Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 22, 2014

Earth Day Today. Cocaine Production = Environmental Wasteland.

Today is Earth Day.

Sadly, Colombia’s Ecological Paradise + Cocaine Production = Environmental Wasteland.

In Colombia, we have an ecological paradise: waterfalls of crystalline water. The sonnets of crickets. Palm buds you can pick off the trees and put right in your mouth. Look, over there, that toucan bird!—Its wings, such colors, emerald green, yellow like the summer sun.

But the pay here is all around the cocaine industry. Deforesting to plant coca. Picking the leaves. Washing them off and mixing them in chemicals, sulfuric or hydrochloric acid, alkaloids, kerosene, and finishing off with potassium permagranate or ammonia water.

Mother Nature weeps here: the pots used for the chemicals are washed in the river and they leave a phlegm that you want to scoop off.

About 80, maybe 90, families live here in thatched adobe houses. At first, you think how exotic are those huts they live in, with that beautiful deep red paint they extract from flowers. Up close, you see the malnutrition of the children, you hear talk of the mother who died in labor last night.

Mothers also have other reasons to weep: Their boys, some as young as eight, make a few pesos uncovering the landing strip for the one-engine planes that come to bring the chemicals and take back the cocaine powder, and this makes mamás weep because everyone knows this is the start of the chain … what will it lead the boys into? They’ve heard of mules, of addicts, of jobs that come with guns. For now, however, the anxiety is about papá, he’s had this cough, likely from inhaling chemicals in that small room all day.

Raise the hands up to the blue of the sky … This is the life we were born into.

Other planes, sometimes, appear for a sliver of a moment, they are a rarity though; they snap photographs; they fumigate the coca leaves, and then, the whole family weeps: the corn, the yucca and the banana plants also wilt and die.

So the coca boss tells the farmers to move the planting further into the jungle, into the thick of the trees, and into the hilly mountainous terrains, and to cloak the coca plants under yucca and banana leaves. To fool the man taking the photos from above, the boss says; the man who will return to the American Embassy, and from behind the gates, determine the “statistics.”

Extinguishing the purity of this place … because cocaine consumers in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, where the white stuff goes hand-in-hand with what’s fashionable, with the Kate Moss, the Lindsay Lohan, the Hermes Birkin bag, bring in $3 to $5 billion a year into Colombia, maybe more, it’s hard to track.

(See: FARC cause environmental damage while talking peace.)

**

Colombia’s Casanare region, some 300 miles northeast of Bogota, known as the Llanos Orientales, have suffered severe droughts. Temperatures have oscillated between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. An estimated 20,000 animals, both cattle and wildlife such as capybaras and deer, have died. Plantations are destroyed. There remains very little water supply.

**

The Government of Canada is providing $850,000 Canadian dollars to help Colombia’s protected areas and people adapt to climate change. Under Parks Canada’s leadership, Canada will help Colombia to reduce the influence of climate-related changes like flooding and decreased precipitation in Colombia’s national parks.

Related:

Botanists collect flora life before it’s destroyed.

Spanish university installs solar panels in FARC-controlled town.

Nearly extinct poisonous frog gets reserve.

Global Warming Hurts Coffee Supply.

Government to hammer down on companies that abuse the environment.

Protecting the rainforest through carbon finance.

Weather spurs civil wars: El Niño and La Niña in Colombia.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 21, 2014

From Archives: Visiting Garcia Marquez’s Birthplace

Literary fans will now easily be able to visit Aracataca, the birthplace of 1982 Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the fictional town of Macondo is modeled after Aracataca, where the author was born in 1927 and where grew up with his grand-parents.

Visitors can board a chiva bus, a folkloric party bus, in Barranquilla, for $42 dollars, or Santa Marta, for $39 dollars, that will take them on the one-hour ride to Aracataca. Or visitors can take a five-hour train ride along the Caribbean Sea with panoramic views of banana plantations.

Once in Aracataca, they will be taken to a reconstructed version of Garcia Marquez’s childhood home, which cost $600 million pesos (about $35,000 dollars) to rebuild, as well as places where he spent his childhood and teen-age years which are believed to have influenced his writing.

