Colombia’s largest port city of Buenaventura, already gripped by high rates of crime, poverty and unemployment, is without electricity for a second day Wednesday after suspected Marxist rebels used dynamite to blow up an energy tower.
By Dan Molinski
The mayor’s office, fearing the blackout could further escalate crime and other problems, imposed a curfew on the city of 350,000 people from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Wednesday morning and prohibited alcohol sales and the carrying of firearms.
A statement from Colombia’s Mines and Energy Ministry said the country’s armed forces are securing a perimeter around the downed electricity tower so repair crews from power company, Empresa de Energia del Pacifico SA, can fix the damage and restore electricity.
Local media said the power company hopes to have electricity restored by Wednesday afternoon.
Most Colombian coffee exports are shipped from Buenaventura’s port, and a spokesman for Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers, or Fedecafe, said it remains unclear if coffee exports might be affected.
“It’s too early to tell but we haven’t received any reports of serious problems so far,” the spokesman said.
Military officials blame Tuesday’s infrastructure attack on Colombia’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The FARC has about 8,500 armed fighters and has been fighting a guerrilla war against the government since the 1960s. It is engaged in year-old peace talks with the government in Havana, but there is no cease-fire agreement during the negotiations.
In recent months the rebels have stepped up their attacks on infrastructure and military targets. In October alone, the FARC blew up more than two dozen electricity towers, although the majority of those were connected to the country’s main power grid so electricity service was unaffected in most cases.
Buenaventura’s massive port handles 60% of Colombia’s imports and exports. The port city is a strategic enclave for international commerce as it’s located near the Panama Canal and is Colombia’s closest port to the Far East.
But the city, which has mostly dirt roads, is also a vital region for Colombia’s thriving cocaine trade, a starting point for many of the drugs being smuggled north to U.S. shores. This has resulted in illegal armed groups including the FARC and several neo-paramilitary groups such as the crime syndicate Urabenos competing for control of parts of the city.
Some 63% of the Buenaventura’s 350,000 people are impoverished and unemployment is a staggering 64%, according the local Chamber of Commerce, compared with a 9% nationwide jobless rate. A recent report by U.S. legislators in Washington who visited said Buenaventura port workers earn in a month what U.S. port workers earn in a day.