Spending time in Colombia’s major cities, or even smaller towns within the third of the country that is home to most of the country’s population, one can easily become disconnected with the reality that other parts of the country still suffer from armed conflict.
A recent show of force by the Urabeños, a neo-paramilary group linked to drug smuggling, shut down the entire Caribbean coastal region of Colombia across 7 departments. This “Paro Armado” (armed strike), effectively turned the areas into ghost towns and targeted members of the Colombian police and military, killing 3.
The incident brought me back to the Paro Armado we experienced in 2011 in the tiny resort town of Sapzurro, on the border with Panama. After a couple lovely days laying on the beach, we heard there would be a Paro Armado, affecting the entire coastal region of Colombia. Colombian military had killed a high ranking member of the Urabeños group, prompting an armed strike for the day he was to be laid to rest. Despite being the most far flung of Colombian coastal towns, Sapzurro’s population of 270 were nowhere to be found during the strike. The military police that had hung around the boat launch daily did not show up for work that day. We walked by the restaurant where we had made reservations for that evening, which was shuttered and had a sign saying it was closed.
We called the restaurant from our hostel and they gave us specific instructions for that night. We came back at sunset and knocked on the door of the neighboring house, which let us in and led us through their living area to the dining room of the restaurant. The windows were tightly shuttered and a couple families were quietly eating by candlelight. Palpable tension permeated the entire experience as someone came and knocked on the front door, startling our waiter (it was just another hungry diner), who spoke in whispers throughout the meal. The fish was amazing, as expected and we left a hefty tip for our friends who kept us from going hungry during the armed strike.