However, the national strikes have deeply impacted the far-off villages in Chocó. The communities face food and gas shortages and an absence of tourism – one of the main economic drivers in the region. The local population’s support of the national strikes in Colombia might come as surprising but it is simply necessary.
Let me tell you more about what the people – other than tourists – really need.
The structural problems the communities face daily
The department of Chóco stretches over the Pacific Coast of Colombia, bordering Ecuador and Panama. The majority of the population have African genetic ancestry (75.8%) with approximately equal parts European (13.4%) and Native American (11.1%) ancestry. The people of Chocó live in small settlements, where they are surrounded by lush rainforest, serpentine rivers, and the wild of the pacific ocean.
Despite its rich biodiversity, the region is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Colombia. The prevalent lack of infrastructure, adequate transport, and public education makes it hard for the communities to survive. On top of that, the bad and expensive internet connection restricts communication and access to private education.
Due to these problems, tourism is still in its infancy: According to the latest data, in 2014, 12.000 tourists visited the region. Traveling through the small towns, you will notice the special art of living in Chocó. The people’s daily menu is what they find in the surrounding nature: Patacón, fish, fruits, and eggs. The simplicity of diet reflects itself in the culture of Chocó. People are laid back. The people’s highlights are community events and national holidays, instead of luxury and material goods.
“There is so much to see, experience, and discover in Chocó, but the lack of infrastructure and the difficulties to maintain high numbers of tourists in the small towns limit tourists coming.” Juan David Riascos Gomez, who works in the tourist industry in the region, tells me. National NGOs like Microempresa Colombia run several initiatives to support eco-tourism in the region. Taking pictures of the people, their stores, and the posadas, helps attract higher tourist numbers.
Narco-traffic is Colombia’s biggest problem to date
But infrastructure and lack of economic development are not the only structural problems in the department. Drug trafficking is prevalent – and very complex – in the area. Already at a young age, villagers start making easy money by selling cocaine. Developing oneself educationally or following a career is more difficult and often less promising. “Often, the involved young adults are murdered, or they disappear. This is affecting their families and the community as a whole”, explains Juan David further.
What the communities really need are investments in development and infrastructure and employment opportunities other than narco traffic. May those come from tourism bringing employment to the people, from the government or private companies.
However, this dilemma in Chocó is representative of the broader picture in Colombia: A corrupted government, narco-traffic dominating the economy, and a lack of opportunities for most people.
How the protests in Colombia affect Chocó
After years of accumulating problems, in April 2021, a political crisis broke out in Colombia. When the right-wing government of Ivan Duqué announced a rise in taxes and a reform of the health sectors, many Colombians felt sick and tired. They started a series of protests, but the national police and the security forces ESMAD have been attacking protestors. Experiencing several deaths, violent actions, unjustified arrests – until today, over 370 people are missing – a critical mass has evolved. What do they need? The government to renounce.
Because of the national protests and strikes, areas like Chocó were cut off from many resources. For a month, the trucks usually importing food, gas, and other resources didn’t arrive anywhere near the department. At the moment, a single tomato costs 3500 pesos. With the same amount of pesos, you can get an entire bag of tomatoes in Bogotá.
“During the first 20 days of protests, the average prices for consumption rose around 50-100%, with medications dominating the largest price peaks,” Juan adds.
This is how local people view the protests
Despite the enormous impact the protests have on the daily life of the communities in Chocó, locals show their support. “It’s a way to put pressure on the government. If no food and no medication is arriving for months, international organizations and national stakeholders start reacting to the government’s inactivity during the massive protests.” Juan David expresses his discontent with the current political situation. But he’s also optimistic about the changes the protests will bring. “We hope that little by little, the protests will slow down and that we reach agreements with the government.”
Walking up the tiny dirt roads in the villages leaves any visitor with mixed feelings. The challenges that each individual has to face every day are written on the faces of the people. At the same time, the residents have long learned to deal with difficult times. They learned how to make the best of even the most challenging situations.
Community sense to withhold desperation
The people in the area know each other, and everyone knows where to find support in times of crisis. Even though Chocó is one of the most widespread regions in Colombia, its communal cohesion is strong.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the COVID pandemic and a country marked by national unrest, the accumulating challenges leave their marks on everyone.
This information has been collected with Juan David Riascos Gomez, tour operator and development expert in Chocó.