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.

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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.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | April 29, 2015

How could any of this be the result of 33 months of talking peace?

Two weavers promised an Emperor a new suit of clothes that was invisible to those who were unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor paraded before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dared to say that he didn’t see any suit of clothes. Then, a child cried out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

To shouts of “liar” and “get out,” President Santos was loudly jeered and booed by dozens of spectators at a 10-kilometer run April 19 in Bogota to benefit soldiers wounded in combat. The frenzied scene repeated itself when he visited Medellin the next day.

The outrage was sparked by the April 15 attack by the FARC’s Miller Perdomo Mobile Column in which the FARC brutally killed eleven soldiers and wounded a dozen others, who were part of a military patrol in the south-western province of Cauca. The FARC used grenades, explosives and firearms. FARC Commander alias Pastor Alape, a negotiator in Havana, said the army casualties occurred in a “defensive action.” Meanwhile, President Santos called the attack “deliberate” and ordered the armed forces to resume bombing FARC camps.

So it is that the fabric of the peace talks in Havana is disintegrating, even more so as facts are made explicit.

Fact number one: President Santos now appears even more desperate for his legacy to be tied to the peace talks: He may seek special powers, via a referendum, to negotiate and seal a deal with the FARC without congressional or public review, something his government denied, but who many suspect is in the works. How Hugo Chavez of him.

Fact number two: Critics demand to know why President Santos released a Chinese ship carrying 100 tonnes of explosives, plus 2.6 million detonators, 99 projectile heads and around 3,000 canon shells, the supplies of guerrilla warfare. After its release, the ship went on to its destination in Cuba illegally. Sketchy. Shady.

Fact number three: President Santos appears intent on giving the FARC the social and legal legitimacy they need to enter politics. He has even suggested that drug trafficking, which the FARC have finally admitted to, be considered a political crime. This would mean the peace talks are, in essence, a huge money laundering scheme.

Emerging facts would prompt the child, who called out the naked emperor, to shout, “But how could any of this be the result of 33 months of talking peace?”

Patience is running low. Anger is boiling.

The negotiating table in Havana, Cuba.

The negotiating table in Havana, Cuba.

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

Including the Male Gender Perspective in Post-Conflict Projects.

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“When I left for the army, I remember that my aunts, my uncles and my mother said, Go because over there you will become a man, over there you will become a worthy man.”

“When I was five years old, I had hair down to here (signals his neck), and I remember people sometimes greeted me, saying, Ay, what a beautiful girl! And I would say, What girl? Then, next, I am at my desk, in school, at the beginning of first grade, my hair mauled, wearing a proper shirt for school, and here is the photo of the castrated boy, whose hair was shaved, because they figured I was already the little man.”

“When people speak to you about war and you are a young man of 15 or 18 years old, you think that here is something you cannot do anything about, that the only option is to deal with it and suck it up.”

Such are some of the commentaries gathered by la Casa Museo de la Memoria in Medellín and the University of Antioquia, which highlight the importance of including the male gender perspective in projects that will help take Colombian society from war to a post-conflict scenario.

Many men join the government’s army or illegal armed groups for economic reasons, due to unemployment and the expectations that, as males, society assigned them to provide for their families.

Many demobilized former paramilitaries have expressed that membership in the paramilitaries facilitated their liaisons with the prettiest women, as well as their ability to dress well, carry a weapon, and be seen as males with power.

Forced displacement robs men of their social position as they witness their wives, and the women around them, better able to adapt to life in cities, getting jobs, and providing for their families.

There have been 800 cases reported to the National Union of Victims in which men were victims of sexual violence. It is likely the figure is higher. Many men in war situations are castrated, sexually mutilated, forced to have incestious relations, and forced into sexual slavery.

A follow-up on the story of the fifty-four under-age Colombian girls who were reportedly sexually assaulted by American troops and contractors stationed in Colombia, serving under Plan Colombia, between 2003 and 2007.

Now, U.S. army criminal investigators plan to probe allegations with officials in Colombia.

Chris Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, said “Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are currently coordinating with Colombian authorities and will initiate an investigation into any credible allegations of sexual assault or criminal acts committed by U.S. soldiers while in that country.”

The abuses allegedly happened in military bases in Colombia, in Melgar and Tolemaida.

Colombian prosecutors could not make arrests because of immunity agreements made between the U.S. and Colombia.

 

Olga Lucía Castillo says her daughter was drugged, kidnapped and sexually abused by U.S. military personnel, who have received absolute impunity due to Colombia-U.S. bilateral agreements.

