Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Now this is art

When traveling in Latin America, I have always been impressed by the quantity and often quality of graffiti covering walls all over the continent. Not only is there so much more than in the States, but the pieces are often stunning works of art or political statements unlike what I have seen at home.

As far as I can tell, one of the places with the highest concentrations of graffiti - particularly political graffiti - is the National University, located across the street from my apartment. Often referred to as la Nacho,
it is the principal public university in the country, and arguably the best institution of higher education in the country. Several friends have commented to me that whereas the Nacho requires excellent results on an exacting admissions exam, enough cash is the main thing you need to get into most of the private universities. 

Tuition at the Nacho, however, is determined by a sliding scale based on income, and as a result is a diverse, dynamic place. The Nacho has also long been the site of strong student activism in Colombia. This is student activism in the style of the University of California protests late last year, not a quiet protest with a few unhappy students. Fee hikes have also been the cause of protests her, resulting in several pelas (confrontations) with police.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Defending Human Rights in Colombia is a Deadly Job

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

Jorge Molano speaks to a delegation from the U.S., Canada and El Salvador about the challenges faced by human rights defenders in Colombia. Photograph by Kelly Dowdell.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid,” Jorge tells me. “Your right to freedom disappears - you have to limit your movements and activities.”

I would be afraid, too; Jorge and I sit talking after I have spent a good ten minutes trying to convince his bodyguard to let me see him. But I don’t mind the hoops I had to jump through - I actually would have been happy to undergo a bit more security, perhaps a metal detector or something more intimidating. After all, in a country like Colombia, where human rights defenders are targeted by both the judicial system and paramilitary actors, Jorge Molano is a walking target.

Read the rest of the article.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Irresponsible journalism puts Peace Community at risk

January 5th update: It seems that O’Grady has been up to such reckless journalism for a while. Check out this excellent piece by Phillip Cryan from 2004.

A little less than a year ago I wrote about Peace Community fears that doctored testimony from alias Samir, a recently demobilized FARC leader from the region, would be used to discredit and harm the Community. Over the past few months those fears have been realized, mostly recently in no less than the Wall Street Journal.

On December 13th, Mary Anastasia O’Grady published a column in which she claimed, based solely on a conversation with Samir, that the Peace Community and its Colombian supporters have had close ties with the FARC. Not only that, but she makes inferences that Amnesty International and Peace Brigades International (an accompaniment organization like FOR) have supported such ties. 

Now it’s no secret that I’m no fan of O’Grady’s, but I am appalled at her dangerous and irresponsible journalism. Dangerous, because in a country like Colombia, such accusations and insinuations put both Community and PBI members at risk. Irresponsible because as a veteran journalist, O’Grady should know better than to make serious assertions based upon a sole, and highly unreliable, source.