Colombia: Chocó calls for government protection

Girls smile in Bahía Solano, one of the areas in Chocó Department that is showing signs of revitalization. (Carlos Barahona for Infosurhoy.com)

Girls smile in Bahía Solano, one of the areas in Chocó Department that is showing signs of revitalization. (Carlos Barahona for Infosurhoy.com)

By Carlos Andrés Barahona for Infosurhoy.com—14/06/2011

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – While recent policies and actions to improve security have been effective in the majority of the country, Colombia’s government is still working to improve residents’ safety in the department of Chocó.

The department’s numerous waterways leading to the Pacific Ocean have made it a hotbed for narco-traffickers and criminal gangs who have unleashed a wave of violence, forcing locals to help them in the drug trade and other criminal activities.

“Only three months ago I became governor of the Chocó Department, and since then I’ve been finding complications at every turn,” Malcom Ali Córdoba said. “The [departmental] government has a financial deficit; the few professionals in the region are not getting paid; the schools show a low level of competence; sexual abuse is very high; and it’s no secret to anyone that the department is one of the poorest in the country.”

Córdoba, who at 28 is the Andean nation’s youngest governor, is charged with looking after the needs of a region with 9.9% unemployment, according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics.

Córdoba said Chocó does not have enough jobs to provide income for all of its residents.

“Our biggest problem is the corruption, the impunity, and the indifference,” he said.

Chocó’s high unemployment level has driven residents to engage in criminal activities to earn a living, which creates a vicious cycle, Córdoba said. “All the illegal armed groups working in the region undermine in one way or another the peacefulness and the development of the department.”

He was referring to an incident this past May where a series of attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) along the Atrato River left four dead and disrupted navigation of that river for two days. The attack, officials said, made it clear the FARC’s strategy is to use the local villagers as human shields to protect themselves against the police.

The FARC’s 34th Front blocked the passage of vessels along the Atrato River bound for Quibdó, the capital of the department of Chocó, on May 22.

The Diocese of Quibdó responded by alerting authorities the FARC intended to use villagers from Beté to shield members of the terrorist groups when engaged by the military.

The Colombian Armed Forces and National Amy resolved the situation during a joint operation in which they commandeered the Atrato River so it could be used by civilians. But the operation came with a steep price: The FARC killed three civilians and a police officer during an attempt to take control of the river.

President Juan Manuel Santos said he’s committed to making Chocó safer.

“I’m not [going] to allow the department [to continue] being seen as the poorest in the country,” Santos said in a statement posted on his website, adding his administration would bolster security forces throughout Chocó.

“We Chocoans are used to counting the dead in the news, not a week goes by without [an] incident,” says Rafael Restrepo, who relocated to Bogotá from Chocó a decade ago out of concerns for his safety.

Restrepo added: “I left because I felt my life was threatened – and not because I didn’t believe in the region’s potential. But the truth is that drug trafficking and violence have done a lot of damage to Chocó. They have slowed down the education and prosperity of the region, and looking at the news I can see that little has changed.”

Córdoba said he would like to see Chocó as prosperous as other regions.

“Our region is rich in culture. In natural resources, we’re a work in progress, but we have a lot of potential, and that’s why I’m asking the government to invest – to really invest – in the recovery of Chocó,” he said.

Adm. Édgar Cely, the commander of the armed forces, visited Chocó in May. He’s now working with Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera to devise a strategy to make the department safer.

“The new strategy of prosperity and security will revitalize the Chocó Department and will reinforce security,” Rivera said. “We will invest in the future of the region’s population. The Colombian government will not let any of the country’s departments fall by the wayside, but we will pay special attention to solving and alleviating the needs of Chocó.”

Córdoba added: “My intention is to help and to do everything possible for Chocó to move forward; but you need a 360-degree change to achieve this and in this sense, the help we’re being offered by the government is vital.”

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  • dagobertolopezmieles | 2011-07-12

    From the Colombian region with the most strength it is Chocó the state with all its structure you should look toward that region.

