Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Colombia’s War: “He’s giving our country away”

Check out my newest article, published on a great international women's journalism site, The WIP.

The sparse media coverage of Colombia tends only to give vague descriptions of a violent country with a thriving drug trade. But I’ve come to understand in my 15 months living and working here as a human rights observer and accompanier, that, like many armed conflicts in the world, the war continues because it serves the interests of the rich and powerful, from the Uribe administration to multinational corporations.

Despite its claims to the contrary, the Colombian government’s policies do little to end the violence. Spanning over nearly five decades and multiple administrations, the internal conflict has resulted in countless deaths and over 4 million internally displaced Colombians.

Read the rest of the article

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mini culture shocks

I recently returned from my second visit to the Peace Community after officially having left in June. My first visit, at the end of August, was a quick two-day thing with the delegation I was leading, so there was little time for hanging out or reflecting. This last visit, however, was a tad longer and less frenzied.

With that extra bit of reflection and personal space, I realized that I was experiencing a bit of double-reverse culture shock. As I described when I first arrived in Bogotá, I had a hard time adjusting to the big, bad city after a year in the deep campo (to which, of course, I had had to adjust when I arrived there in June of last year). Going back last week, even for just five days, was bit of a shock to the system, as was turning quickly around and heading back to the city. Bursts of mini culture shocks, as it were.

Besides getting the hang again of properly adjusting a mosquito net and using the formal usted verb form, I was struck on my second day by how living outside of a direct conflict zone has dulled some of the senses I had honed while living in the Peace Community. That morning, as a helicopter flew extremely low over the village, folks ran out of their houses and kids out of their classrooms to follow its trajectory. Standing there watching with Community members, I was reminded of the close proximity of the conflict and the way that it is integrated into daily life there. Such a sense has slipped from my consciousness since being in Bogota. Seldom now do I even note the passing of a helicopter, though I have to admit that at times I do still catch myself looking out the window when one passes, trying to ascertain its route as we do while accompanying in the Community.

Now I'm back in Bogotá, and pretty relieved to be after two weeks of work travel. I guess the place must be growing on me...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Counter-tourism, international campaign & letter to Obama

While the Colombian Government has launched a public relations campaign, "Discover Colombia Through Its Heart," complete with enormous heart sculptures placed in downtown D.C., a group of activists has responded with its own "counter-tourism" campaign. Offering "exploitation opportunities and luxuriously abusive vacation packages," the campaign's site describes how "as a visitor to Colombia, you will be overwhelmed by legendary Colombian hospitality. You may even be fortunate enough to receive the same 'red carpet treatment' given to some Colombian citizens by the army -- literally rolled up in a red carpet and shipped across the country! These no-cost excursions start with kidnapping, continue with being trucked hundreds of miles to a more violent frontier region and end with extrajudicial execution and a press conference announcing 'positive' kills of guerrilla fighters." The website and various direct actions are part of a larger counter-campaign, No More Broken Hearts.

Love it!

Also launched this week is an international campaign to defend the right to defend human rights in Colombia. Coinciding with the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, the campaign launched yesterday at an event in downtown Bogotá. "In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job," says the campaign website. "And things are getting worse."

Lastly, we are asking folks in the U.S. to urge their representatives to sign a letter to President Obama. The letter expresses concern about the plan for 7 U.S. military installations in Colombia. Please take action!