Los Angeles Times

Colombian crackdown appears to be paying off

Sept 21--The government's focus on hyper-violent Buenaventura has cut the homicide rate to one-third of what it was two years ago and yielded millions in cash seized from cargo containers from Mexico.

21 de septiembre de 2009

Two summers ago, drug gangs, leftist rebels and right-wing militias traded mortar and machine-gun fire daily as they vied for control of this steamy port city.

Teens were paid $200 a month -- a king's ransom in this impoverished community -- to act as lookouts for narcos. Armed groups fought it out in the neighborhoods and trash-strewn inlets from which 60-foot speedboats departed for Central America and Mexico with illicit drug loads.

With an average of three killings a day, Buenaventura's homicide rate was among the highest on the planet.

It was at that point that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe put his foot down, deploying hundreds of additional police and soldiers to patrol the streets and monitor cargo movements at Colombia's largest Pacific port.

And to offer more options to residents, the government boosted spending on development and infrastructure. One effort involves moving poor residents from seaside shacks in crime-ridden areas into 3,000 new housing units. The programs are partially backed by USAID, the U.S. State Department's development agency.

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