  • edu | 2011-07-11

    It can't be like that

  • carlos | 2011-07-04

    It is so obvious that the war is a business. And the people are caught in the middle then they ask people to vote for them to go on justifying the business. Long live the miserable democracy in Colombia.

  • hernan caicedo | 2011-07-04

    Why make people believe Chocó is a poor department when you know it is not true, when they show images of Chocó they always show the misery but they never show the other face of the department. There is always in every department a sector that is very poor but they don't always show it but when they refer to Chocó it is always the same thing and HOW DOES MONEY MOVE IN THAT DEPARTMENT but that they don't show that the money moves in form. The dollar, Colombian pesos, coca, and GOLD because it is not to the GOVERNMENT'S advantage to have Chocó with good means of having access to great public strength in that department because the politicians of that region don't work for that department. Why don't the criminals want to have good means of access and let the people have a better quality of life to keep abusing them but it is sad THAT THE GOVERNMENT IS SO PERMISSIVE IN THIS DEPARTMENT WITH ILLEGAL BUSINESSES. Since all the politicians in this region take bribes so that this region won't get developed so they can go on doing whatever they want with this department which is not as poor as they want to make it seem. SINCE IN THIS COUNTRY CORRUPTION COMES FIRST

  • Esther Florez | 2011-07-04

    I may not be from Chocó, but I am Colombian through and through, even though I live outside of my country because of the guerillas, we Colombians love our homeland we have to emigrate to other countries to save our lives, while I was in Colombia I wanted to visit the department of Chocó but I was not able to go and I love Chocó as though it were the department where I was born. CHOCÓ DOES HAVE A MOURNER...I LOVE IT

  • leonardo | 2011-07-03

    I have a sentimental connection to Chocó and I must say it although it may hurt many people the Chocó intellectuals emigrate, abandoning their neighbors leaving them at the mercy of the corruptness of policies.

  • José Neftaly López L. | 2011-07-03

    We need to do things differently to get different results. When a department starts to think differently, it begins to feel differently and therefore its life style will have improved and many of its needs will be overcome. I think the new energy and intentionality not only of the government but also of the new governor is timely and opportune, headed by Dr. Malcom, which they want to impress on this wonderful department, in order to take it out of its social crisis and poverty. I hope both institutions as well as the different social organizations, and private business will also help in this responsibility. Given the above mentioned and hoping to contribute my little grain of sand as the social manager and Business Developer that I am, I urge the representatives of the Communal Organization who are in this department at the Federation level, as well as the representatives of each municipality of the Asocomunal order to contact me through my email, ([email protected]) to come together with regard to alternative mechanisms to generate resources for your organizations and in this way, be able to contribute in part to the social development for which such organizations were structured; also supporting this way the mission to make Chocó a prosperous and fair department.

  • Miguel Murillo Machado | 2011-06-30

    What they need is for the people themselves to realize that it is perhaps the department with the lowest levels of illiteracy in the country, but it is dominated by its idiosyncrasy, its vices, alcohol and loose living. When they learn to prioritize, surely even the standard of living and life style will change, improve.. When the professionals take action, think and behave as such and thus turn into a mirror for those who come later, something is being done, but as long as they live just to think about partying, no matter what their intellectual level is, there is no improvement. Change is internal and through awareness and then you can aspire to get help from the government... I am from Chocó.

  • Solaneño | 2011-06-28

    Very good article about my department. Very good for the Governor in his first months of administration. Our main problem is not the public sphere, but rather it is social disorder: the main authorities, in particular civilian authorities, don't carry out the functions assigned to them, allowing all kinds of irregularities and in fear (or because of inefficiency) they don't act to their office. And the police and military authorities make alliances with the criminal gangs for a few pesos of more coca product that comes from the sea. And civil society? Cultivating a mafioso culture, because it's the style imposed on us through TV and from the government itself with the example given by its officials.

  • julio | 2011-06-18