The Colombian military has had numerous successes targeting high-ranking leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in recent years. Its two greatest successes were the killing of secretariat members Raúl Reyes in 2008 and Jorge Briceño, alias “Mono Jojoy,” last year. But the guerrilla leader that the military most wants to capture or kill is the FARC’s supreme commander Alfonso Cano. In an effort to achieve its objective, the Colombian army has deployed 5,000 troops with the sole mission of locating Cano. But the task of tracking down and targeting the FARC leader is proving to be far more challenging than the killing of Reyes and Mono Jojoy due to the high altitude and rugged mountain terrain prevalent in the department of Tolima in central Colombia, where the FARC was founded in 1964. Read more»
Many analysts and sectors of the mainstream media have suggested that the apparent ineffectiveness of the U.S. government to resolve the crisis in Honduras is evidence that the influence wielded by the region’s superpower is waning. They argue that the assertiveness of Brazil in its efforts to have Honduras’ coup regime step down and re-instate the country’s democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya illustrates how the balance of power in the region has shifted. But such conclusions might well be premature. After all, given the stubbornness of the coup regime headed by Roberto Micheletti, it could be argued that it is the United States, and by extension its ally Colombia, that are getting their way in Honduras and not Brazil and its leftist allies Venezuela and Bolivia. Read more»
Marco Tulio Pérez arrived in the remote Afro-Colombian community of Libertad in 2000. One of his first acts was to organize a beauty pageant for local girls between 15 and 18 years of age. But this pageant was to be much more than just another example of a community engaging in one of Colombia’s favorite pastimes because Pérez, also known as “el Oso” (the Bear), was the new leader of the right-wing paramilitaries in Libertad. The “prize” for the 15 highest-ranking girls in the pageant was a two-week stay on the small farm that the Bear and his troops had commandeered for their living quarters. The mass rape that occurred during that two weeks signified the beginning of a brutal four-year siege that the residents of Libertad would be forced to endure at the hands of the paramilitaries. It is a violent legacy that the community is now struggling to overcome. Read more»
Four hundred years ago, Afro-Colombians living along Colombia’s Caribbean coast would cry when a child was born because the youth was destined to suffer a life of slavery under Spanish colonial rule. And when an Afro-Colombian died, people would engage in a nine-day and nine-night wake to celebrate the deceased’s return to Africa. Back then it appeared that death was the only path to liberation. But today, parents in the remote village of San Basilio de Palenque no longer cry when their children are born thanks to the bravery and resilience of their ancestors, who successfully gained freedom from the Spanish crown in 1603. The contemporary residents of San Basilio de Palenque—simply called Palenque by locals—claim to live in the first free black community in the Americas and earlier this year they sent a letter to Barack Obama inviting the first black president of the United States to visit their village. “We are inviting Barak Obama and we hope he will visit us,” explains community leader Enrique Marquéz. “We are not going to ask him for anything. We only want him, and all the blacks and all the people of the world, to learn about Palenque.” Read more»
Tercer Milenio Park is located only a few blocks from Colombia’s presidential palace in the center of Bogotá and offers respite from the chaotic city to local residents. But for the past four months, it has also been a refuge from the country’s rural violence for more than one thousand displaced persons. In March, displaced people from every corner of Colombia occupied Bogotá’s Plaza Bolívar to protest the government’s failure to combat forced displacement and to address the needs of internal refugees. Police relocated the protesters to nearby Tercer Milenio Park, where they have lived ever since in makeshift homes constructed of wood and plastic sheets. More than 380,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced from their homes by violence in 2008 and, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 50 families arrive in Bogotá everyday seeking refuge. Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno has publicly stated that the city is losing control of the situation and Health Secretary Hector Zambrano has called on the national government to establish refugee camps. Read more»
On August 8, 2008, Colombia’s National Police arrested Liliany Obando and charged her with the crime of rebellion and providing funding to a terrorist group. Ten months later, Obando had yet to have her day in court and remained a prisoner in Bogotá’s Buen Pastor Prison. Her work for the international relations commission of FENSUAGRO (The National Federation of Agricultural Farming Unions) included speaking and fundraising trips to Canada, Europe and Australia during which she openly and repeatedly criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record. Obando was the first person arrested as part of the so-called FARC-politica scandal that resulted from alleged evidence found on the laptop computer of FARC Commander Raúl Reyes, who was killed by the Colombian military in March 2008. I recently interviewed Obando in her prison cell. 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»