There has always been a constant presence of illegal armed groups in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. A latent fear permeates the streets, derived from the various forms of social control that these groups exercise over the local population. One only has to mention the so-called “chop houses (casas de pique)” to understand the horror that has scourged the port city.
It was in this context that, on the 13th of April 2014, Puente Nayero Street (also known as San Francisco) became the “Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space” and residents started the hopeful process to construct a space that would be free of armed actors, in the middle of a highly populated urban area.
Inspired by the Humanitarian Zones that were formed in regions such as Curbaradó and Cacarica in Urabá and accompanied by the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP), this was the first Humanitarian Space that had been constructed within an urban context. These Zones are a community initiative which have the aim of allowed people to continue living in their territories, despite the dangers caused by the dynamics of the armed conflict. In order to achieve this objective, members define and make visible the areas in which they are living and prohibit the entry of illegal and legal armed actors.
These zones have their legal basis in the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants in International Humanitarian Law and constitute a means of protection for the civil population that live in the middle of the armed conflict. They are also supported in national legislation, in Article 22 of the Colombian Constitution, that stipulates that “peace is a right”.
In this strategy to build alternatives to the violence around them and to try to break the dynamics of fear, the community of Puente Nayero conducted a census of the 302 families and marked out the space for the Humanitarian Zone. This action empowered their community and was a way of protecting themselves from the illegal armed groups that controlled the city.
Since the formation of the Humanitarian Space, the community has been able to recuperate a large part of community life; children play in the streets after sunset, the “chop house” was demolished, people have more hope and have been able to start to plan for future life plans.
PBI has accompanied this initiative since its creation in April of 2014.
**Video realized by Javier Bauluz and produced thanks to the support the International Cooperation Agency of Extremadura for the Development (AEXCID)