Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | October 16, 2014

Guest Post: Helping a Traditional Farm. By Stuart Oswald.

 

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My name is Stuart Oswald, and I’ve been a keen visitor and traveller of Colombia since 2006, joining the list of other enthusiast expats. I have taken an interest in a previously abandoned farm in Villeta, the sweetest city in Colombia. With limited funds, I am trying to restore a now-working farm to a state of good repair from its dilapidated predicament. Finca Varsovia is now back to producing panela (unrefined whole cane sugar), be it in presently small quantities. The ongoing focus is sustainable, traditional, and organic sugarcane farming, all within a not-for-profit business model where all funds are infused back into the farm. This is quite different from many other present farming practices undertaken in Colombia.

After running a few successful technology-related kick-starter projects back in the UK, I thought it would be beneficial to apply this crowd-funding principle to aspects of the farm’s resurgence. It’s a great way to engage like-minded people in supporting positive improvements to peoples’ lives. I set about pulling together the kick-starter project with the objective of building a much needed new chicken coop that will benefit not only the farm and its inhabitants, but also locals with much needed fresh eggs and poultry. Our emphasis will be a keen focus on using renewable and sustainable materials such as bamboo (guadua), grown within our farm’s ground, as well as recycling suitable materials from abandoned buildings. All chickens will be organic and free range.

I would like to take this opportunity to appeal for any backers to this project in pledging whatever you feel this project might be worth. There’s plenty more information and rewards via our project link here. You can enjoy a day at the farm as a thank you for your critical support.

By all means, feel free to get in contact with me regarding this project, or anything else expatriate in Colombia. I tweet often @StuartOswald and I keep a small blog that I will be using more often, StuartOswald.com.

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Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | October 1, 2014

The Writing is Re-Writing.

Lately, I have not been writing here as often. I have been shaping a lot of what I write about on this blog into a coherent manuscript about Colombia. You can read excerpts here.

Joan Didion said, “Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.”

As I put down strokes, there was this:

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But then, the material was not gelling. As Joan Didion also said, “Once I get over maybe a hundred pages, I won’t go back to page one, but I might go back to page fifty-five, or twenty, even. But then every once in a while I feel the need to go to page one again and start rewriting.”

So, it came to this:

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I take comfort to know this is part of the process.

Joyce Carol Oates said, “‘A Fair Maiden’ existed in notes and sketches for perhaps a year. When I traveled, I would take along with me my folder of notes – ‘ideas for stories.’ Eventually, I began to write it and wrote it fairly swiftly – in perhaps two months of fairly intense writing and rewriting. Most of my time writing is really re-writing.”

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 24, 2014

FARC’s Child Recruiter Captured.

Miguel Angel Villamizar Contreras, 28, is responsible for recruiting 80 percent of child soldiers into the FARC in Santander, Antioquia, and Bolivar departments.

He was captured recently.

He has been in the FARC for 17 years, which means he joined when he was 11 years old.

I spoke to Richard McColl of Anadolu agency. I said, “The Colombian government and the international community need to send a strong message that the rights of children must be respected. Cases in which adults commit human rights violations and steal the lives of children need to be prosecuted. It is very difficult for a child who lived such atrocities to rebuild a healthy and productive life. Years of therapy will not erase such horrors. Now, especially now that Colombia is thinking of a post-conflict era, victims need to know that their lives and their feelings will be validated.”

Related:

FARC continue recruiting children while talking peace.

FARC-government negotiations must include immediately returning child soldiers to families.

 Court ruled reparations to be paid for the unlawful recruitment of minors.

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 11, 2014

#neverforget #Sept. 11

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We did not live far, maybe a brisk fifteen-minute walk away. We heard the first plane low, right over us. We witnessed the second crash from the rooftop.

The sky was angel blue.

Then, the buildings collapsed — a deep, forceful, thunder-like sound, and it cut through me. I close my eyes now and I still sense it: the dust, the wind carrying some of the broken glass to us.

The smoke lasted weeks.

For months after, at night, we slept listening to power-saws and hammering.

Close to dawn, as the city quieted for a few hours, whispers and murmurs manifested around me.

