BUENAVENTURA, Colombia – Hundreds of residents of Buenaventura, one of Colombia’s poorest cities, which has been severely punished during the decades-long internal conflict, on Tuesday collectively embraced peace to express their desire for reconciliation.
The event was held in the coliseum, in downtown Buenaventura, a deteriorated sports venue where the High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, showed up along with other members of the team that negotiated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas, concluding a peace pact on Aug. 24.
The more than 1,000 local residents wearing white were on hand at the “Buenaventura embraces peace” event with Sen. Roy Barreras, who strengthened the negotiating team in the final phase of the process; Valle del Cauca Gov. Dilian Francisca Toro and Buenaventura Mayor Eliecer Arboleda Torres.
“The first thing we have to remember is that the war has ended in Colombia with this pact,” said Jaramillo to the assembled crowd in explaining the contents of the agreement with the FARC after four years of talks in Havana. The pact will be put to a referendum on Oct. 2 so that the citizenry may vote yes or no on it.
The high commissioner said that the end of the conflict does not mean that violence will cease “because there are many forms of violence,” something that rang true to local residents of an area that is the site of ongoing disputes among guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and drug traffickers.
Buenaventura, with its 350,000 inhabitants, is Colombia’s main Pacific port, but due to its strategic position, high poverty index and the abandonment of the state, it transformed itself into a violent enclave that in March 2014 led President Juan Manuel Santos to order a large-scale military intervention to control criminal bands.
Arboleda said that the district administration was banking on peace, adding that “many Buenaventura residents were victims in this armed conflict.”
Barreras said that there are 170,000 victims in Buenaventura of the roughly eight million Colombians affected in some way by more than five decades of armed conflict.
The clamor of the city’s inhabitants for peace was summed up on a sign brought to the coliseum reading “God bless Santos’s stubbornness. We’ve achieved peace.”
Jaramillo said that the peace pact “represents an enormous opportunity for us, a unique opportunity” because basically it “removes violence from politics.”