Archive for 2003

The Hell of El Modelo

Category: Human Rights
By · December 8, 2003 · Comment

We sat in a small café, opposite the prison, waiting for clearance from the authorities for our visit. El Modelo is situated in an extremely poor quarter of Bogotá and the people around us represented the marginalized in this divided and dangerous country. Thousands have been displaced from the countryside. The city, at eight million people, is overcrowded and unemployment is high, despite this being an oil-rich country. The dispossessed make their living through hawking goods on street corners or begging. Yet, once we were allowed into the prison, just meters from the poverty and deprivation, we were met by guards armed with weapons that must have cost a small fortune. Read more»

Colombia Three Await Verdict in Sham Trial

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights
By · November 24, 2003 · Comment

Three Irish citizens known as the “Colombia Three” have spent over two years in Colombian prisons without being convicted of any crimes. Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley were arrested in Bogotá’s El Dorado Airport on August 11, 2001, upon their arrival in the Colombian capital from a rebel safe-haven in southern Colombia. The government had ceded the safe-haven to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as an area in which to carry out peace negotiations, which collapsed in February 2002. The three Irishmen say they visited the zone to observe the peace talks, but Colombian authorities have accused them of being members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and have charged them with training the guerrillas in weapons and explosives. Their trial did not begin until October 2002, more than a year after their arrests, and finally ended in August 2003. However, three months after the trial’s conclusion, the judge has yet to render a verdict, and the three men still sit in a Colombian jail uncertain of their future. Read more»

The Indigenous Struggle in the Chocó

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights, Race and Gender
By · November 10, 2003 · Comment

Our indigenous guide maneuvered the dugout canoe cautiously through the shallow waters of the Río Opogodó deep in the rainforest of Colombia’s Chocó region. We had traveled almost 12 hours from the departmental capital Quibdó down the Río Atrato and up the Opogodó when we approached a collection of canoes moored on a pebbled embankment. After seeing few signs of human existence during the previous three hours, the sight of a small Embera indigenous village consisting of some 20 open thatched huts on wooden stilts was a magical vision. Walking up a green and muddy hill into the mist-enshrouded village was like traveling back a thousand years in time. But the sense of peacefulness that greeted us as we entered Egorokera proved to be mostly an illusion. The modern day reality for the Embera is far from peaceful as communities from this indigenous tribe struggle to cope with malnutrition, disease, governmental neglect, and constant confrontations with Colombia’s armed groups. Read more»

Double Defeat for Uribe as Colombia Turns Left

Category: Politics and Democracy
By · October 27, 2003 · Comment

It appears that Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe suffered a double setback at the polls during this past weekend. On Saturday, the president failed to draw the 25 percent of the country’s voters required to make many of the referendum’s 15 points binding. Uribe had claimed that approving the referendum was essential in order to combat corruption and reform the nation’s economy or else Colombia risked an Argentine-style economic collapse. The day after the referendum saw Colombians again returning to the polls to vote in local elections. One of the offices at stake was that of mayor of the nation’s capital Bogotá, the country’s second most important elected office. By electing former union leader and outspoken critic of Uribe’s security and economic policies Luis Eduardo “Lucho” Garzon as Bogotá’s new mayor, voters again dealt a blow to Uribe. Read more»

Displacing Development in the Chocó

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights, Race and Gender
By · October 12, 2003 · Comment

In the context of the ongoing territorial conflict in the Chocó, the mostly Afro-Colombian and indigenous residents of the region struggle on various fronts. The Chocó is Colombia’s poorest and most underdeveloped department with almost 80 percent of the population living in extreme poverty and an illiteracy rate three times the national average. Only four countries—Afghanistan, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone—have a higher infant mortality rate than the Chocó, where 125 children out of every 1,000 die before reaching their first birthday. The region’s lack of infrastructure is evidenced by the significant percentage of the population without access to electricity and potable water and the fact that roads are virtually non-existent, leaving rural Chocó almost exclusively dependent on river transportation. In addition to struggling with ongoing problems of health, education, employment and the civil conflict, chocoanos also face one of the highest rates of displacement in the country. Read more»

Washington Finally Sees Uribe’s True Colors

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights, US Foreign Policy
By · September 29, 2003 · Comment

Finally, some Washington lawmakers have removed the blinders they have so eagerly worn during the past year while analyzing Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe. Last week 56 members of Congress sent a letter to the Colombian president stating their concerns about his plan to let right-wing paramilitaries escape justice by paying fines instead of going to prison. There were even reports that State Department officials wanted to put a little distance between the Bush administration and the now tarnished Uribe. As a result of his amnesty plan and his recent verbal assault against non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some Washington lawmakers have begun to question their support for Latin America’s golden boy and the Western Hemisphere’s most outspoken supporter of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, critics of Uribe have been trying to focus attention on his authoritarian right-wing record since before he won the presidency last year, but Washington repeatedly turned a deaf ear. Read more»

Ghosts of the Past

Category: Armed Conflict, Human Rights
By · September 15, 2003 · Comment

Looking out over the muddy banks of the Río Atrato, Macaria tells of nightmares of mangled bodies, spiraling flames and the cries of dying children. Trying desperately to grasp the hands that reach out to her through the darkness, she awakens to nothing but silence. Macaria has been working with a UN-sponsored psychologist for months struggling to come to terms with the tragedy that struck this small Afro-Colombian community over a year ago. From the departmental capital Quibdó, Bellavista is a four-hour motorboat ride down the Río Atrato through military and paramilitary checkpoints. As one approaches the riverbank near this remote town, it is difficult to believe that so much suffering has occurred here. Dugout canoes laden with bananas, pineapples, sugarcane and miscellaneous packages vie for space near the dirt embankment as lively exchanges take place between people calling instructions back and forth. A large poster, which was placed strategically on the riverbank by the army, reads: “On May 2, 2002, the FARC assassinated 119 people here. We will never forget.” A larger than life boy’s face peers out from beside the words. Almost one year after Bellavista’s residents returned to the homes they abandoned following the attack, community members are still trying to process what happened that fateful day. Read more»