Protests Bring Colombia's Pacific Coast Container Port to a Halt

Operations at the port of Buenaventura (Jorge Gutiérrez / CC BY 3.0)

Published May 25, 2021 10:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Protests and blockades in the Colombian city of Buenaventura have cut off road access to the seaport, which handles about 40 percent of Colombia's maritime commerce. 

Buenaventura - the nation's largest Pacific seaport - is known for its role in the cocaine trade and its criminal violence. An internal dispute within the city's main drug cartel sparked dozens of firefights early this year, displacing residents and dramatically increasing the homicide rate. In protest of the lawlessness - and of the legacy of poverty and underinvestment affecting citizens of Afro-Colombian ancestry - hundreds took to the streets and briefly shut down the main road to the port. In late April, a nationwide movement protesting Colombian President Ivan Duque's plans for a tax hike sparked a new round of protests in Buenaventura, which have effectively shut off road access to its container terminals for weeks.

"At present, cargo discharged at Buenaventura remains in storage at the three main terminals at the port owing to the suspension of road access caused by the recent blockade," warned the American Club in a circular. "Accordingly, storage capacity at the terminals is close to exhaustion in the absence of alternative facilities in the area. As a result, several major ocean carriers have suspended cargo operations at Buenaventura pending resolution of the blockade and the reopening of road access."

Colombian media outlets have identified MSC, COSCO, Evergreen, Hamburg Sud and Maersk as among the carriers which have temporarily suspended service to Buenaventura. 

It is not the port's first major blockade. Local residents have long complained that the port receives first-rate infrastructure investment while the residential areas of the city - which is overwhelmingly Afro-Colombian - lack reliable electricity and clean drinking water. In 2017, Buenaventura experienced a large general strike over the same concerns, with thousands of protesters out in the streets; the disruption shut down the port for nearly a month.