No one Votes in Tierra Bomba a Village that is Being Swallowed by the Sea

Elkin de Avila/Fusion

Tierra Bomba carries a lot of weight on its shoulders. You could even say that this small fishing village off the coast of Colombia combines some of the worst problems from the 19th and 21st centuries.

For starters, this tiny island has never had running water, which forces its 5,000 residents to depend on water brought in boats from the nearby city of Cartagena.

In the meantime, rising sea levels, caused in part by global warming, are chipping away at the island’s shores.

Some 30 houses on the island are about to be swallowed by the sea, including Maria Medran’s three-room home.

“The sea has become my swimming pool,” Medran said, as she looked out over the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea.

“When the waves get high, the water comes right here,” Medran said, pointing at her feet.

It’s easy to observe the sea from Medran’s house. The Caribbean has knocked down the back wall, exposing her living room to the water that splashes in from its salty waves. The sea is now eroding the ground beneath her son’s room.

“Look at these fractures here,” Maria said, pointing at a six-foot-long crack on the floor. “This just started to happen about eight days ago.”

Experts estimate that each year, Tierra Bomba is losing about four feet of its shores to erosion. The residents of this village say that government officials have done little to tackle the problem.

“All we see are promises and no actions,” said Horacio Cervantes, a fisherman whose mother had to move out of her home because the sea had already eroded much of the ground beneath it.

Like most of Tierra Bomba’s residents, Cervantes is not planning to vote in Colombia’s upcoming presidential election. “We need to see solutions to our problems first,” Cervantes said.

Tierra Bomba has actually become famous for its recent acts of resistance to politicians.

In March, residents of the island decided to boycott congressional elections, to protest how the problems in their village have been left unattended. Protesters even stopped officials from installing voting booths on the island.

“We are very united in this town,” said Carmen Medran, Maria’s sister. “We want to see politicians who are committed to solving our needs.”

With Colombia’s presidential election just a few days away, the general sentiment in town is that the boycott against elections should continue.

Colombia’s presidential candidates have not addressed the lack of water in this village or in other parts of Colombia, as their campaigns have focused more heavily on how to conduct peace negotiations with the FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group.

The mayor of Cartagena says he is working to get funds from the national government to build sea barricades that would stop erosion in Tierra Bomba. In a press release issued in late May he said that a $14 million project to build barricades had been presented to a national infrastructure fund.

But so far, locals have not seen any construction work happening.

This means that the residents of this village have little reason to change their attitude toward politicians.

“There’s no political will to fix problems here,” said Nirla Aaron, a longtime community leader.

Aaron pointed out that last year, the state government failed to execute a project to build sea barricades, because officials weren’t able to hire contractors before a deadline for using government funds expired.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government is studying plans to build a naval base on the island, which could lead to land conflicts between villagers and the navy. Some residents claim that officials are not acting on public infrastructure projects in order to force them to leave the area.

“They’re trying to corral us, to make us so tired of living here that we will leave,” Aaron said.

Aaron isn’t too interested in the current election, in which president Juan Manuel Santos is asking people to re-elect him so that he can conclude peace talks with the FARC guerrillas.

Neither are most Colombians. Only 40 percent of the country’s voters participated in the first round of presidential elections on May 25th.

“Building peace is not just about sitting at a negotiating table with an armed group,” Aaron said. “You will get peace in this country when poor people have something to eat, and when their children have adequate opportunities.”

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U.S. politics is rife with dysfunction, whether it’s a government shutdown or a flip-flopping politician. We look at what’s clearly working and what is not.

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