This is a fantastic idea for bringing tourism to northern Colombia. However, I would rather store in my imagination my version of the Buendía family’s home, and not have it influenced by the tourism office’s version.

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 17, 2014

Peace Commissioner Jaramillo explains the peace process at Harvard

Colombian High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo spoke recently at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Jaramillo emphasized the peace process with the FARC this time is betting on inclusion, inviting all Colombians to do their part toward peace-building. Yet, it is very telling of theory-versus-practice that his presentation took place at Harvard, an elite institution, and the ones who had the opportunity to ask the commissioner questions face-to-face were graduate students from elite institutions like Harvard or Fletcher.

But! For the rural Colombian who does not attend Harvard or Fletcher, Jaramillo welcomes comments via a web page! And yet Colombians in remote rural areas, whose very futures are being discussed, hardly have access to the Internet.

Jaramillo’s talk covered important ground. It did not receive much attention in Colombia except a mere mention by a columnist in Semana magazine. 

You can watch his presentation here. (I apologize that embedding has been disabled for this video.)

I want to draw attention to minute 46:17 in which Jaramillo skims over the proposed political quotas (presumably) for FARC leaders via temporary congressional districts. Without added detail, it is easy to think these political quotas are the Trojan Horse of the current negotiations.

Jaramillo said, “.. We agreed to political participation with the FARC. That we were willing to create new electoral districts in those peripheral areas of Colombia that suffered the most from the conflict. With special rules as to who can be a candidate, who can be elected. To make sure that the system is not taken over by the existing parties, and that is not a comment against the existing parties, it’s a comment about opening up room for new voices. And the purpose of that was, on the one hand, to implement a transitional because it won’t be forever, it will be over a period of time to be established, let’s say ten years, where you will have new members of congress who come from those regions, and we think that is a very important measure of political integration, which you are trying to achieve in the end is inclusion and territorial integration in the country. But at the same time you can see it and we do see it as a reparation measure for the political rights of those people who have suffered the conflict. ..”

(What special rules as to who can be a candidate, and who can be elected?)

At 1:02:07, Jaramillo is asked about the post-conflict role of FARC leaders who are invested in the conflict and have gained power and status from the conflict. How will those leaders be neutralized in the post-conflict?

(See: Former members of EPL went on to control drug trade and FARC likely will reorganize into splinter criminal groups.)

At 1:07:11, Jaramillo said, “That is a very serious question… we have to rethink the way we incorporate ex-leaders in the case of the FARC. Colombians have been doing this for more than 20 years, more, for 25 years, reincorporating guerrillas and paramilitaries, and the model is a classic one: we set up a program to help you, and I hope you find your way into  society. … And yet, you have to first ask yourself the question, what are you trying to achieve? In this case, in this process, if you have a vision that is not just about FARC but inclusion, and if you learn lessons of the past, especially the recent past of what happened to some of those demobilized, then you come to the conclusion, if not do things entirely different then have to have complementary kinds of programs, and especially find ways in this institution-building efforts in those regions to make sure there is a place for some of these demobilized, including for those senior commanders. .. So they become part of the peace-building effort, and they see that by demobilizing, they are contributing to this collective. .. It is to reinforce the message that this process has to be about inclusion.”

At 1:09:49, a question is asked about the roles of transitional justice and the International Criminal Court.

At 1:10:05, Jaramillo said, “The answer is that it’s neither one nor the other…. The question remains, what about punishment? .. That remains to be seen .. it depends very much on what happens, and how willing FARC is to take serious victims rights. … We do think that it is possible to address victim rights .. over larger effort, over guaranteeing everyone’s rights, especially in those conflict areas, then you have a more rounded view of what ideal justice is.”

Recommended:

Joint Report of the Negotiating Table between the government of the Republic of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, FARC-EP. January 2014.

Transition in Colombia. By: Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace. (Complete text of the speech given by the High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, at Externado University on 9 May 2013, published by El Tiempo.)