Strangely, or not so strangely, I saw doves on our rooftop, really, doves. As if they kept vigil over the sight.

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Stay strong, New York.

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | August 30, 2014

Colombia’s Disappeared

Today, August 30, is International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance.

Estela de Carlotto, the founder of the Argentinian human rights organization Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, spent 36 years hoping to find her grandson who was disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. Recently, thanks to a DNA test, he was found.

During Argentina’s military dictatorship in 1976-83, some estimated 9,000 to 30,000 left-wing activists and militants were arrested and taken to torture centers. Some young opponents were pregnant and they gave birth while in the torture centers. The babies were stolen from them, and handed over to other families to raise as their own. It is believed some 500 children were stolen.

For someone “found,” it is a slow process to come to terms with the idea they are not who they thought they were, to understand that those who raised them were those who collaborated with their parents’ murderers.

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I recommend the memoir My Name is Victoria: The Extraordinary Story of One Woman’s Struggle to Reclaim Her True Identity by Victoria Donda (and translated from Spanish by Magda Bogin). It is the memoir of Victoria Donda, an Argentine human rights activist and legislator. She suspected the family who raised her was not her biological family. She approached the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who helped her find her family, also through DNA.

The cases of missing/ disappeared children has fractured Argentina’s society for nearly four decades.

Colombia, too, has cases of missing/ disappeared children, and in a post-conflict scenario, this, too, will put a crack in Colombia’s society.

See: A New Heinous Chapter in Colombia’s History: Children of the Disappeared Victims of Paramilitaries.

A report by the US Office on Colombia and the Latin America working group education fund, Breaking the Silence: In search of Colombia’s disappeared, reveals that there are around 30,000 forced disappearances registered in Colombia. However, the total number is likely to be much higher as many cases have yet to be recorded in a still relatively new national database, and many disappearances are not registered at all.

At least 50,000 Colombian families are searching for the whereabouts of family members. Many families live with the continued hope that their loved ones are still alive, while also being deprived of a body to lay to rest.

In November 2011, the Colombian National Registry of Disappeared Persons reported a total number of 50,891 cases of disappearance. Of these, 16,907 are presumed to be enforced disappearances, according to the definition of enforced disappearance in Colombian Law.

In Colombia, victims of forced disappearances include human rights defenders, trade unionists, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people and poor rural farmers and their families.

All the armed groups have been responsible for disappearances in Colombia, from the left-wing guerrillas to the right-wing paramilitaries to the government’s forces. Bodies of victims were often mutilated, and buried in unmarked graves or thrown into the river.

Often, victims’ families are stigmatized and portrayed as guerrillas who deserve their fate.

See: Man survives becoming victim of “false positive.”

See: Scandals of “false positives” reveal army’s human rights abuses run deep.

Every week in Colombia people continue to disappear — despite the ongoing peace talks.

In 2011, the Ministry of Interior published the results of an investigation conducted along with the National Institute of Forensics and the National General Registry in which they could identify just 5,582 bodies out of a total of 22,689 bodies buried without names in public cemeteries throughout the country. In January 2013 alone, there were over 400 cases of disappearance reported in the country, with many of these presumed to be enforced disappearances.

Under both the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, ratified by Colombia in 2012, victims’ families have the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.

In 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross worked with 61 Colombian families missing loved ones. Twenty-four people were found alive, while nine sets of remains were identified and returned to families.

Related:

Report ‘Desapariciones forzadas en Colombia 2011-2012: en busqueda de la justicia’ by Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos.

Special report by Semana magazine.

 

 

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Constanza Turbay Cote was one of eleven victims who travelled to Havana last week to speak before the peace negotiators. Her brother, a politician, was kidnapped by the FARC on June 15, 1995. Twenty-two months later, the FARC informed the family that he had drowned when he was being moved via the Caguán River.

Three years later, on December 29, 2000, her mother and her other brother were in a car driving between Doncello and Puerto Rico in Caquetá department when the FARC stopped the car and murdered them. It happened while the peace talks with the government of Andres Pastrana were taking place.

Former FARC leader, alias Raúl Reyes, said the family had ties to paramilitaries. (Which has not ever been proven.)

