BOCACHICA, Colombia – The children of Bocachica, a small but historic Colombian village surrounded by Caribbean beaches, dream of going to school and becoming professional sports stars to escape their grinding poverty, but meanwhile they run barefoot through the dirt streets of their island, half an hour by motorboat away from Cartagena.
So near is Bocachica to the cosmopolitan tourist attraction of Cartagena de Indias and yet so far – here are none of the narrow streets with colonial balconies of the walled city, nor any of the modern districts with luxury buildings that present a Manhattan-like skyline.
Bocachica on Tierra Bomba island, in contrast, has dirt roads and simple one-story buildings painted in bright colors to disguise the poverty of their inhabitants, who mostly subsist on fishing and dwindling tourism.
“Up to now we have no drinking water, we have to go to the water wagons, to the tanks, to buy containers of water. We do have gas now, some houses have it, others don’t,” young college student Deylis Guerrero told EFE.
The girl is a celebrity in the village not only because she was named Queen of Bocachica in the Independence Day celebrations last November in Cartagena, but also because she is the sister of baseball pro Tayron Guerrero of the Miami Marlins.
“We’re people forgotten by the government but we represent the history of Colombia,” said Belmir Caraballo, director of the Bocachica House of Culture, where, he said, “we all get together to preserve our heritage. It’s not a question of rescuing it because it’s never been lost, it’s all here, what we have to do is take it back.”
The island’s heritage includes the Spanish fortresses Bateria Angel San Rafael and Fort San Fernando de Bocachica that kept pirates out of Cartagena Bay, as well as the locals’ own descent from African slaves.
But poverty is just one of the miseries Bocachica suffers. There is also government neglect of its people and death threats to community leader Mirla Aaron because she sought collective ownership of their ancestral land, now eagerly sought by private companies for tourism development projects.