The Columbian port of Buenaventura, known in South America as"the hell hole of the hemisphere." has received a S41 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to replace the city's recking shocked Inter-American Bank President Antonion Ortiz Mena visited the Pacific port and declared that its revival should become a pilot project for the hemisphere.
Like other Latin American ports. buenaventura is hot and humid and in economic bondage to the political elite in the more temperate uplands. Only rarely does a resident of bogola visit the city. whose 125000 citizens are mostly descendants of African slaves brought to work in the fever-laden climate.
With most of Brenaventura's solid land fenced in for warehousing the more desperately poor have driven tree trunk piers into the river mud, attached a tin roof and woyen sticks into walls. Norrow plank walkways serve as streets in the 3500-shack community.
The bank loan, matched by S37 million from Colombian sources. is to porvide building lots on dry land. build some houses and encourage self-help construction of others. and provide a modern sewage system as well as new schools.
The loan took years to move through the bank bureaueracy, even though the United States, chief source of funds for the bank, has been insisting that loans should benefit the poor.
It also appears to carry the imprint of Bucnaventura's late benefactor. Roman Catholic Bishop Gerardo Valencia, who once halted a dock extension project in its tracks by taking up residence himself in the threatened stilt housing.
As a huge dredge, rented at s1000 a day, stood idle. The leader ofcolombia's rebel priests insisted that the government build houses before destroying slums. Bishop Valencia was killed in a plane crash in 1972 after 18 years of efforts to obtain action. His picture hangs on the walks of mostof the rever shacks.
Bishop Valencia's quarrel with the Colombian government was that while Buenaventura, the country's main port, handled millions of dollars in exports of coffee, sugar and minerals annually. The city benefited only from what visiting sailors spend on beer and prostitutes.
The road down from Bogota capital of Colombia's 28 million people, was for years a barely passable route that was improved only when the flow of hoods was threatened. A crude freight railroad and a dirt airstrip are the only other links to the rest of the country.
According tobank figures.Unemployment in the cit*y is 16 per cent. Only 30 per cent of Brenaventrua's housing meets the most minimal sanitary standards, and only 5 per cent have sewer connections.
The bank loan, to a autonomous regional development corporation, will not be the last if the local planners have their way. They estimated five years ago that it would take $650 million to pull Buenaventura out of its hell hole.