Archive for 2009
An article by Juan Forero published last week in the Washington Post reflects the approach commonly used by most mainstream media correspondents covering the war on drugs and the armed conflict in Colombia. This modus operandi involves a journalist briefly visiting a rural region—often on a press junket organized by the Colombian government or US embassy—and being spoon-fed a story by the authorities. Inevitably, the official perspective dominates the resulting article, which ends up being little more than a public relations piece promoting the policies of the US and Colombian governments. Forero’s article about a recent shift in strategy in the US war on drugs in Colombia clearly fits this pattern. As a result, his findings contrast dramatically to those revealed in my recent investigation of the same counternarcotics project in eastern Colombia. Read more»
As a connoisseur of Colombia, Garry Leech has released a new book about his journalistic adventures titled Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia.
1. Describe your first encounter with a place called Colombia.
I first visited Colombia in 1989 and spent my first night in the country in Medellín. A Colombian from Bogotá who was staying at the same hotel insisted on taking me out for an amazing night on the town and paying for everything because, as he kept telling me, “You are a guest in my country.” I quickly came to realize that his warmth, generosity and hospitality are not uncommon among Colombians. Read more»
Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe regularly labels the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as “cowardly terrorists.” However, he has inappropriately used the term on numerous occasions, including twice in the past week, in his effort to propagandize against the rebel group. Following a FARC attack against the Colombian military that killed eight soldiers in northeastern Colombia last week and another assault that resulted in the deaths of seven more soldiers yesterday, Uribe ignored the fact that both were strikes against legitimate military targets and that no civilians were killed in either instance. Additionally, the political wrangling over logistics related to the FARC’s proposed unilateral release of a soldier held captive by the rebel group for more than eleven years potentially represents the first serious repercussion from the Colombian government’s illegal use of the Red Cross symbol last year during a hostage rescue mission. Read more»
It seems that new revelations about the Colombian government’s links to human rights abuses are appearing almost weekly. In recent weeks there have been allegations that Colombian political and military officials conspired with right-wing paramilitaries to burn the bodies of massacre victims in an effort to conceal the number of people killed by the militias; the country’s largest paramilitary organization funded President Alvaro Uribe’s 2002 election campaign; and the military’s counterinsurgency strategy has contributed to a worsening humanitarian crisis. These revelations come on the heels of evidence that the military has increasingly used extra-judicial executions as a counter-insurgency strategy in recent years and the para-politics scandal linking elected officials to the paramilitaries. In response to the Colombian military’s increasing involvement in human rights violations, the British government recently announced that it was ending military aid to Colombia. In contrast, both the US and Canadian governments continue to disregard the human rights crisis in their push to implement bilateral free trade agreements with Colombia. Read more»
The northern Colombian departments of Antioquia and Córdoba have seen an upsurge in violence in the last year that Colombian authorities have attributed to two phenomena which are, in their minds, interrelated: a dramatic increase in coca cultivation and the push by emerging criminal groups to take advantage of coca crops and trafficking routes in the region. Facing down a difficult situation experienced elsewhere in the country, Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe briefly mentioned a new strategy to confront these two phenomena: the arrest and prosecution of those who grow coca in the region. This strategy, though, is fraught with problems that are likely to lead to failure. These include the overt ignorance of the failures of past punitive policies against coca growers, the overt ignorance of the reasons why cocaleros grow coca in the first place and the alienation of the cocalero population, which could lead growers to move even closer to armed groups in the area. Read more»
In Colombia, many indigenous people inhabit officially designated resguardos, or reserves, in highland areas where insufficient space fails to fulfill the agricultural needs of an increasing population. The lives of the indigenous Nasa are further complicated because they live in Colombia’s Cauca Department, a violent area where fighting between the army, the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary groups often leaves indigenous people caught in the crossfire. Together, violence and malnutrition caused by the land deficit have resulted in numerous Nasa deaths. Like many indigenous peoples in Latin America, the contemporary problems within the Nasa community began centuries ago. During the Spanish conquest, European settlers claimed flatter lowlands better suited to agriculture for themselves. Hundreds of years later, indigenous groups from Mexico to Bolivia barely eke out a subsistence living cultivating crops on the steep hillsides their ancestors were forced to inhabit. Such is the plight of the Nasa. Read more»
The streets of the remote village of La Cooperativa in the La Macarena region of eastern Colombia were bustling with people going about their daily business. The restaurants were full and stores had no problem selling their wares to a steady stream of customers consisting of local peasants and leftist guerrillas who had controlled this region for more than four decades. There was plenty of work for everyone and local businesses were booming. At the heart of this robust economy was coca, the plant whose leaves provide the raw ingredient in cocaine. But that was in 2006. Today, La Cooperativa is a virtual ghost town. The coca is gone, the guerrillas are gone; and so has more than 80 percent of the population. “Life is worse now than it was three years ago; the situation here is critical,” says one local resident. “In six more months there might not be anyone left here.” From the Colombian government’s perspective, however, a pilot project that utilizes a carrot and stick approach towards combating both the insurgency and coca cultivation is paying dividends as the state is finally establishing a permanent, and comprehensive, presence in a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Read more»