General Agreement to end the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting Peace.

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 8, 2014

International law trumps transitional laws.

It seems some in Colombia do not understand the extreme importance of respecting victims, and the following is to be noted by those who lobby for impunity and relaxed transitional laws in exchange for what they call “peace.”

The jist is: International law trumps transitional laws. 

In Spain, following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, after 40 years of a dictatorship that trampled on civil liberties and instilled fear, a sweeping amnesty law absolved everyone, both in the far-right and the far-left. Spaniards — like Colombians nowadays — were told to forget in the name of reconciliation.

For Spanish victims there would be no justice.

But victims of the Franco dictatorship are now taking their complaints to Argentina, invoking the legal principle of universal jurisdiction under which certain crimes, because of their magnitude, transcend borders, the New York Times reported.

An Argentine judge is now seeking international arrest warrants for Spanish citizens responsible of heinous crimes against humanity — torture, shootings, forced disappearances, stolen babies.

Further the Argentine Foreign Ministry ordered its embassies and consulates around the world to collect additional complaints by Franco victims and to facilitate video hearings through conference calls.

Pablo de Greiff, a United Nations special rapporteur, told the NYT that Spain “lagged behind” other European countries in addressing its recent past. He said Spain’s government had done too little to help victims of the Franco era, and recommended setting aside the amnesty law so that prosecutions could go forward, either in Argentina or in Spain.

Judge Baltasar Garzón told the NYT: “… they don’t understand that now, the government is not allowing access to the truth, to justice.”

And many are seeking justice on behalf of their grandparents.

Argentina is turning the tables on Spain by using the international human rights law that Spain itself used in 2005 to prosecute a member of Argentina’s former military dictatorship in Spanish courts for crimes against humanity.

Judge Garzón used the same principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the Argentine navy captain Adolfo Scilingo in Madrid in 2005. Scilingo was convicted for throwing drugged political prisoners out of an aircraft into the sea.

This means that whatever macabre move is made by Colombian politicians that use peace talks to sway votes and seek re-elections is not the end of the line for Colombian victims. It has been shocking to hear President Santos and FARC leaders speak of the International Criminal Court in the same vein, with complete disregard for victims.

Related:

ICC Prosecutor speaks against Colombia’s Legal Framework for Peace.

Around 1,387 minors in ranks of armed drug groups between 2012 and 2013.

A reminder of the protests of Feb. 2008 against FARC’s violence.

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

Schools as war zones.

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IMG_2012

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In Paris, on the facades of many schools, there are plaques commemorating children whose lives were stolen by the Nazis. In many cases, Jewish children were abducted from schools and taken straight to the concentration camps.

In Colombia nowadays, schools are used for military operations and as recruiting grounds for drug cartels.

Landmines are also often found in schoolyards.

Stolen childhoods are stolen lives.

Presidential Candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez said peace talks with the FARC cannot continue “while they continue to recruit children, plant bombs, and lay mines that affect our civil population.”

Ramirez is the sole presidential candidate for the Conservative Party.

“We cannot accept negotiations with the [ongoing] recruitment of 12-year-old children,” she told Colombia Reports.

Around 1,387 minors were in the ranks of armed drug groups between 2012 and 2013.

It takes a woman, it seems, to stick up for the rights of children.

Ramirez said one of her conditions for a new or reformed series of peace talks with the FARC is an immediate end to child recruitment.

YES! I believe any FARC-government negotiations must include immediately returning child soldiers to their families.

“President Santos has spoken much about peace, but he has not mentioned what is necessary for peace. He has spoken of peace, but he has abandoned justice and there cannot be peace without justice. He has spoken of peace, but he has abandoned rural Colombia and there cannot be peace if the rural Colombian is dying in misery,” Ramirez told Colombia Reports.

YES! YES! I believe undermining victims’ rights in any peace process will lead to further violence.

Child soldiers are being identified from mass graves.

Four of every ten in the FARC, ELN or Paramilitary are minors.

Ramirez was a minister of international commerce under President Pastrana, and a minister of defense under President Uribe. She studied law at the Javeriana University.

