By Ricardo Maldonado Rozo
Cartagena, Colombia, Sep 28 (EFE).- The Colombian tourist mecca of Cartagena, long a relative oasis of peace in a country racked by decades of armed conflict and drug-war violence and a city that received nearly 1.9 million visitors in 2019, is now beset by turf wars pitting narcotics and human-trafficking gangs.
Cartagena Como Vamos, a program that monitors that Caribbean city’s quality of life, said there were 187 homicides in the first half of 2022, compared to 112 in the same period of 2021, or an increase of 67 percent.
“There’s been a spike in homicides in the city, and to a degree that’s the result of an increase in micro-trafficking (traffic of small quantities of drugs for immediate sale to consumers) and security problems related” to that crime, CCV Director Eliana Salas told Efe.
This situation contrasts with what existed decades ago when Cartagena was known both for its historical and natural attractions and for being immune from the daily violence afflicting Colombia.
The commander of Cartagena’s municipal police force, Brig. Gen. Nicolas Zapata, attributed the surge in homicides to an “internal rupture among organized armed groups trying to take control of that territory” and specifically referred to some warring factions within the Clan del Golfo, Colombia’s largest criminal gang.
Photos and videos of near-daily homicides are uploaded regularly to social media.
But there is little mention of the violence on the street and fear is palpable in many neighborhoods where walls are painted with the name Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, as the CDG is also known.
Another scourge affecting Cartagena is human trafficking, according to the city’s interior secretary, Ana Maria Gonzalez, who said “it’s become a good business to exploit the bodies of men and women to obtain economic gains that finance other types of illegal businesses.”
No institution in Cartagena, a city with large social inequalities, has a record of the number of sex workers who ply their trade on the streets near the Torre del Reloj monument, one of the city’s main attractions and a tolerance zone for prostitution at night.
Gonzalez recalled that Cartagena began to be marketed in 2015 as a “city of nighttime partying,” saying “that certainly didn’t contribute in making this destination what we wanted it to be, which was a cultural and family destination.”
Nationally, the policy was to promote the city’s nightlife, “and I think that may have had something to do with how this mistaken city brand was constructed.”
Zapata said a “comprehensive” plan is needed to solve the problems affecting the city’s historic center, while Salas lamented that the lack of a long-term vision has allowed problems such as violence and prostitution to get out of control.