Things That Matter

The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Colombia has made incredible progress since the 1990’s when the country was a hotbed for international drug trafficking and guerrilla warfare. Today, modern bustling cities are home to shopping centers, museums, and hordes of international visitors.

However, despite the advancements, the country is still in a delicate peace deal with the main guerrilla oppossition – Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) – and there are many other paramilitary groups that still operate across the country, including in the main port city of Buenavista.

The city of Buenavista is seeing an uptick in body parts washing up along its shores.

In mid-January, an arm washed up on the city’s shore. It was quickly assumed, by local media reports, that the arm belonged to one of three local fisherman who had most likely been rounded up, killed, and dismembered. The arm had a tattoo on it, connecting it to one of the missing men, Armando Valencia.

And it wasn’t the first time this has happened. According to residents, body parts washing up on beaches is a tragically familiar occurrence. “There were some reports of body parts washing up at La Bocana [a nearby tourist spot]. A head, a leg, an arm,” said María Miyela Riascos, a social leader from Buenaventura, in a statement to VICE News. “Also, they found a man and a woman dismembered in the rural area of Bajo Calima.”

Violence has been rampant in Buenaventura for decades. The city has some of the highest rates of forced displacement and homicide in the country. But seldom has it been confronted by the levels of brutality experienced in the past year.

Criminal groups have long terrorized the city but things seem to be out of control.

So many different criminal groups have terrorized the slums of Colombia’s main Pacific port that residents rarely bother to learn the name of the latest clan in control. They simply call the warring gangs los malos or the bad guys.

Three people have been killed or disappeared daily, and conflict between organized crime has displaced as many as 6,000 people. Videos on Twitter show people fleeing their homes and young men and women patrolling with assault weapons. #SOSbuenaventura has been trending.

Community leaders see darker interests behind the violence, saying the areas where most crimes occur are the same where plans have been laid for a waterfront project, an airport and seaport terminals. “I see the violence as a means of pressure to get us off this area so they can build their projects,” Armando Valencia told The Guardian.

Criminals use “chop houses” to dismember their victims.

Colombian navy special forces on patrol among stilted waterfront shacks in Buenaventura
Credit: Fernando Vergara / Getty Images

The criminals recruit children, extort businesses, force people from their homes and dismember live victims, scattering their remains in the bay or surrounding jungle. Dozens of wooden huts balanced precariously on stilts over the bay have been abandoned by terrorized citizens and taken over by the gangs for use as casas de pique, or chop houses, where they torture and murder their victims.

The chop houses are the most gruesome consequence of a deeply flawed attempt to dismantle rightwing militias, which originally emerged to combat leftwing guerrillas in collusion with state security forces and drug traffickers.

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El Chapo’s Wife Turns Herself In After Being Charged With Drug Smuggling and Trying to Break Him Out of Jail

Things That Matter

El Chapo’s Wife Turns Herself In After Being Charged With Drug Smuggling and Trying to Break Him Out of Jail

Photo via Getty Images

They say art imitates life, but sometimes, it’s the other way around. Once in a while, the news seems like it’s simply replaying scenes from La Reina del Sur. Especially the latest update on El Chapo’s wife.

On Monday Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, turned herself into the United States FBI on charges of international drug trafficking.

The U.S. authorities are charging Coronel with helping Guzmán smuggle drugs across the border, break out of prison, and bribe corrupt officials. According to anonymous officials, the U.S. authorities have had their eye on her for a while now.

For years, El Chapo’s wife Emma Coronel has insisted that she had nothing to do with her husband’s illegal activities. Because she always maintained her innocence, the former teen beauty-queen was able to keep a high profile since her husband was imprisoned in 2019. She was active on social media, gave interviews to news outlets, and even appeared on a reality series.

Coronel was born in San Francisco, but grew up in Mexico near El Chapo’s “territory”.

Her father was a prominent member of El Chapo’s cartel, and according to experts, she “grew up with knowledge of the narcotics trafficking industry.” She married Guzmán when she was 18-years-old. He was 50. Her and Guzmán have 9-year-old twin daughters together. As of now, the girls’ whereabouts are unknown.

According to official documents, the FBI has evidence that Coronel was a liaison between El Chapo and his sons, “Los Chapitos” when they were planning his notorious prison escape in 2015. Coronel also stands accused of acting as a messenger and negotiator for payments to corrupt authorities.

As of now, people are speculating that Coronel turned herself in in exchange for leniency.

“Her attorney at sentencing is going to argue, ‘She took it upon herself to face charges,’ she didn’t make the government go out and arrest and extradite her,” an anonymous source told Vice. “She came out of Mexico. It would have been quite a process to get her extradited.”

According to reports, Colonel faces 10 years to life in prison, and a fine of up to $10 million USD.

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Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Culture

Once A Cartel Hub, Colombia’s Medellín Has Become A City Of The Future

Nathan Willock/View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Medellín, Colombia was once home to one of the world’s most powerful cartels – Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. During the ’90s, drug gangs and guerrilla fighters controlled the city’s streets and few people ventured out the relative safety of their immediate neighborhoods.

That Medellín is a distant memory for many Paisas thanks to the fall of the cartels, but also to a distinct set of ideals and values that have shaped the city’s development over the last decade.

Medellín was named the world’s third city of the future and it’s leading in so many categories.

Medellín is nestled in a valley high in the Andes, and many of the city’s poorest residents live in comunas they built on the steep slopes. And although the city still struggles with high rates of poverty, city planners are working to bridge the divide between these poor communities with little access to public amenities and the core of Medellín.

The technology that helped save Medellín is not what you’d see in San Francisco, Boston or Singapore—fleets of driverless cars, big tech companies and artificial intelligence. It is about gathering data to make informed decisions on how to deploy technology where it has the most impact. 

Where most smart-city ­initiatives are of, by and, to a large extent, for the already tech-savvy and well-resourced segment of the population, Medellín’s transformation has for the most part been focused on people who have the least.

The city’s cable car system is one out of sci-fi novels.

Think of a gondola suspended under a cable, floating high off the ground as it hauls a cabin full of passengers up a long, steep mountain slope. To most people, the image would suggest ski resorts and pricey vacations. To the people who live in the poor mountainside communities once known as favelas at the edges of Medellín, the gondola system is a lifeline, and a powerful symbol of an extraordinary urban transformation led by technology and data.

“The genius of the Metrocable is that it actually serves the poor and integrates them into the city, gives them access to jobs and other opportunities,” says Julio Dávila, a Colombian urban planner at University College London. “Nobody had ever done that before.” As people of all classes started using the cars to visit “bad” neighborhoods, they became invested in their city’s fate, heralding a decade of some of the world’s most innovative urban planning

Designers have created safe spaces for all with parks and libraries.

The Metrocable succeeded in connecting Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods to the rest of the city – but where would they hang out? This lead to the construction of five libraries sprinkled throughout Medellín, all surrounded by beautiful greenery. These “library-parks” were among the first safe public spaces many neighborhoods had ever seen. 

The key ingredient of Medellín’s transformation, experts agree, is perspective: The city looked beyond technology as an end in itself. Instead, it found ways to integrate technological and social change into an overall improvement in daily life that was felt in all corners of the city—and especially where improvement was most needed. “Medellín’s vision of itself as a smart city broke from the usual paradigms of hyper-modernization and automation,” says Robert Ng Henao, an economist who heads a smart-city department at the University of Medellín.

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