Buenaventura: Between port expansions and violence

The rivers in the back, the sea in the front and the rain in the sky.
(In collaboration with Bram Ebus)

Buenaventura is the world wettest city, and is mostly created by the Afrocolombian descendants of slaves that had nowhere else to go. They created their homes on the water and lived from the mangroves and the sea. Buenaventura is Colombia’s second largest harbor. Despite its economic importance 80% of the population lives in poverty and in the twenty years 150.000 people have fled the city due to the violence. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds disappeared. Many locals claim the most extreme violence came at the same time when investors became interested in developing the city. In 2050 Buenaventura should be the largest pacific harbor of Latin America and the face of the city will be changed irreversibly. About 15 mega projects are planned.

One of those projects is the TCBuen port facility. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the investment branch of the World bank – has invested in this project, presumably because it will bring development to the city and the country as a whole, however, at what costs for the local people?

The container terminal of TCBuen is constructed on a land between the neighborhoods La
Inmaculada and Santa Fe. Previously this land was used to recreate and collect piangua – shells –
for consumption.

strategic position of Buenaventura as gateway to the Pacific Ocean brings plenty of
economic opportunities. In terms of dead weight it is the most important port of Colombia. In total
the city will have four port facilities in the future.

The TCBuen port operates 24/7. Many inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhoods say they
cannot sleep due to the noise, particularly of the moving containers.

After Human Right Watch published a report, the extreme violence of Buenaventura became
nationwide news. The government responded by placing around 2,400 soldiers in the city to curb
the violence.

The IFC claims to follow the strictest social and environmental guidelines. In reality local people
are disadvantaged by the development project, and only some profit by the limited employment
opportunities the port provides.

An estimated 450 people have been dissapeared for the past years. Several witnesses have
stated a clandestine mass grave is located under the TCBuen premises, the company itself denies
those accusations

Waste water from the container cleaning is dumped under the neighborhoods. While this is
filtered by TCBuen, local inhabitants still worry about possible pollution.

For local youngsters the lack of economic opportunities often leaves them with no other choice
to join criminal groups.

Traditionally fishing and carpentry are the key livelihoods in Santa Fé en La Inmaculada.

The center of Buenaventura is slowly transformed to become an attractive spot for
businessmen. From the rooftops of luxurious hotels one can observe the ship and watch the
ordered containers being unloaded.

Buenaventura has almost 400.000 inhabitants, but lacks a proper hospital. There is only small
emergency clinic, called hospitalito (Little hospital).

Both in La Inmaculada and Santa Fe of communa 5 were casas de pique - hackhouses, in
which people were sometimes dismembered alive. People heard them shouting. Both
neighborhoods are still under control of the Urabeños, an extremely violent paramilitary gang

Due to the port fishermen have lost their fishing grounds. With their small boats they have to
fare much further. Nowadays they need to go to open sea for a good catch, but they have to risk
robberies by pirates and will be away from home for up till eight days.

The Bajamar neighborhoods consist of traditionally built houses along the coast, and through
reclaiming land from the sea. They are mostly inhabited by Afrocolombians that moved here some
decades ago. A new court order in 2014 has stated that these areas should be seen as cultural
heritage and therefore people should be consulted for development project. This has not happened
in the case of TCBuen.

Despite being the wettest city in the world, the citizens of Buenaventura often face water
shortages. Only a small portion of the population has access to portable water and water cuts are
common, often for several hours, in the winter sometimes even for several days. The port has 24/7
access to water.

Buenaventura: Between port expansions and violence