Related:

Colombian Prosecutor says FARC will be charged for child recruitment.

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | March 20, 2014

“Mompos.” By guest blogger Richard McColl.

Richard McColl is an Anglo-Canadian freelance journalist, author, and hotelier in Colombia. His articles can be read online at www.richardmccoll.com and his Colombia Calling podcasts at www.colombiacallingradio.com. He is currently writing a book about his experiences in Mompos as a foreigner.

***

“As they sailed down to the coast the river had grown more vast and solemn, like a swamp with no beginning or end, and the heat was so dense you could touch it with your hands.” - Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote in “The General in His Labyrinth.”

My chosen fighter lay breathing its last in the cement ring while all around me people cheered, spat, swigged bottles of beer, and fistfuls of crumpled pesos changed hands. Just a couple of hours previously, I arrived in Mompos from Cartagena and here I found myself 10,000 Colombian Pesos in the red at the local cock fight, and with that lethal jab my days as a cock fight gambler came to an abrupt halt.

How could I have known that the events of Easter 2007, on assignment to write about Mompos’ famously austere Semana Santa, would lead me to run my luck, choose an ingredient of magic realism, and open a guesthouse in the Garciamarquian heartland of Colombia, a region where legends and superstitions are no more fiction than reality and where shamans are as much in demand as the priests at Mass.

Mompos, a UNESCO world heritage site, founded in 1537 on the banks of the River Magdalena, played a key role in the Spanish colonization of northern South America. On November 3, 1812, it was awarded the title of Ciudad Valerosa, or Courageous City, for having been the first to declare absolute independence from Spain.

The old town, consisting of three wide, straight, and dusty streets, is not hard to navigate. Lined with large, windowed, whitewashed, one-storey colonial mansions that run parallel to the river, it remains largely as it was, and gives the idea of what a rural Spanish Colonial city was like.

Expansion has grown far beyond the three original streets, and with its renowned Semana Santa celebrations, it is a key destination for religiously inspired Colombians during this holiday period.

Certainly, when Simon Bolivar, liberator of much of South America, said: “If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompos I owe my glory,” he was truly grateful to the 400 or so Momposinos who, in 1812, joined his ranks and followed him into the battle for Caracas. It is up for debate whether all or some of those soldiers from Mompos actually made it to Caracas. It has been suggested that the altitudes and weather encountered in the Andes led many of the volunteers to return to the Mompos depression. Old habits die hard. There are very able workmen in Mompos; the real quest is finding them.

Momposinos will have you believe that Bolivar came here because he was enamoured with the city. More likely, his passings through here were an absolute necessity in his wanderings that would total 123,000km by the time of his death. Mompos is so geographically important. Not only did Bolivar know he would recruit an army in Mompos, he also knew that here was the seat of the Gutierrez Pineres family – still here today and still in possession of the house on the Albarrada – themselves famed Masons and therefore bound to aid a fellow Mason like Bolivar.

How can one balance Catholicism alongside pagan worship, and so unashamedly promote Mompos as a pious Catholic destination for pilgrims? To put it bluntly, I too have fallen victim to some pagan worship when my mother-in-law had the house blessed by an alternative party in addition to having attended Mass that morning. In my defense, it happened in my absence, while I was in a lull at the guesthouse with a few guests. Later that afternoon, nine unannounced guests turned up, and I was converted.

For starters, Semana Santa in Mompos is anticlerical. On the streets during processions you are not going to see priests, only at Palm Sunday and Good Friday; ordinarily you will encounter scores of Nazarenes in heavy purple and blue smocks.

Contemporary Mompos has never suffered directly at the hands of the guerrillas due to the surrounding swamps and rivers that provide natural barriers against Colombia’s current ills. But these territorial conflicts that have been embedded in the city’s identity since its conception have assumed politics.

But, I suggest to you that you leave the politics aside, pull up a chair at a riverside kiosk, order an ice cold beer, and let the breeze from the Magdalena lend its favours while you contemplate that here is a place where entire families sit in their rocking chairs, conversing into the early hours, and one and all are welcome. Mompos is a place that people disbelieve and then embrace with vigour.