Olga Lucía Castillo says her daughter was sexually assaulted by U.S. military personnel, who have received absolute impunity due to Colombia-U.S. bilateral agreements.

This week, the U.S. media repeatedly told the story of the Drug Enforcement Administration agents who had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels in Colombia. Ten DEA agents admitted attending the parties, and some of the agents received suspensions of two to 10 days.

But the media did not do justice to the story of fifty-four under-age Colombian girls who were sexually assaulted by American troops and contractors stationed in Colombia, serving under Plan Colombia, between 2003 and 2007, according to a new report by the Historical Commission of the Conflict and its Victims.

The abuses allegedly happened in military bases in Melgar and Tolemaida.

Colombian prosecutors could not make arrests because of immunity agreements made between the U.S. and Colombia.

‘There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials,’ scholar Renan Vega said.

In once case, on August 26, 2007, two American military personnel — allegedly U.S. sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz — drugged the 12-year-old daughter of Olga Lucía Castillo, kidnapped her, and drove her from a nightclub in Melgar, Tolima, to the nearby military base. The victim said she had stopped at the nightclub to use the bathroom.

Coen and Ruiz reportedly filmed the abuse and sold the films as pornographic material. They were flown out of Colombia.

Meanwhile, the victim’s family received multiple death threats, and has repeatedly been forced to flee and resettle in different cities.

The documentary, embedded below, by Hollman Morris and Juan Jose Lozano, is worth watching, especially now as forms of transitional justice come to the table in the peace talks with the FARC.

The documentary traces the demobilization and disarmament of the AUC, las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia or the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the paramilitaries.

The documentary examines the Justice and Peace Law, passed in 2005, with the intention to provide truth, reparations, and a measure of justice to victims of the AUC and the continuing armed conflict.

For much of the 1990s, the AUC, another drug-financed illegally armed group, were responsible for massacres and disappearances of anyone suspected of collaborating with the FARC, and forced recruitment of minors. Under the Justice and Peace Law, the paramilitaries were supposed to demobilize and confess their crimes, and allow families to uncover the truth of what happened to their loved ones.

Family members came to the hearings, asking for any information, showing photos, and painfully re-living the trauma of what happened. They begged for bodies to bury properly, for closure.

Yet, as the documentary highlights, the government of Alvaro Uribe extradited to the United States the leaders, or intellectual authors, before they had a chance to fully confess their crimes. They were extradited to face charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Commander Ever Veloza, alias Commander “HH,” told a hearing (minute 55:00) that the banana and sugar industry, and cattle ranchers benefitted from the paramilitaries. He said the paramilitaries would arrive in areas where they received logistical support (minute 55:44). He implicated local politicians and businesspeople. Then, before victims could finish hearing the entire truth, Commander “HH” was also extradited to the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges.

In the documentary, Gustavo Gallon of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, says (minute 22:00) that of 3600 people presented as having committed grave crimes against humanity, only 600 people have satisfied the requirements of the Justice and Peace Law, as set by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

** WARNING: VERY DISTURBING GRAPHIC IMAGES IN THE DOCUMENTARY. **

 

Related:

Paramilitaries massacred 60 people in cattle-raising town in 2000.

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

Gang of former paramilitaries threaten peace activists.

Skepticism around criminal gangs voluntarily disarming.

Demobilizations Were a Charade.

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

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | March 7, 2015

FARC leaders said they are Christians.

American Preacher Russell Martin Stendal.

American Preacher Russell Martin Stendal.

 

According to the World Watch Monitor, an American preacher estimated that 10 per cent of the members of the FARC are Christians.

Preacher Russell Martin Stendal is the operator of Colombia for Christ, a ministry based in Bogotá, which set up a radio station, Garita Radio, with the intention of teaching FARC members about Christianity.

Stendal is a missionary from Minneapolis. In 1983, he was held hostage by the FARC for five months. Back then, Colombian authorities alleged that he was posing as a missionary and installing mobile devices “to transmit propaganda about terrorist activities.”

Authorities found it suspicious that Stendal could come and go from FARC territory without repercussions. They alleged he brought the FARC provisions.

Stendal said he received approval from the late FARC leader Monoy Jojo for the broadcasts.

FARC commander Ivan Marquez told the World Watch Monitor in a Q&A in 2013 that FARC leaders Jesús Santrich, Yuri Camargo and Noel Perez are Christians.

Ivan Marquez is second-in-command of the FARC’s secretariat, while Santrich serves as his right hand man. Camargo is a former commander of the FARC’s 52nd Front, and Perez is the current deputy commander of the group’s 26th Front.