The FARC also stole by force the family’s farm in San Vicente del Caguán.

Constanza Turbay Cote said a FARC leader, alias Ivaán Márquez, approached her during a break, during last week’s victims’ forum in Havana, and he said, “About the FARC and your family, that was a big error. I am asking your forgiveness … Your brother was a great man.”

She said she felt his words came “from his heart.”

Oh, this gives much hope. Such hope. Here is to hoping. It feels amazing to think that the mere power of validating feelings can do something here.

Can validating each other’s feelings lead to peace?

Sixty victims in total have been selected to join the negotiations in Cuba over the next weeks. They were hand-picked by a commission of delegates from the United Nations, the Roman Catholic Church, and Colombia’s National University after a series of public forums. They will include not only victims of the FARC, but also of the paramilitaries and the state.

Yet, sadly, many who suffered at the hands of the FARC — kidnappings, forced displacements, disappearances, and attacks — feel that their voices are not being heard.

And soldiers held captive for more than a decade by the FARC were told they cannot participate at all.

“I acknowledge what you are feeling” seems to be what many victims want to hear. Isn’t that something everyone wants to hear?

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | August 7, 2014

And so the talk of unicorns, spells, magic.

So, yesterday, I received an email from a friend who told me that what I publish in this blog are lies. Are they? It is hard to make sense of what Colombia is living at this moment.

I was told: “You just excluded yourself from the debate by intentionally disinforming. (Read misinforming; it was written in a moment of passion!) From now on your opinion simply can’t matter because nobody can not be sure (Proof-read: nobody can be sure) whether what you are saying is even true. We might as well be debating the existence of unicorns.”

Indeed, in essence, when we talk about the peace negotiations with the FARC, there is much talk of “unicorns.” Nobody knows what is in fact true.

During the presidential elections, there was much talk about what these dialogues would “magically” achieve, and voters elected a “magician” as president.

Today, President Santos is sworn into office for the second time, and already the magic, for which he was elected merely three months ago, seems obsolete.

Juan Lozano wrote: “Broken is the spell.”

Lozano is a senator and the President of the National Directory of his party, Partido de la U, of which President Santos also forms part.

Lozano wrote: “A month ago, it was a paradise. Governed by the spell of Pékerman and the soccer team, many tragedies appeared having been left behind, and illuminated by the example of soccer where virtue determines ascendance, we celebrated the advent of a new Colombia able to conquer peace stemming from the FARC’s electoral ceasefire and their willingness to recognize victims.

Very idyllic were those days that doña Mechas managed to give an affectionate popular touch to the reelected Juanpa, while Uribe and Santos’s supporters hugged and cried out that there had been a goal scored by Yepes. From the Ministry of Finance they extolled that the fiscal situation was at its best and Santos, seemingly having learned from the errors of his past government, put on the face of one with a penalty, and expressed his intention to correct.

And it was not true. The spell comes apart day by day, and we return to show a face without make-up of a grey and bloody reality.”

Mauricio Vargas, a columnist for El Tiempo, wrote: “Seven weeks after the re-election of Juan Manuel Santos, there jumps to the consciousness that many of the announcements by the government, in times of campaigning, about progress (in peace talks) with the FARC and the ELN, were artificial fireworks.

… it is clear that the sumptuous announcement by the government, days before the voting, which said, ‘finally the FARC recognize their victims,’ was no more than mere electoral blah-blah-blah.”

(Duh! Of course it was! See: Week before elections, FARC and government announce agreement on illegal drugs.)

Vargas continued: “ … The truth is that the FARC are in the attack: against policemen, soldiers, against the civilian population and even against nature …”

Vargas wrote “Timochenko is afraid.”

Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias Timochenko and alias Timoleón Jiménez, is the FARC’s highest in command. The U.S. State Department offers a US $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest/conviction on charges of drug trafficking.

Vargas argued the FARC leaders are afraid of being extradited to the U.S. on drug charges. Vargas pointed out the recent capture in Uraba of Venezuelan Chavista General Hugo Carvajal, who was a narco-ally of the FARC, is the reason for their fear.

See: International law trumps transitional laws.

