Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | October 27, 2016

(Again) From archives: Chavez’s 120,000 Armed Civilian Guards

This, again. We must watch this again.

This is a post originally from September 2010. It is worth re-reading now, (again) given the images of vigilante groups abusing civilians which we have seen coming from Venezuela, (again) via Twitter, during the last week.

***

The Spanish reporter David Beriain traveled to Venezuela, and the result is an astounding documentary about the civilian groups that the government of Hugo Chavez is arming for when—and there will be a when because that country is a boiling pot about to blow its lid off—he needs their bodies against the opposition; incidentally, he considers his opposition to include the U.S. (“That yanqui imperialism,” as he likes to say) and Colombia (“Our sister Colombia converted into an instrument of imperialism”).

“Juventud.” “Socialista.” “ … la muerte.” Such are the cries, barely beyond puberty, of the disenchanted who have been enchanted by Chavez. For the flavor of Caracas, add the salsa music in the background.

In “Guardians of Chavez” (which you can watch here or on the videos below) Beriain takes us to a slum called 23 de Enero, named after the 1958 coup d’état which led to the fall of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who was a U.S. ally. The barrio 23 de Enero gained headlines in September 2008 for erecting the Plaza Manuel Marulanda Velez, in commemoration of the FARC’s founder; its inauguration included burning a flag of the U.S. In the 23 de Enero hood, you will also find murals of Argala, the most important ideologist of ETA, the armed nationalist and separatist organization in Basque, Spain, side-by-side murals of Jesus Christ holding a Kalashnikov rifle and sharing the last supper with Simon Bolivar, Lenin, Che, Fidel Castro and Marulanda. So you get the idea that this is Chavista territory in every sense.

One of the armed civilian groups operating in the 23 de Enero is “La Piedrita,” which, in reality, is a gang comprised of young hard-core Chavez supporters. One of its members expressed, “Let the right know, let the empire (that’s the U.S. to you and me) know, if we have to defend the (Chavez’s socialist) revolution through arms, we will do it.”

Commander Marachi, the leader of Los Carapaicas, another Chavez support group, which in this case is more of an urban guerrilla-type group, armed and in fatigues, with masked faces and gloved hands, said there are training camps outside Caracas where young people are receiving arms’ training to also defend Chavez’s socialist revolution. (Incidentally, the Carapaicas, a group created by Chavez in 1992 before he was president, have denounced Chavez’s inner circle for embezzlement and corruption.)

It is estimated 120,000 Chavez supporters have received military training already. A farmer, seemingly illiterate, seemingly submissive, was asked why he needed a gun in order to drive a tractor, and he responded, “For defense, to safeguard the food supply of the Venezuelan people.” From whom? “From the empire, from an invasion.”

Not surprising: Approximately 2 people are murdered every hour in Venezuela and 44 people are murdered every day. In 2009, there were 16,000 murders, and 50,000 victims of shootings, half of which end up with a lifelong impairment. These victims show up at the hospitals with, on average, five shots perforating their body.

In non-Chavista parts of Caracas, houses are protected by sky-high walls reinforced with barbed wire, drivers do not stop at traffic lights, and drivers, before electronically opening the garage at home, circle the block a few times until the car which seems to tail-gate them disappears.

The Venezuelan president, in his column, “Lineas de Chavez,” wrote of the documentary as “real conflicting and powerful, meant to make the world believe the Bolivarian Government is illegitimate and terrorist.”

It was, in fact, Chavez’s criticism of the documentary that tuned me on to its existence. “Guardians of Chavez” gets an A++.

—–

“Guardians of Chavez”

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 26, 2016

What Peace? Where is the Rule of Law?

@ColombiaTalk

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Colombian artist Doris Salcedo lights thousands of candles in Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolivar as a memorial for those killed by FARC. Doris Salcedo, Acción de Duelo, 2007 / Photograph: nobara hayakawa

I am not an optimist, sadly. I wish this was not the case.

Whatever happens on October 2nd, when Colombians vote on a referendum on the result of an accord between the FARC and the Colombian government, Colombia will not –suddenly– be “at peace.”

