Friday was another day full of complications for María Caraballo. Like every morning, he left his house located in the municipality of Guamal, in the department of Magdalena, crossed the ‘Heroes del Botón de Leyva’ bridge, which passes over the so-called ‘great river of the homeland’, and went to his I work in the neighboring town of Mompox, in Bolívar.
But he couldn’t get there on time. “I was affected because at the height of a hamlet called Guataca there is a roadblock that prevents any type of vehicle from passing through,” he explains. “Then I have to find a place to leave my motorcycle, walk to the other side of the barricade and look for a motorcycle taxi driver who charges me 5,000 pesos each way,” he adds.
The effects of the protest, which in this particular case have to do with the demand for home gas service, paralyzed tourism and the supply of food in the area for almost the entire week. “The line of trucks waiting is much longer when I go or come back,” says María.
This example is far from the only one. According to a Colfecar report, throughout the first ten days of February the number of points in the national geography with interrupted mobility on main roads amounted to 42, distributed in 14 departments.
This statistic is added to that of January, when the figure was 81 blockades in some twenty departments, from La Guajira to Nariño and Putumayo. According to the cargo carriers union, in the first five weeks of 2023, 1,906 hours have been lost, which have had a high price for hundreds of miles of people, in addition to causing large losses for the economy.
The causes of the interruptions are multiple, although they are usually related to local issues ranging from an educational facility here or the requirement of an aqueduct there. The poor state of the pavement, poor school meals or breaches of promises also lead people to organize and go to the roads in fact.
But popular mobilization is not the only reason. The database of the armed conflict in Colombia in charge of Cerac shows a significant rise in traffic interruptions attributable to violent groups. According to the study center, in 2022 there were 25 actions, six times more than in the previous year, which is the highest figure since 2014, when peace with the Farc had not been signed.
Added to this is a significant deterioration in the safety climate in a good number of urban centers. The reports handled by the Ideas for Peace Foundation show that between August and January the incursions of armed organizations in different towns reached the same number as in the previous 18 months.
the voice of the street
For this reason, specialized analysts maintain that there is a notable deterioration in the conditions under which it operates in the Colombian territory. And those go back to everyone equally: from the multinational that exploits natural resources to the food distributor, the small merchant, the peasants or the population in general.
In the short term, the most difficult circumstances translate into falling incomes that improve the well-being of entire regions and hit job creation. No less disturbing is the more lasting effect, consisting of investments that never materialize, the value of land and the migratory pressure dropped on the largest cities.
Nothing related is new in the country. For some time now, phenomena of violence have been present in countless places, with different degrees of intensity. What is worrisome is the increase in the intensity of these phenomena.
The option of burning tires or placing objects that impede traffic has been one of the preferred ways of expressing popular discontent, but above all of drawing the attention of the authorities. Rather than mobilizing the mayor or governor on duty, interrupting mobility forces the central government to come forward with budgetary remedies.
Because of this, this is a much faster way to get results. And if the Public Force prefers not to intervene or is overwhelmed by the crowd, the only possible way out is to reconcile so that things return to normal until further notice. Undoubtedly, the most successful communities in employing the described strategy are those of Cauca, which have obtained land and official funds in the last three decades.
However, now the number of protesters is secondary. In this way, what was an occasional challenge became endemic and reached extremes such as on Friday, when a person prevented the passage of trucks for four hours on the route that leads to the port of Agua Dulce in Buenaventura.
For those who work in areas where there is mining or hydrocarbons, the headaches are constant. Data from the Colombian Oil and Gas Association – which includes secondary and tertiary roads – show that there were 1,056 episodes of social conflict in 2022, four times the 2016 record and 36 percent more than the previous year.
For example, in the municipality of Monterrey, in Casanare, there are protesters who have been preventing access to the El Porvenir station since February 3. The group is small, but it still prevents the arrival of equipment necessary for operation and maintenance, which affects the pumping of crude oil.
Clearly, the problem goes well beyond the anecdotal. Unlike what has been happening in recent years, and beyond several traumatic national strikes, what is striking today is the number of emergency lights that come on at the same time.
Having Gustavo Petro in the Casa de Nariño, who not only considers it legitimate, but positive that the street speaks, explains at least partially the statistical increase in disorders. Added to the above are the tacit and clean signals so that the Police do not clear the roads, in a government that has been ambivalent towards the role of the Public Force on several occasions and that says it favors dialogue.
Talking brings many advantages, obviously if it is done quickly and leads to results. duty, the Ministry of the Interior does not seem interested in reacting quickly, much less in establishing an early warning system. When the subject is raised, several officials say informally that an institutional appearance only occurs up to 72 hours after the first report.
