BOGOTA (Reuters) - A protest by residents in the Colombian Pacific port city of Buenaventura has prevented the shipment of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cargo, the government said on Wednesday, adding that officials are negotiating with community leaders.
Residents are demanding more funding for the violent and poverty-stricken city, which has about 415,000 residents, many of whom lack basics like running water. The week-long protest has blocked roads, preventing the arrival of coffee and other goods to ports, and sparking looting at supermarkets last weekend.
The coffee industry has expressed worry that the strike may delay shipments of high-quality arabica beans at a time when heavy rains have already slowed the harvest.
So far 24,465 shipping containers and 229,489 tonnes of cargo have been held back by the strike, the ports and transport regulator said in a statement.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who is also grappling with a nationwide teachers strike, has sent a special commission to Buenaventura to negotiate with local leaders.
"We hope today and tomorrow's talks will take us to solutions," Guillermo Rivera, the vice-minister of the interior told journalists. "As we've said, the government is completely willing to listen, discuss and build solutions to the problems faced by Buenaventura."
The head of the city's chamber of commerce, Alexander Micolta, told Reuters that hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other services associated with the port have lost some $24 million in sales during the strike, while the city's five ports have missed out on $58 million in earnings.
More than 50 percent of Colombia's imports arrive via Buenaventura, which also dispatches 5 percent of exports. On average 5,000 cargo vehicles enter and leave the ports daily.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Alistair Bell)