Even with this accord, the core of the problem remains — state-building. Peace cannot be achieved without the rule of law, and the authorities of the Colombian government do not have the capacity to penetrate and maintain presence in the most isolated regions of the country. There are an ample number of illegal groups aching to occupy what was traditionally FARC territory in the departments of Putumayo, Chocó, Cauca, Nariño, and beyond.

A headteacher at a school, built by the FARC in the hamlet of Las Damas, Caqueta, told the Guardian: “.. for as long as I can remember, Las Damas has lived outside the state; peace will bring the state to this place for the first time, and for the first time, Las Damas will feel like part of Colombia.” Will it?

In July 2016, my countrymen celebrated the accord with festivities punctuated by fireworks and toasts with aguardiente. Today, the final accord will be signed in Cartagena and I imagine the greater magnitude of this bash. “Peace! Peace!” will be the drunken slurs shouted from the balconies of colonial Cartagena.

But I do not understand my countrymen’s elation with the accord. Colombia continues positioned in the cusp of “failed state.”

Here is why:

1. Drug trafficking.

Coca cultivation rose by 39 percent in 2015 to 96,084 hectares, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, more than double the nadir of 47,788 hectares registered in 2012.

The FARC may disarm, but it will leave a vacuum for other illegal groups to take over the production and distribution of drugs — which middle-ranked members of the FARC are likely to seize on as an opportunity.

2. The FARC Splinter Groups.

In June 2016, in Quebrada del Medio in Cordoba department, a FARC group carried out a census of the local population, and announced that it will continue to demand payments; but in the post-agreement world, the group will cease calling them “extortions,” re-branding them as a “voluntary quota.

In July 2016, a faction of the FARC’s First Front, also known as the “Armando Ríos” Front in the southeastern jungles, said it would refuse to lay down its arms. And more recently, in September 2016, at least 40 members of the FARC’s First Front again declared themselves opposed to the peace process and are attempting to establish a presence in Yaigojé Apaporis national park near the border with Brazil.

Further, academics believe some FARC members will “officially demobilize,” but continue their operations in Venezuela. Many have already moved their properties and families to the Venezuelan side of the border.

3. The neo-paramilitary groups.

Also known as BACRIM (bandas criminales) or “third-paramilitary generation.”

Not so long ago, dozens of middle managers of the demobilized Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia took advantage of the power vacuum to continue committing crimes — drug trafficking, extortion, even human smuggling — resulting from their accumulated experience, according to Eduardo Pizarro, founder and researcher at the Institute of Political Studies and International Relations (IEPRI) of the National University of Colombia and President of the Victims Reparation Commission.

These drug gangs are now present in 339 municipalities where they exercise territorial control, co-opt local authorities, and build up their connections with international organized crime gangs, according to Sergio de Zubiría, from the University of Los Andes. The neo-paramilitary groups are made up of 5,000 to 6,000 members; and their actions lead to 300,000 people displaced annually. Over the years, they have worked side-by-side with FARC.

Human rights groups have warned that BACRIM have become the main source of human rights abuses. Regional power players who are opposed to a peace deal with guerrillas may hire them as private armies to oppose attempts to return stolen land to victims and oppose the future participation of demobilized FARC in politics.

The main neo-paramilitary group is the Úsuga clan, also known as Urabeños, or Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or Clan del Golfo. They use Uraba and Chocó region, with coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, as corridors to move drugs from Putumayo, Valle del Cauca region, and the interior of the country.

In one of their training schools in Ungía, Chocó, authorities came upon documents stating, “By 2018, the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia will be an armed political actor looking to negotiate with the national government.” They mask themselves as political by indoctrinating with the works of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, who spoke against politicking and corruption. Authorities also uncovered significant amounts of their organizational material, including internal statutes, combat manuals, and discipline records. Authorities intercepted weapons, uniforms, and other equipment. (Does it not sound like they copied the FARC’s order of business?)

The leaders of the “Gaitanists” are “Otoniel” and “Marcos Gavilan,” men who have forged their careers over three decades fighting in various groups, including the EPL guerillas.

