The people living in the north-western region of Chocó, Colombia, are continually getting caught in the crossfire between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and paramilitary groups, with the region being called “emblematic of the problems that still plague Colombia.” Conditions for the mostly Afro-Colombian and Indigenous population have worsened in the last month to such an extent that, according to Amnesty International, 3,400 people are at risk of being displaced.
In 2016, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) signed a peace treaty with the government and demobilized, the region became a ‘free territory’ which needed to be claimed, thus making the area the epicentre of fighting in Colombia. The ELN, who currently preside in the region, began their cause in 1964 in the beginnings of the Colombian Civil War, with the intent to create a Marxist state, after being inspired by the events of the Cuban Revolution. The civil war has already been responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people and the displacement of a further seven million and is now threatening the local people of Chocó.
The conditions in the region are already the lowest in all of Colombia, with 40% of residents living in absolute poverty. Food shortages are rife, and there is limited access to basic services, which has only worsened since the level of violence in the surrounding jungle has increased. Additionally, due to increased pollution and the recent floods, the method of subsistence farming known as pancoger, has been less effective causing increased food shortages. This has only contributed to the rise of common illnesses such as malaria, malnutrition and stomach worms. The level of poverty in Chocó is so high that earlier this year on Colombian Independence Day many citizens protested in the regional capital of Quibdo, arguing that their conditions had not improved at all since the Spanish conquest.
Government actions in Chocó have additionally worsened the situation. The majority of the population make their income through coca plantations, the crop used to make cocaine. However, in the government’s war against the cocaine trade, they have vowed to destroy 250,000 acres of crops, achieving 45,000 acres last year alone. This has had a hugely detrimental impact on the lives of farmers in the region who rely on income from coca to survive. Additionally, the market price of coca has dropped, and river transport costs of basic goods to the region have increased, therefore, making it increasingly difficult for the population to provide for themselves. So, overall government intervention is only worsening the livelihood of the residents of Chocó.
The future for the lives of people in Chocó looks incredibly bleak due to the history of violence in Colombia. Despite recent negotiations between the government and ELN to instil peace, violence continues, and so the prospect for a positive outcome from these talks seems unlikely, with the Mongabay journal reporting that “war could just be around the corner – again.” The greatest reason for the continued likelihood for violence is because to a large extent, conflict in Colombia is able to flourish due to the continued booming cocaine market, which Mongabay later names “a thorn in the side of the government,” as income from this illegal trade is supporting the rebel groups, evidenced through the longevity of FARC who solely made their income through the illegal business. ELN as well, continues to thrive through taxing coca growers, the cocaine trade as well as extortion, ransoms and kidnapping. Therefore, in Colombia it is highly likely that conflict will continue and the people in Chocó will sadly continue be caught in the crossfire.
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