A realist would be led to think that the FARC are again using the peace talks in Havana to regroup, in their strategic “combination of all forms of struggle,” in the way they did during the peace talks in El Caguan. The FARC have proven to be very patient in that they set themselves plans decades ahead, and they wait for the right time to carry them out.

If the FARC were serious about peace, why the attacks to civilians’ water supply and to the environment? Why the attacks to infrastructure which left four thousand residents of Buenaventura without electricity?

Further, Human Rights Watch recently reported, “FARC guerrillas are committing widespread abuses with impunity in the mostly Afro-Colombian city of Tumaco and its surrounding rural areas.” The abuses included killings, disappearances, kidnapping, torture, forced displacement, attempted forced recruitment, planting landmines, extortion, and death threats against community leaders. Does this sound like the behavior of a group who wants peace?

HRW said paramilitary successor groups and members of the security forces are also involved in the violence.

I want peace. I want the peace talks to succeed. I also want to believe in the unicorns. Who doesn’t?

I want pixie dust. I want a genie to grant my wishes.

***

The email from my friend said I was engaging in war propaganda through this blog.

His words point to another “it” about Colombia — any voice that someone does not like, or agree with, tends to be attacked. Sadly, such words contribute to self-censure, to less debate, and less voices being heard. This is important to note as victims come forward seeking redemption, looking for their voices to be heard so they may heal.

What victims say may not be what you want to hear. Dario Monsalve, the archbishop of Cali, said, “Alvaro Uribe could say he is a victim.” And he is: His father was killed by the FARC in 1983.

Lastly, the email from my friend said I have no journalistic ethics; and so I want to make clear: what you read here is a blog, it’s a voice.

As Joan Didion wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Didion’s words capture the essence of why I began this blog, and why I keep up this blog.

These days, this blog is here to make sense of “unicorns,” “spells,” “magic.”

 

As predicted, FARC factions express disenchantment with the peace talks in Havana.

See: FARC likely will reorganize into splinter criminal groups.

 

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Source of communiqué.

In a communiqué (above), the FARC’s Eastern Bloc, also known as “Commander Jorge Briceño Bloc,” said they will not continue to support the dialogues with the government in Havana, Cuba because “they do not represent us.”

The communiqué spoke of a peace process “without a future,” and said the “work” advanced so far in Havana is not serious and lacks credibility.

It said “the mutter from FARC and government delegates have maintained us with a complete lack of information and both sides discredit each other.”

It said the dialogues “degrade the ideal” of FARC founder Manuel Marulanda Velez.

Other sources said the communiqué was false, and was being circulated by the “mass media in Colombia, in its efforts from the war-mongering sector of the Colombian oligarchy to disrupt the dialogues.”

The FARC’s Eastern Bloc is one of the strongest; at the end of the 1990s, it represented 50 percent of the FARC until its leader, Jorge Briceño, alias Mono Jojoy, was killed by the Armed Forces on September 22, 2010. In 2003, it was comprised of about 7,100 combatants; today there are about 3,500. Two of its top commanders voluntarily demobilized four days ago, on August 1.

Though the FARC’s Eastern Bloc move in the departments of Meta, Casanare, Arauca, Vaupés and Vichada, the group was organized in 1987 as a mobile column with the goal to surround Bogotá and so isolate and capture the capital.

The FARC’s Eastern Bloc includes urban groups. It recruits university students in Bogotá who act clandestinely and “compartmentalized,” meaning they must hide their membership and simply follow orders.

The group, under its former leader Mono Jojoy, kidnapped soldiers, policemen, and politicians and called them “prisoners of war.”

The group is responsible for “miraculous fishing” — setting up roadblocks and “fishing” for people to kidnap.

They also threaten to death and exile elected officials in the municipalities under their control.

The FARC’s 44th Front, which is part of the Eastern Bloc, has in the past expressed its refusal to demobilize in any peace agreements.

Related:

As predicted, FARC in Havana lose control of fronts but begin re-branding image of themselves as “good guys.”

Former members of EPL went on to control drug trade.

 

Last night, President Santos said if the FARC continue destroying infrastructure, he does not see a reason for peace dialogues to continue.