Late responses cause considerable losses. As Nidia Hernández, president of Colfecar, points out, «trips that normally take a couple of days now take up to two weeks.» Apart from the loss of profits, the rates of vandalization and looting are rising by hordes that loot trucks in minutes, as can be seen in videos circulating on the networks.
When the authorities take time to act, the bill goes up. In a letter sent by the president of Fenavi, Gonzalo Moreno, to the vice minister of Transportation, Carlos Eduardo Enríquez, the size of the problem is shown.
According to the communication, the poultry sector produces 1.7 million tons of chicken meat and 17,000 million eggs a year, for which 7.5 million tons of concentrates are required. Between one and the other, one million tons of product per month is needed, involving some 100,000 trucks.
As by regulation the raw materials come from Barranquilla and Cartagena, any break in a link in the chain translates into lost sales, unfulfilled shipments or lower yields. Only with regard to freight, the union’s calculation speaks of an increase between 15 and 20 percent.
Something similar happens to the pig sector. According to the PorkColombia Association, the economic impact of strikes and road closures such as the one on the Pan-American highway at the height of the Cauca municipality of Rosas, increased to more than 50,000 million pesos in the last quarter.
The balance in red also the blockades in Puerto Gaitán that have prevented the production of some 50,000 barrels of oil per day. This will lead to lower exports, tax revenues and royalties.
This generates a growing account that will end up being assumed by Colombians. In some cases, the effect will be higher prices, just when inflation remains above 13 percent per year. In others, costs will skyrocket, while ordinary people –like María Barrera– will have to reach into their pockets.
the other emergency
As if what was related were not reason enough to be concerned, the security climate deteriorated again. Last week, during a meeting of governors with the President and several of his ministers, the president of Meta, Juan Guillermo Zuluaga, launched a desperate appeal about what is happening in the southern part of the department: «It feels like we are losing it ”.
The complaint focused on the dissidents of the Farc. A leader from the area told not only that there is an obligation to get a license, but that you have to pay for everything: 5,000 pesos per hectare or 20,000 pesos for each head of cattle. «The vaccine is up to the one who sells red wine,» added the leader, who insisted on anonymity.
Nothing suggests that things will improve. Other groups such as the ‘Segunda Marquetalia’ or ‘the Gaitanistas’ began to appear in the region, along with rumors that more than one farmer was thinking of defending himself.
To all of these, the Army is trapped between orders and against orders. Although Gustavo Petro himself stated in an act in Yarumal that «a group that is rattling should be persecuted», gray areas abound.
“Many officers are clear that their career can end if they act, so most abide by the instruction to only proceed if they have to defend themselves,” says an expert on the subject. «I see the faces of frustration, impotence, the generals and colonels whose morale is on the ground,» adds the neighbor from the south of Meta who attends the security councils.
For its defenders, these sacrifices are worth it in order to advance the purpose of total peace. It is not a minor fact that 22 groups have expressed their intention to take advantage of the initiative and that confrontations with the Public Force have decreased substantially.
However, the clashes between the different groups are increasing, since the withdrawal of one is the opportunity for the other to occupy more space. In addition, more silent crimes such as extortion – in which common criminal gangs are also involved – suffocate entire populations.
Although there will be no shortage of those who say otherwise, the well-known expression of ‘isolated facts’ cannot be used. The Caribbean coast, Chocó, Bajo Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Arauca and Norte de Santander are part of the regions or departments where the decline is indisputable.
Faced with this reality, the purpose of developing tourism or boosting agriculture as the great engines of future growth sounds like a utopia. Goals such as the energy transition towards cleaner energy sources are not easy to achieve in a territory through which it is difficult to move, you have to pay for vaccinations and criminals can appear at any time.
All of the above is a warning bell that deserves to be taken seriously by the Government. Apart from the fact that the constitutional mandate to defend the life, honor and property of citizens is still in question, the probability of entering into a spiral of violence appears that could be contained if there are precise orders and clear lines that allow control of the territory.
María Victoria Llorente, from the Ideas for Peace Foundation, does not hide her concern. “It is worrying how we have been losing ground; we did not know how to take advantage of the opportunity of the demobilization of the FARC”, she maintains.
For the expert, «the exclusively military approach of the previous government was insufficient and even counterproductive.» And he concludes: «Now, the Petro government’s commitment to peace and negotiations with multiple criminal structures without a territorial security strategy that the company is accelerating the deterioration of conditions and the feeling of vulnerability of the population in many regions of the country» .
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