Good morning from Bogotá. It’s day seven of our visit, and we’ve finished the field-work portion of the trip. Nothing left but two days of meetings here with experts, activists, government and UN personnel.
This 90-100 mile boat journey, out in to the ocean and then up the Naya River, appears to have killed the trackpad on my laptop. It was really painful just now trying to draw that arrow using an app that (sort of) makes my phone act like a mouse.
We spent Saturday through Tuesday in Colombia’s Pacific coast region, in the city of Buenaventura and then way up the Naya River, which serves as the border between Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments. This is a huge corridor for drug trafficking. The FARC’s exit from these areas has led to a proliferation of armed groups and organized crime. They are not fighting each other very frequently right now—something seems to be maintaining the peace—and many measures of violence are down for the moment.
There is absolutely no peace, however, if you are a community leader. If you’re active in your local Community Action Board, Afro-Colombian Community Council, coca substitution program, indigenous reserve, labor union, or other structure, you have seen a sharp increase in death threats. The national wave of social-leader murders has not spared this area. Four leaders along the Naya river were disappeared by an unidentified armed group in April and May.
We’ll turn this fieldwork into a full report within a few weeks. I already have a 30-page matrix roughed out based on most of my notes so far. (Sometime when things slow down, I’ll write a post about the method I’m using.) In the meantime, here are some photos from the past few days.
Our first stop was a meeting with a community of Wounaan indigenous people on the outskirts of Buenaventura, the largest city on Colombia’s Pacific coast. The community had been displaced several years ago by fighting between ELN guerrillas and paramilitaries near the San Juan River in Chocó department, to the north. For four years, dozens of people have been subsisting on about an acre of land.
Our boat leaves Buenaventura.
Puerto Merizalde, near the mouth of the Naya River, was the last place to have mobile phone signal as we went upriver.
Many of the 64 towns along the Naya River have, with the support of non-governmental organizations and social movements, declared themselves “refuge zones” open only to the civilian population. All armed groups are meant to stay out.
Though towns have declared themselves “refuge zones” open only to the civilian population, within the past year and a half the military (in this case, the Army) has begun setting up camp in some of them.
The Naya River gets shallow as you go upstream, and ceases to be navigable not far from Concepción, where we spent the night. A couple of times, our boat’s propeller hit the rocky bottom, and we had to get out and push, or walk along the bank until the boat got past the shallows.
The riverside community of Concepción, where we spent a night.
Low-quality selfie with Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s Andes director, just before meeting with dozens of community members in Concepción, on the Naya River. We met in the evening in the schoolhouse, which was not wired for electricity, by the light of a single CFL bulb on a very long extension cord.
Going downriver with WOLA colleagues and several Naya River and Buenaventura community leaders.
Meeting with human rights defenders at the offices of NOMADESC in Cali.