Colombia militarises its violent port city

Bogotá, March 23 (IANS/EFE) The Colombian government has deployed 700 additional security force members to the violence-wracked Pacific port city of Buenaventura, which has been plagued by killings, dismemberments and forced disappearances.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon accompanied the troop deployment Friday in Buenaventura, where the discovery of so-called “casas de pique” (chop-up houses) – sites in which victims are allegedly dismembered alive – has riled public opinion.

The militarisation of some parts of the city, ordered weeks ago by President Juan Manuel Santos, came a day after New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report indicating that “entire neighbourhoods were dominated by powerful paramilitary successor groups”.

Those gangs, known as Los Urabeños and La Empresa, both successors to the now-defunct AUC paramilitary federation, are fighting a bloody battle for control of arms and drug trafficking in that strategic and largely Afro-Colombian port city.

Buenaventura also has the highest rate of forced disappearances in Colombia, with 153 cases between 2010 and 2013, according to official figures.

Over 13,000 people fled their homes between January and October of last year, although Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the real figure is much higher and that “nowhere in Colombia is the problem of forced displacement worse today than in Buenaventura.”

The deployment of 700 police, army soldiers and marines to Buenaventura brings the number of security force members in the city of a half million people to 2,400, the defence minister said.

–IANS/EFE

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IANS