These are some of the attacks on infrastructure that the FARC have recently carried out:

On July 28, four thousand residents of Buenaventura were left without electricity after the FARC destroyed infrastructure. 

On July 26, the FARC’s 53rd Front blew up a part of the aqueduct in Granada in Meta department –which left 60,000 people without water.

On July 22, the FARC damaged the Nowen Bridge over the Guaviare River on the roadway connecting the departments of Meta and Guaviare, 15 km from the city of San José de Guaviare. This means the residents of Meta and Guaviare cannot use one of the country’s main roadways.

The FARC had previously damaged the bridge on July 16.

On July 17, the FARC detonated explosives on a bridge that connected the municipalities of Barbacoas and Tumaco in the department of Nariño.

Colombia is in desperate need of infrastructure; for example: San Vicente del Cagúan in Caqueta department gained fame as the seat of FARC-government negotiations during the era of former President Andres Pastrana. Ten years later, one of the greatest complaints from its residents is that the road between San Vicente and Neiva is mere lush mountains, land-slides, mud, and FARC extortions. It now takes seven hours of travel to get from city to city. If the road was paved, it would only take three hours and legitimate commerce would flourish. A container shipped from Hong Kong is much, much cheaper to transport –five times less, in fact – than it is from any Colombian port. In 2011, the Santos government passed a ten-year $55 billion dollar investment plan for new infrastructure.

On the environmental front, on July 1, the FARC’s 48th Front forced drivers of 23 tanker trucks to empty their fuel onto the roadway, polluting water sources in Putumayo. One hundred and six families were immediately affected, and it produced estimated losses of about US$900,000.

Land mines, which the FARC have planted over the years, make the clean-up even more difficult.

On July 23, again in Putumayo department, the FARC forced four more tanker trucks to empty their fuel onto the roadway.

Jorge Coral Rivas, the mayor of Puerto Asís, asked that the oil spills be addressed in talks in Havana. Putumayo has great fauna and flora diversity — and is also home to some of the thickest coca fields in the world.

To note: On May 20, the FARC broke international human rights law when the FARC’s “Jacobo Arenas” column used a school in Cauca department to store 76 gas cylinder bombs, putting at risk 120 children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. Only a wall separated the children from the explosives. The FARC also planted nine “artisan explosives” around and near the school.

A number of people who had a past in a rebel group, and who you may think would support the FARC, have harsh words for the FARC.

Everth Bustamante was once one of the leaders of the now defunct guerrilla group, Movimiento 19 de Abril, M-19. He is now a senator for Alvaro Uribe’s Centro Democrático. Uribe’s Centro Democrático is a stiff opponent of the peace talks with the FARC.

Bustamante said, “I come from a guerrilla group who signed peace in the 90s, but I have understood that the principal basis of President Uribe’s policy of democratic security is the grand axis, the spine that allows citizens to recover their participation in democracy …”

Bustamante said President Santos wished to establish a “co-government” with the FARC.

Angelino Garzon, the current vice-president, was the General Secretary of the labor union Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT, between 1981 and 1990. He served as the Minister of Labour and Social Protection under President Pastrana, from 2000 until 2002.

Garzon said, “The FARC are turning into the worst enemies of peace … I ask the civilian population that we demand the guerrilla sign peace this year.”

Putumayo has great fauna and flora diversity.

Putumayo has great fauna and flora diversity.

 

Putumayo is also home to some of the thickest coca fields in the world.

Putumayo is also home to some of the thickest coca fields in the world.

 

During the month of July, the FARC forced tanker trucks to empty their fuel onto the roadway.

During the month of July, the FARC forced tanker trucks to empty their fuel onto the roadway.

 

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | July 18, 2014

Video for World Cup Withdrawal

Dear soccer fans — Some of you may be suffering from World Cup withdrawal syndrome.

I found this, and I wanted to share it with you, and so ease your symptoms.

Of interest: James Rodríguez, David Ospina, Luis Amaranto Perea, Juan Fernando Quintero, and Falcao García were as children part of the Ponyfútbol tournament. They all met as children, either as team mates or team rivals.

Colombia needs to nourish its young sports talents. The roster above shows the Colombian talent.

 

 

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