The region of Bojaya is part of the Department of Choco and is located in the Northwest part of the Colombia. Next to the Atrato river, populated by a dense tropical jungle and home to various Indigena communities, as well as one of the largest Afro-Colombian populations in the country. Beginning with its´ history of slavery, Choco has since been disenfranchised and left aside by the centralist Colombian government; the gap between the rural and ruling elite groups has always been wide. This and its remote and isolated location have caused structural problems that have affected the region for decades. It is the poorest department of the country, has one of the highest rates of informality and unemployment, and corruption undermines the legitimacy and efficiency of local authorities towards the government.
New Bellavista is the main town in Bojaya, it sits on the bank of the Atrato river, a source of life for its’ communities and an important part of the way locals live, from fishing to traditional mining. At the same time, the Atrato has brought troubles to the region. It is a hotspot for illegal mining and is a strategic location for drug and weapon trafficking, an entry point to Central America and a connection route between the two oceans.
On May 2nd, 2002 Old Bellavista was destroyed during a combat between the 57th front of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), that controlled the town at the time, and the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) paramilitary forces. The FARC launched an improvised gas cylinder mortar that landed in the town church where civilians were taking shelter. The structure was one of the few made out of concrete and it gave a sense of protection to the villagers. Ninety-eight people were wounded and anywhere from 74 to 119 civilians died in the attack, over half of them children.
By a wide consensus, the FARC was the main responsible of the massacre, however, the Colombian state was also found guilty. The Administrative Tribunal of the Choco region found that the Colombian nation was administratively guilty of omitting various warnings about the presence of armed groups in the region days before the massacre.
Over a decade after the massacre, on October 2nd, 2016, 96% of Bojaya residents voted “Yes” during a nation wide referendum in support of the peace agreement negotiated between the FARC and the government. It was one of the highest approval rates in the country and the town became an example of the rural Colombia that suffered the atrocities of war and was ready to say yes to peace and in hopes of a post conflict that could bring change.
Although the “No” won by a razor thin margin setting a climate of uncertainty over the future of the peace process, a new agreement that included changes and precessions the “No” promotors asked for, was signed a month on November 24. As villagers feel confident in building new homes and planting new crops in some regions of the Atrato, it will be how thoroughly the agreements are implemented what will solve or not issues that have affected Bojaya and the Choco region for decades.