An escalating conflict between the Urabeños and the ELN has held thousands of people hostage within the town of Bojayá in Colombia’s department of Chocó — a crucial spot along two major drug trafficking routes.
The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations (OCHA) has been warning about the confinement of around 2,800 people to the town since February 2019.
“There is evidence of an increase of confined communities, affecting approximately 2,778 people,” an OCHA report stated. The organization attributed the situation to an “increase in the presence — as well as armed actions — of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN),” among others.
Bojayá connects with Panama’s southern border, with the department of Antioquia to the east and towns such as Bahía Solano on the Pacific Ocean to the west.
This makes Bojayá prime real estate for international drug trafficking, as cocaine is moved through the area and onto Central America. Its worst moment came in 2002 when a massacre there killed as many as 119 people amid fighting between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and paramilitaries.
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Two major drug trafficking routes are at stake: the Bojayá River, connecting Vigía del Fuerte in Antioquia with Bahía Solano, a Pacific port which is a popular cocaine shipment point, and the Atrato River, which is used to move drugs from across Chocó to municipalities such as Río Sucio and Carmen del Darién, from where they can go northward through Panama or straight to the Caribbean Sea.
OCHA specifically identifies as vulnerable communities close to these routes, such as Pogue, on the Bojayá River route and close to Bahía Solano.
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The full extent of this crisis is not yet fully understood. While figures from OCHA and the Colombian government estimate about 3,000 people have been affected by the fighting, indigenous community and religious groups have put the number at over 7,000.
Complaints by the affected communities appear to have fallen on deaf ears in Bogotá. In November 2018, representatives from indigenous communities in Chocó traveled to the capital to demand action from the government of President Iván Duque. But to date, relief has not come, apart from some small-time verification missions.