Once your head is whipped clean by the hot Caribbean sea air that buffets the famed walled city of Cartagena, give into the literary travel bug and head into the interior, following the Magdalena river 249km inland to Mompos, Gabo country, heartland for the liberator Simon Bolivar and the Masons, birthplace of black poet Candelario Obeso, setting for a solemn Semana Santa, and what I believe to represent the true Colombia.

Mompos, a true remanso de paz in Colombia.

Copyright Richard McColl

Copyright Richard McColl

Copyright Richard McColl

Copyright Richard McColl

Copyright Richard McColl

Copyright Richard McColl

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

Around 1,387 minors in ranks of armed drug groups between 2012 and 2013.

Colombia’s Ministry of Defense reported there were about 1,387 minors in the ranks of armed groups, like the FARC and the ELN, between 2012 and 2013.

The Ministry of Defense launched a campaign to alert kids on ways they can be recruited. At first, many are asked to be informers in their community. Many are also lured in by false promises of money. (See: What “volunteering” for FARC really means.)

Around 65 % of 31,550 former combatants were recruited as children, according to the Ministry of Defense’s Group for Humanitarian Attention to the Demobilized. (See: 4 of every 10 in FARC, ELN or Paramilitary are minors.)

The video above, filmed by the FARC in December 2013 in southern Tolima department, shows children receiving arms training. The video was found by the army in January 2014.

Of interest: At the very front of the group’s formation, where fighters are most exposed to fire and where the most experienced ought to be, are pre-adolescents. At the back of the formation are older kids, perhaps adolescents. And at the very back is a man with a mustache. This means the youngest kids are the most expendable to the FARC. The youngest kids are cannon fodder.

The video above shows the FARC’s indoctrination of children and adolescents in the “José Maria Cordoba” training camp. Kids use Ak-47s and Galils.

The training camp, known as an initiation, lasts one month. It tests the children’s mental alertness, physical strain, and their response to authority. From there, the best kids are selected to receive further training.

The FARC continue recruiting children while talking peace in Havana. Any negotiations must include immediately returning children to their families.

I feel very passionate that children are not a political issue. Child soldiers are kids who had no one looking out for them when their lives were stolen from them. Children are forced into this modern form of slavery right here in the Western hemisphere, a mere three-hour plane ride from Miami.

My book-in-progress is about my encounter with two former child soldiers in Colombia. You can read excerpts here and here.

Related:

Ombudsman: increased recruitment of children and teens into neo-paramilitary gangs in Bogotá’s peripheries.

Education of former child soldiers is still a big hurdle.

Former teen combatants look to rebuild sense of family.

The psychological, cognitive and behavioral challenges of child soldiers coming home.

Chocó: forced recruitment, illegal gold mining, cocaine industry.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | March 15, 2014

A reminder of the protests of Feb. 2008 against FARC’s violence.

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This is not current Venezuela. This was Colombia in February 2008, during the protests against the violence caused by the FARC. The multitudes pictured above do not want to see the FARC in congress but in prison.

How fickle can President Santos be!

During his presidential campaign, throughout 2009 and 2010, President Santos spoke of his commitment to eliminating more than 20 FARC camps on the Venezuelan side of the border, and half as many in neighboring Ecuador. Santos was elected with an unprecedented mandate to continue Uribe’s strong fight against decades of guerrilla violence.

But instead Santos turned sharply left and became blatantly corrupt in the last eight months. In the government peace talks currently taking place in Havana, Santos has even conceded to political quotas to the FARC, which he said he would never do.

True enough that, historically, conflict resolution seeks to create political spaces for individuals and groups with an ideology. But the FARC are drug gangs using ideology to mask their narco-trafficking activities.

The FARC themselves finally admitted their involvement in drug trafficking. 

People worldwide are concerned about what is being discussed in these so-called “peace” talks, in which terrorists are rewarded and victims are disregarded. It seems the peace deal now in the works with FARC will legitimize thugs in Colombian politics.