See: FARC’s ten-year-old errand boy grows up to become its most cold-blooded.

4. The ELN.

Though perceived as a minor guerrilla force, made up of up to 3,000 members, the ELN also acts like the FARC. However, the ELN’s decision-making is more horizontal — “democratic” in elena (from ELN) terminology –- than the FARC’s. They tended to disagree with the elitist character of the negotiations in Havana, where select negotiators have taken decisions affecting the whole country. For this reason, the ELN may absorb FARC members who are hard-core Marxists and hence disenchanted with the accords.

5. The Mexican Cartels.

In recent years, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have sought out alliances with the FARC to purchase coca paste, the raw material for cocaine, at the source, and so control the entire chain of distribution and a greater sum of its profits.

In December 2015, a computer confiscated from the FARC’s Southern Bloc commander Jose Benito Cabrera, alias ‘Fabian Ramirez,’ reportedly contained information speaking of the business alliance with the Mexicans.

Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel controls 35% of the cocaine exported from Colombia, reported El Tiempo in July 2015. Sinaloa’s second-in-command, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, reportedly directs the cartel’s Colombian business dealings through two Mexicans based in the country, “Jairo Ortiz” and “Montiel” — both aliases. There was a manhunt for three middle-men allegedly working for Sinaloa Cartel leader alias Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias ‘El Chapo,’ in Colombia.

The Sinaloa has operatives in at least 17 Mexican states and operations in up to 50 countries, including Peru Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

The FARC were also associates of the now-splintered Tijuana  and Juarez Cartels.

See: Mexican Cartels Marking Territory in Colombia, Allying with Bacrim and FARC

6. Illegal mining.

The FARC and the Sinaloa Cartel worked together in the illegal exploitation of coltan in Colombia, according to Insight Crime. Coltan is a mineral from which tantalum is extracted, and is used in the creation of electronics such as cell phones and computer parts.

There will be little to prevent the Sinaloa Cartel from controlling the illegal mining.

See: Phase II: Unregulated mining and logging create new conflicts and displace more people. and Chocó: forced recruitment, illegal gold mining, cocaine industry.

 

 

 

This morning, an email made me look up from the piles of papers scattered on my floor.

The Jockey Club, traditionally, was a place off boundaries unless you were a white male and part of Bogotá’s elite. I was barred from entering unless accompanied by a male member. At the Jockey Club, through the decades, you found men and their spouses were clones of one another: they were educated at the same schools in Bogotá, and they married into the same circle. Along with the membership at the Jockey Club, families inherited their political alliances. The men were used to rotating government posts, including the presidency.

In 1958, representatives of the white men of Bogotá’s Jockey Club negotiated an ending to the civil war of “La Violencia.” The Liberal Alberto Lleras and the Conservative Laureano Gómez met in Benidorm, a beach town in Spain, where they agreed to alternate governing parties every four years, for a period of sixteen years, from 1958 to 1974. The Declaration of Benidorm of 1958, or the National Front, locked out any independents or any other political party. Naturally, at the time, the supporters of the Communist and Socialist Parties were disenchanted with the agreement. They continued to feel they had no voice in the government, which was their initial seed to embrace the Communist and Socialist ideas, and eventually came to be one of the reasons they armed themselves and irrevocably took up guerrilla warfare.

In 1964, Manuel Marulanda, the FARC’s founder, wrote to the Conservative President León Valencia, who had been appointed to office as a result of the National Front agreement. According to FARC ideologue Jacobo Arenas and historian Arturo Alape,* Marulanda expressed: “ .. Our ‘crime’ that has earned us the rage of the oligarchy and of the military heads is our opposition to the bipartisan system of the oligarchic ‘National Front,’ which we consider anti-democratic and anti-national ..”

* Quote from Jacobo Arenas, Diario de la resistencia de Marquetalia. (Colombia: Abejo Mono, 1972.) P. 17. Also found in Arturo Alape, Las Vidas de Pedro Antonio Marín Manuel Marulanda Vélez Tirofijo. (Santafé de Bogotá: Planeta, 1989.) P. 323.

