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On the coast
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Buenaventura has received massive numbers of displaced Colombians in recent years, fleeing violent displacement by armed groups. Buenaventura also has one of the highest rates of intra-urban displacement, and struggles with a 60% unemployment rate. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Between the Western-most range of the Colombian Andes and the Pacific Ocean in the Department of Valle de Cauca lays the city Buenaventura — Colombia's principal port city and also one of its deadliest cities.

Buenaventura has received massive numbers of displaced Colombians in recent years, fleeing violent displacement by armed groups. Buenaventura also has one of the highest rates of intra-urban displacement, and struggles with a 60% unemployment rate.

"I miss the countryside so much. We used to grow our own food and we could go outside. Now, we hardly have any food, my children are hungry," said a woman displaced from a village in the interior.

The city has become an important strategic location for both guerillas and paramilitaries seeking to capture valuable routes for the shipment of drugs, arms, gold, and other resources along the multitude of rivers that surround the city and empty into the Pacific. 

Don Jose* and Doña Diana* have been displaced on three different occasions from their farm in the northern region of Valle de Cauca during the last 11 years, victims of armed groups on both sides. During their last encounter with a paramilitary group, Don Jose was kidnapped and tortured; his wife, seven months pregnant at the time, searched frantically for her husband while he was held.

As the couple begins to tell their story they begin to cry, each trapped in their separate pains, still living the nightmare of their separation, of the terror, of the fracturing of their family and their faith; they are unable to offer comfort to one another.  

"I lost my baby two months after she was born. I blame the stress of our trauma. I blame myself for her death," Doña Diana explains. She added that she believes the baby, surrounded by heartbreak and grief, decided she no longer wanted to live.

Don Jose is still caught in the nightmare of his torture, repeating in gasps the details of the ordeal he has conveyed to his wife and children countless times before.

"He kept crying and crying, no one would help or listen to his story, but JRS listened," Doña Diana said. JRS has been accompanying the family for more than two years through the legal process as they seek aid for their displacement.

A psychiatrist who counsels the family said their case is typical of the trauma haunting many of the displaced in Buenaventura. The continued violence within the town and the dearth of resources for the affected individuals prevents these torture and trauma survivors from reaching full recovery even years after the underlying events occurred.

"Sometimes I can’t stop crying when I think of what happened to me," said Don Jose, recalling his kidnapping. "I can’t understand why a country as resource-rich as Colombia has to be at war. If we were not at war, we would be a rich country."

Names have been changed for their safety.



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