It’s Sunday afternoon and we are relaxing, feeling the Pacific breeze, sat on the edge of a puente, one of the many wooden planks used to bridge gaps over the sea in this part of Buenaventura. It is a habitat that connects dry land with the ocean, where the lifestyle of the thousands of this port city’s inhabitants is as much urban as it is rural. Each puente is different, and “ours’ is not just any puente. It forms part of the first of the Humanitarian Space in the neighbourhood of Puente Nayero. Each puente is different here in the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space.
The air is permeated with music, Salsa mixed with comments from the neighbours: “Oi, don’t make so much noise!” “Do it then!” “Go on dad, cut it!” The men who are working on the houses animate the puente: they paint them, repair them, cut wood…
We are sitting next to a bright green house. We catch a glimpse inside. There is a kitchen and an integrated living room; everything is made out of wood, a work of master carpentry. The neighbour’s house has just been finished, it reminds me of a boat. We can also see the boats under the houses on stilts, they wait patiently until the tide rises and just like that their dreams are cast off and they head out to fish.
The breeze creates a perfect climate. It is an environment to relax and rest, something very hard to imagine in nearby neighbourhoods, where the Bahía de la Cruz Pier project is underway. The project also expects to affect areas of the two Humanitarian Projects territory; it is to say the exact spot where we are now, “our” puente in this exact moment. We listen to what the neighbours say about how the project will unfold, and it gives us the sensation that there won’t be much space for them to enjoy the refreshing breeze, or to leave their simple boats tied to posts under their houses. They tell us about the construction of a highway, of hotels, of pavement everywhere. No one knows where the people will be relocated, or what they will live on; they won’t be able to fish like before.
The Humanitarian Spaces are urban initiatives that aim to stop human rights violations occurring using non-violent methods. By using this strategy they have thrown out the neo-paramilitary groups that exerted total control over the area, and who carried out daily violence through death threats, disappearances, torture and murder.
Little by little we have to say goodbye to our puente. We return to dry land and leave our ecosystem, with its unique, natural and sustainable air conditioning system, behind. We feel the change immediately and a wave of heat envelops us. The intense humidity provokes our bodies to sweat on the relatively short journey crossing the asphalt street to the second Humanitarian Space, Punta Icaco – Ancestral, Inter Ethnic and Cultural Pier, inaugurated in October. During the visit we found out that the community, as well as others in the area, is looking to put forward its own projects to be included in the urban planning proposals for Buenaventura. Their suggestions include a type of tourism that adapts to their way of life and allows them to carry on living in their territory.
PBI Colombia accompanies the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission in Buenaventura and provides international accompaniment to the Humanitarian Spaces. The first Humanitarian Space was created in April 2014.
Michaela Soellinger, PBI Colombia brigadista from Austria.