Tadó is a small town in Chocó, Colombia’s poorest region in the Pacific rainforest. The National Liberation Army (ELN), a Marxist guerrilla, continues to wrestle with state forces in one of the last active areas of Colombia’s armed conflict
Tadó is a town of some 10,000 people nested in the thick of the Pacific rainforest and almost exclusively populated by black decedents of former slaves. Until recently, the lack of decent roads kept this town relatively isolated, which is evident in the apparent slow pace of life as people great each other incessantly. But the slow pace is also an ingrained consequence of the lack of jobs. There are no official figures, but we were told that maybe 35% of people have employment. The town traditionally made do sifting for gold, a back-breaking but sustainable lifestyle. However, more recently, outsiders with machinery offered the locals to do the work in exchange of a minimal proportion of the exploit. And exploit they did. They left the overturned soil barren and polluted the pristine rivers with diesel and mercury.
Today, the gold is gone and the town is paying a heavy price, not only environmentally but also socially as the gold rush brought drugs, prostitution and, most notably, the guerillas. For the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) is present and active in the area. Tadosanos (the people form Tadó) refer to their security situation as the “public order issue”. The ELN often kidnaps Tadosanos for ransom, has laid out mines in the outskirts and even bombed the local police station in late 2014. The military and special forces are since involved in what can be described as a low-intensity conflict zone. It should not be a surprise that this town is out-of-bounds according to US, Canadian and UK official travel advisories.