Colombians seemingly have not learned much from history. Many people have been expressing, for as long as the current negotiations have been going on, that they have no voice in the peace table in Havana.

This morning, I received in my email, a petition to Give Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Peoples a Voice at the current Peace Table.

More information here.

How many more “peace tables” do we need for an inclusive robust democratic Colombia?

It is tiring to read in today’s papers, the same debates that occurred fifty years ago, only that the same roles are now being played by new actors. Will our children be reading the same sorts of headlines, and receiving the same sorts of petitions?

Related:

Gov.’s female negotiators must get FARC’s female negotiators on board about gender.

The absence of women at the negotiating table is shocking.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 17, 2015

Gone to re-write!

Friends!

I am buried in a re-write. You will find my nose in this pile.

FullSizeRender

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | June 8, 2015

First transgender woman running for mayor of small town in Antioquia.

While Caitlyn Jenner graces the cover of Vanity Fair and the world speaks of her beauty, Alondra Metaute, a 38-year-old transgender Colombian woman, is running for mayor of Sopetrán, a small town in Antioquia in north central Colombia.

“They (the men) would catcall and wanted to touch me in public,” she said of first appearing as a transgender. “But right from the start I made sure I’d be respected. I had to slap one or two men in the face, and once got into a real fight with someone who tried to to pee on me.”

She inherited a desire to enter politics from her dad. She is a candidate of the left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole, and she is the first transgender woman to have received political training from Politics for Women, an equal-opportunity initiative started by the regional government. If she wins the vote, she would be the first transgender mayor in Colombia.

#goalondra.

Here’s to waiting for the world to speak of Alondra’s politics.

Today, May 27, marks the 51st anniversary of the FARC’s founding.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This video, made by the FARC, explains the FARC version of how the conflict began:

May 1964: One thousand and two hundred campesinos, men, women and children, were gathered in an abandoned hacienda, “Marquetalia,” on the border of the departments of Tolima, Huila and Cauca. The fog and the luscious plant life made it the ideal hiding place for these Communists fleeing from the government’s army. Forty-two families, along with pigs, sheep, string sacs filled with coal for the cooking fires, coffee, soap, and blocks of salt also made its way up the mountains, to one of its highest peaks from where they could keep an eye out; the army was expected any day. The cabbage and the carrots were atop the boxes containing dynamite, and the mules logged it up one step at a time. The heavy rain turned the paths into landslides, and some mules went tumbling down. All dogs were slain because their barking gave them away. Thirty-five year-old Pedro Antonio Marín’s job was to instruct the FARC’s original thirty soldiers. He’d already gained the name “Sureshot” (“Tirofijo”) for his deadly accuracy; he later became the legend behind the FARC. 

Isaias Pardo, Sureshot’s brother-in-law, was there. “Do not think that we are powerless because we are not,” he said. “We can be confused for this jungle. We are the water. We are one with these trees.” His calm self was transformed and he was adamant—“Quicker!”—about in which dirt roads they should plant land mines.

For two years, this Communist commune had taxed people, a cow here, a bucket of milk there. They also printed their own communist money to pay corrupt judges. In locales under their control, there were no civilian authorities who answered to the national government and anyone who entered or left had to get a permit. There were the first incidents of forced recruitment of minors. The government called the area of Marquetalia an enclave and called for its invasion.

On June 15, 1964, at six in the morning, the families watched sixteen thousand well-equipped government soldiers land in the mountains of Marquetalia. Smoke rose from the family’s burnt homes in the valley beneath.

Sureshot instructed the men to make their way to the high mountaintops. “And bring along the long-range arms,” he said.

There were fallen branches, swamps, quicksand, and in the distance, they heard government soldiers cutting down trees, then two hundred and fifty of the government’s best trained and most agile threw themselves off DC-3’s and C-47 planes. Their bombs shook the ground every few minutes. The army helped an Indian chief, who had health problems, and so earned the trust of his immediate clan. The natives helped the army lug along 60-mm mortars and machine guns.

Isaias Pardo and a few others were mid-mountain, planting more land mines. Around every one hundred meters, there was a grenade or a land mine explosion. Atop, Sureshot’s men were already firing and the government’s reinforcements could not land.