Colombians are feeling betrayed by the current administration.

The Society of Colombian Agriculture, SAC, worry the government is flirting with an alternative economic model that does not respect private property and free markets. The SAC were the first supporters of the peace process and are now withdrawing that initial support. The SAC are also angry that the Santos government promised much investment in the countryside, regardless of a peace deal, and it has not delivered. (See: 10-year $55 billion investment plan for infrastructure.)

And so the victory of former president Alvaro Uribe and his Centro Democratico party in the recent senatorial elections. Uribe’s new Centro Democratico party won 20 of the Senate’s 102 seats against 47 for Santos’s weakened coalition. Santos’s Partido de la U got 21 seats, according to official results.

“I’m afraid of what will happen if an impunity pact is signed with terrorist leaders,” Uribe said at the close of his campaign.

Aren’t we all afraid? Take a look again, at the masses pictured above, who showed up to protest against the FARC’s violence in 2008. It looks a lot like Venezuela nowadays.

Although Uribe and his Centro Democratico are a minority (at just under ten percent of the vote), their presence in the senate thins the majority that Santos will rely on if re-elected, or for legislative support to implement any political quotas to the FARC.

“With many seats, or with few seats, Uribe’s goal is going to be to obstruct Santos’s government,” said Claudia Lopez, a Senate candidate for the Green Alliance.

At the very least, an opposition can check-and-balance and put a mark on any transitional laws.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | March 12, 2014

Doña Nydia taught me to have empathy above all.

Doña Nydia.

In the late 1980s, when I was 13 years old and in Bogotá during summer break from my school in Toronto, I volunteered at La Fundacion Solidaridad Por Colombia. Its founder, Doña Nydia Quintero de Balcázar, welcomed me.

I spent the summer discovering Colombia through the letters that arrived at “Solidaridad,” pleading for help from Doña Nydia.

A woman, somewhere in the outskirts of Fontibon, wrote to ask Doña Nydia for help to buy a wheelchair. The woman’s words touched me; perhaps I saw the effort made in the barely legible writing and the hope the letter raised in the writer. I visited the woman and her family. They lived in a one-room house with a dust floor. Planks patched it up here and there. Her son carried her outside to the yard. There was an outhouse. Pink and orange geraniums blooming from rusted tin cans made the place a home.

I don’t remember what we talked about or what they told me. But I am now grateful that 13-year-old me had a chance to visit with the old woman and her son.

Another afternoon, I found Doña Nydia, barefoot and in all fours, making lists and packaging boxes.

“Soon, there will be the yearly floods. We need to prepare for them,” she said. We sorted through mountains of blankets, non-perishables, medicine, school supplies, toilet paper, and cleaning products.

From day one, Doña Nydia explained her organization was non-political — although she, herself, was a politically public persona. From 1978 to 1982, she was Colombia’s First Lady when she was married to Julio César Turbay Ayala.

Years later, Doña Nydia’s lessons still in my mind, I wondered how and why her foundation, “Solidaridad,” had taken on the role of the State in some of Colombia’s remote areas.

The following summer, I returned to Doña Nydia. I’d like to think she saw that in the year that passed, I had matured. Perhaps I looked “adult” in my “business” suit — despite the new metal braces in my teeth.

Doña Nydia gave me letters from her asking for donations, and I went from office to office, personally dropping them off. Most of the people I visited were my parents’ friends. They asked me what I was learning from Doña Nydia.

It is clear now that from this warm, loving woman, I learned to have empathy above all.

Years later, when I was in Bogotá during a break from college, I came to see Doña Nydia. She was with a young man and his toddler-aged daughter. He and Doña Nydia interacted in a very familiar way, and they expressed deep affection towards each other.

“That is because he is my son,” Doña Nydia told me. She explained he was orphaned during a flood when she was First Lady, and so she brought him back to Bogotá with her.

Last week, a posting for International Women’s Day asked, Who is your hero?

Doña Nydia Quintero de Balcázar tops my list.

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