heard shots everywhere,” summed up Juan Valenzuela, also a resident of the city.
Buenaventura’s daily life is marked by drug trafficking, kidnappings, and extortion. Violence is not a new phenomenon in the port, but a bloody dispute between criminal groups is bleeding the town.
“The age of the dead is between 17 and 30 years old. Those who are dying are pure young people, who are killing each other due to an absurd confrontation, a confrontation to control the territory,” says Edwin Patiño, municipal representative.
Paradoxically, the peace accords that put an end to half a century of war between the FARC and the Colombian state triggered violence in many sectors that the guerrillas abandoned and that the state did not know or was unable to occupy. Despite the fact that this port moves 60% of the country’s merchandise, poverty affects 41% of its population, paving the way, according to various NGOs, for criminal gangs to establish themselves.