The survivors founded the FARC. That was the beginning of this war story.

Additional Sources:

Alape, Arturo. Las Vidas de Pedro Antonio Marín Manuel Marulanda Vélez Tirofijo. (Santafé de Bogotá: Planeta, 1989.)

Arango Zuluaga, Carlos. Guerrillas FARC-EP: cronicas y testimonios de guerra. (Bogotá: Ediciones Anteo Ltd., 1984.)

Arenas, Jacobo. Diario de la resistencia de Marquetalia. (Colombia: Abejo Mono, 1972.)

Buenaventura, Nicolás. Cuadernos de historia del Partido Colombiano Comunista No. 2. (Bogotá: Editorial Colombia Nueva Ltda, 1990.)

Henderson, James D. When Colombia Bled: History of Violence in Colombia. (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1985.)

Jaramillo Echeverri, Marino. Oposición y violencia en Colombia. (1920-1934). (Santa Fé de Bogotá: Ediciones Academica Colombiana de Jurisprudencia, 2003.)

Medina, Medofilo. Historia del partido Comunista, tomo I. (Bogotá: CEIS, Centro de estudios e investigaciones sociales, 1980.)

Moncada Abello, Alonso. Un Aspecto de la Violencia. (Bogotá: Promotora Colombiana de Ediciones y Revistas, 1963.)

Oviedo, Alvaro. Trabajo de Masas del Partido Comunista. (Bogotá: Fondo editorial suramérica, coleccion educación, 1979.)

The deputy prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, James Stewart, traveled to Colombia recently. Again, he highlighted that those responsible for heinous crimes need to be punished.

Stewart said the ICC continues its “preliminary examination” of Colombia’s possible transitional justice.

The ICC is the only judicial body with the power to intervene. Besides the crimes committed by the FARC (and now the ELN should they start peace negotiations), Stewart also expressed concern for the extrajudicial killings, known as false positives, committed by the military, and for the horrific sexual crimes committed by the paramilitaries.

Likewise, Colombia’s Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez said justice cannot be a staged farce but must respect the minimum international standards of justice.

(See: Colombia’s Attorney General Ordoñez is doing his job.)

The business community also asks for a stronger judicial system. As the president of the financial Group Sura, David Bojanini, put it: “If we don’t have a solid judicial system, it is very difficult for the country to have peace. Now we speak of not accepting impunity and of transitional justice, but if we don’t have ordinary justice we will not have transitional justice.”

A loss of confidence for the future of the peace negotiations has surfaced from the fact that the Santos government has not yet expressed, even hinted, how transitional justice will be applied to the FARC, and possibly the ELN, as well as the paramilitaries and military involved in heinous crimes.

(See: Shocking to hear FARC and President Santos speak of ICC in same vein.)

The world cannot forget when FARC negotiator Jesus Santrich was asked if the FARC would ask forgiveness from their victims. He replied, “maybe, maybe, maybe.”

According to Leonardo Goi, a researcher at Fundación Ideas Para la Paz, a risk of transitional justice is that it may be tilted in favor of the guerrillas: while the FARC militants would enjoy the benefits of transitional justice, the government’s army would not.

But, Goi asks, how could the government ever justify a guerrilla militant being allowed to walk free upon repenting for his crimes, and a military official being kept for years in prison?

And so peace talks appear to be at an impasse.

Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo issued a stark warning: “This is our last chance (for peace). This is the last generation of FARC that is both military and political, the last of FARC as a university-educated political movement with Marxist politics we disagree with, but they are at least politics. The generation coming up behind them know only jungle and war.”

Related:

ICC’s eyes on Colombia’s Transitional Justice.

Time to (again) watch “Impunity,” a film by Hollman Morris and Juan Jose Lozano.

Justice is Achilles heel.

Colombia’s transitional law likely to end in impunity for many victimizers.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | May 18, 2015

Journalist Antonio Salas on “How is a Terrorist Made?”

palestino 01

Antonio Salas has immersed himself as an under-cover investigative reporter many times. For six years, he trained to adopt the identity of “Muhammad Abdallah,” a Venezuelan man of Palestinian origin. During this time, Salas learned written and spoken Arabic. He studied the Quran, and memorized fragments of it which he wrote out in traditional calligraphy. He also underwent a circumcision and skin-darkening treatments, and grew a long beard. He gave up pork, smoking, and drinking. He took classes alongside anti-terrorist specialists and policemen.

To test his new identity as “Muhammad Abdallah,” he traveled to Morocco, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. In Ramallah, he learned the psychology of terrorists: the trauma and frustration many face, which is, in turn, harnessed by extremists.

Then, in 2006, he set off for Venezuela because, as he says in the video, “the place in the world where a terrorist can be born was Venezuela.”

His intention was to find out — how is a terrorist made? (My question to Salas is — what is his motivation as an investigative reporter?)

In Venezuela, he found the presence of ETA, FARC, Colombian paramilitary groups, Hamas, Al Qaeda, and clumps of Venezuela’s Bolivarian groups whose members converted to Islam.

The result is a book and the video, embedded below, which was filmed while under-cover using a tiny hidden camera.

** WARNING: VERY GRAPHIC IMAGES ** 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | May 12, 2015

Guest Post: Richard McColl, co-editor of “Was Gabo an Irishman?”

Guest Post by Richard McColl.

 IMG_7045Available on Amazon.

And there I was, seated at the desk at the far end of the Macondo pavilion during this year’s Bogota Book Fair, signing copies of “Was Gabo an Irishman?” with my back disrespectfully turned on priceless, yet worn, first editions of Garcia Marquez’s works, when a young girl came forward and posed the following question:

“If you were to say something about Colombians from the perspective of a foreigner, what would it be?”

Her question caught me off guard, of course, for I had been the one, up until this particular moment, delivering the spiel as to why people might enjoy our book. “It’s a new vision of Colombia,” I said. “It’s an homage to Gabo,” was another routine line to my sales pitch, and the most desperate offering, a bafflegab proffered to those unknowing of the English language but interested all the same, “it’ll make for a nice adornment in your home.” The inquisitive girl had doubtless taken all of this in before requiring me to reduce myself into delivering a concise statement regarding the nature of her compatriots.

“I would say,” I said, lengthening each word and breathing deeply to buy myself more time. “I would say that Colombians wear an external joyfulness, but on the inside, there’s a nostalgia, which becomes clear to those who have spent any quality amount of time here.”

She seemed satisfied with my answer, thanked me, and moved on without purchasing a copy of the book. As an unscripted response, it wasn’t bad. I was glad to have focused on nostalgia, rather than melancholy, while both could easily be attributed to Colombia. Then it struck me: our book, albeit unknowingly, zooms in on one constant and potential source of discomfort or confusion, that of identity.

It’s only now, as the dust settles on our successful appearance at the Book Fair, that I have finally had time to reflect on how much I enjoyed pitching our book during the convivial madness of such an event. Being there, watching book lovers snap photographs of us from afar, as if we were secretly known to them as famous authors, and the dynamic with which we needed to apply ourselves to draw people in, and in turn, shoo off others wanting to use three foreigners – in particular two tall exotic blondes (co-editors Caroline Doherty de Novoa and Victoria Kellaway) – as publicity for their product with no return for us, was a learning process. And the end result was that I have most certainly come away from it all with further questions about what it means to be a Colombian.

“Colombians are survivors and they survive by splurging humor and imagination,” wrote Jordi Raich in his fascinating story contributed to the anthology.

Perhaps Raich’s insight from “Big Papa’s Funeral” best addresses my intellectual crisis when it comes to trying to describe Colombia and Colombians. He would know, of course, as the former Head of Delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombia. Raich’s enviable travels took him all over the country to towns unlisted on official maps. He was directly involved in the safe extraction of FARC guerrilla members from Colombia’s darkest jungles and their secure transfer to Havana, Cuba for exploratory peace talks. As an editor, my take on Raich’s piece, at first, was that he was spot on. For me, his reasoning represented a bull’s-eye in terms of what Colombia is and how it may progress.

But then, editing another piece by Colin Post, the U.S.-born and Peru-based editor of the Expat Chronicles and author of “Mad Outta Me Head: Addiction and Underworld from Ireland to Colombia,” it is clear that his story’s central theme is that of the “irresistibility of morbid love,” displayed by yearning couples in Latin America. This is a subject continually addressed by Gabo in his works. Is this “morbid love” a more complete way of digesting and understanding the Colombian psyche? There’s no mention of the FARC, nothing about the armed conflict, and no references to neither the colonial past so often blamed for today’s class issues, nor to Colombia’s regionalism and geography, all of which are so often touted as being significant keys to understanding the narrative of the country’s contemporary identity. I would be hard-pressed to deny that Post’s contribution to the anthology is any less important than Raich’s.

And herein lies the enjoyment that we three editors experienced, whilst hammering out corrections, letters of rejection, a coherent order for the stories in the book, and how best to promote the finished product — there was a realisation that every contribution was different, that there was magic realism, gritty realism, and social realism included. What we had on paper, in our possession, was no longer something that addressed the Macondian ambiance of Colombia alone, but also the political blitzkrieg that the nation has suffered along the years.

Ostensibly, “Was Gabo an Irishman?” is an anthology of personal stories inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but, it has become increasingly clear over time – having since edited pieces contributed by writers as far adrift as Australia, China, Holland and Spain amongst others, and having promoted and sold out of the book at the Feria del Libro de Bogota – that this is an offering about Colombia and our beloved Gabito, as well as its lens. There is no way that we can define Colombia, but, hopefully, “Was Gabo an Irishman?” goes some way to revealing more facets and complexities to the country than that which is continually covered in the mainstream press. Pick up this book, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the spread of non-fiction contributions which include central mainstays of Gabo’s texts such as love, politics, vallenato music, religion and the Caribbean, to name just a few.

The breadth and depth of Gabo’s work is sometimes forgotten behind the label of “magic realism.” Together with the magic, he wrote about dictators, shipwrecked sailors, kidnappings, conflict, repression, exorcisms, and so much more. Hopefully, through “Was Gabo an Irishman?” we have exposed a little more of Colombia and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Each of the 26 stories in “Was Gabo an Irishman?” attempts to highlight something particular to the Colombian idiosyncrasy, but perhaps none concludes so acutely and elegantly as what Courtenay Strickland wrote in her piece, “Si Dios Quiere”.

“Perhaps this has been part of my frustration since moving to Colombia. I just can’t pin this country down. I can’t pigeonhole the people, and I can’t define myself and my experiences – who I am and what I do – with the clarity that I had before moving here. Thanks to Garcia Marquez and my daily life here, I’m slowly learning to be okay with that.”

The book's three editors: Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Victoria Kellaway, and Richard McColl.

The book’s three editors: Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Victoria Kellaway, and Richard McColl.

The video above was filmed in November 2014 in Tolima department.

The video above was also filmed in 2014. At 00:21, you will hear the spontaneous giggles of children — as they are led in arms maneuvering drills. At 2:06, the video shows the army rescuing minors, who will then be placed under the care of the Ministry of Family Welfare.

In February 2015, FARC negotiators in Havana agreed to stop recruiting children under 17 years of age.

Last week, the FARC said that though they agreed to stop recruiting children under 17, they never agreed to release children already in the group.

On April 24, 2015, the government’s army rescued eight children and adolescents, between the ages of 11 and 17, from the FARC’s 49th Front, in the hamlet of Buenos Aires, in the municipality of San José de Fragua in Caquetá department.

The minors were being used as shields. When government soldiers realized they faced children, they did not return fire and instead surrounded the children, until they were close enough to whisper, “put your weapons down.” The minors obeyed.

In order to save the children, the soldiers allowed FARC chief alias “Porcelana” to flee.

The rescued minors have human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, which can cause genital warts and cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus.

On a separate account, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said the army rescued several more children from the FARC’s 15th Front. According to the children themselves, they had been forcibly recruited and made to train.

The Ministry of Family Welfare estimates there are still 2000 children in FARC ranks.

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