The four men, together with 25 other commanders of the FARC, are currently in Havana for the negotiations with the Colombian government.

The FARC’s Marxist-Leninist beliefs reject religion.

Watch, below, a movie, “La Montaña,” based on Stendal’s missionary work. In the movie, Stendal’s character says, “If you believe God exists, it means you have to submit to judgment when you die.”

In the 2013 interview with the World Watch Monitor, FARC Commander Santrich said, “Yes. We’re willing to face reality with honest, ethical people who have neither a slant nor bad intentions. If they show that we’ve made mistakes, we’re willing to own up to that. But not through accusations by a Colombian judicial system, for example, that’s corrupt, broken down, and widely discredited. There should be transparent, truthful mechanisms for war crimes of the guerrillas and their counterparts to be brought to the light.”

 

 

Related:

ICC’s eyes on Colombia’s Transitional Justice.

FARC insist they are a political organization, so FARC obliged to respect International Humanitarian Law.

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | February 28, 2015

Colombia’s Attorney General Ordoñez is doing his job.

Colombia's Attorney General Ordoñez

Colombia’s Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez has been vocal about the outcome of the peace negotiations between the Santos government and the FARC. This week, Ordoñez travelled to Miami, Washington and New York.

Ordoñez told CNN (my translation from Spanish): “I have been clear about various topics. First, the topic of justice. The office of the attorney general considers there cannot be impunity. We all want peace. In Colombia, there are no enemies of peace. One thing is to want peace, and another is to negotiate it, or concede to peace, without any conditions. The office of the attorney general has said yes to peace, we want there to be a successful peace, but not with the absence of imprisonment for those responsible for grave crimes against humanity, for crimes of war, for genocide, for grave human rights violations. They must be punished with imprisonment. Of course, there can be reduced imprisonment, substantially reduced, that is allowed by transitional justice, but what transitional justice does not allow is absolute impunity because we have international obligations, because we have signed the Rome Treaty. .. In our own internal laws, there exists imprisonment — our laws do not admit impunity. The office of the attorney general must forewarn because there are too many signs that the FARC have been requiring impunity.”

(See: FARC insist they are a political organization, so FARC obliged to respect International Humanitarian Law.)

Ordoñez also questioned what is the prescribed abandonment of arms?

He questioned documents in which the FARC “would be preserving wealth acquired through drug trafficking, illegal mining, kidnappings and extortion.”

And how will victims be compensated? Ordoñez believes the FARC should compensate victims “with money obtained from illicit activities.”

Ordoñez expressed concern about the government’s proposal to consider drug trafficking a political crime. He said Colombia’s constitutional court has placed limits on what is a political crime, and to re-open the debate is to disregard Colombia’s constitutional court and Colombia’s justice system.

(See: Accepting drug trafficking as a political crime is a grand money laundering scheme.)

Ordoñez said it was his job to point all this out; and being that it is his responsibility does not mean he is an enemy of peace.

In turn, the FARC compared Ordoñez to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels.

The FARC said Ordoñez “has petty interests, implants hatred and rouses war, which is fuel for perpetuating national bleeding.”

 

 

 

Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | February 19, 2015

ICC looking to address sexual and gender-based crimes

The office of Fatou Bensouda, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, launched the Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes. It aims to strengthen the Office’s capacity to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of sexual and gender-based crimes falling within the Court’s jurisdiction in a systematic and comprehensive manner, and to enhance the integration of a gender perspective and expertise in all aspects of operations.

“It is my duty as ICC Prosecutor to challenge the culture of impunity that allows sexual and gender-based crimes against girls and women, boys and men, in conflict and peace-time, to persist,” said Prosecutor Bensouda.

The Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes also highlights the commitment to hold the perpetrators of such crimes accountable, and in the process, to send a strong message that the culture of impunity for such crimes will be met with the full force of the law.

The ICC works with local authorities, and the ICC interferes when local jurisdiction fails to investigate and prosecute such crimes. Bensouda’s Office is conducting preliminary examinations in Colombia.

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

Watch Bensouda discuss the work of the ICC:

 

Bensouda said: “We have seen that war crimes — rape and other — and sexual- and gender-based crimes — are used — is used as weapons of war. It is used as weapons to repress, to humiliate, to destroy the social fabric in society. And I think it is high time that we give it the attention that it deserves. And this is why I thought that it is crucially important that for my office we have a policy that provides transparency, that provides clarity on what we intend to do.”

A report from Amnesty International in Colombia titled, “This is what we demand, Justice!” details cases of sexual crimes against women and young girls in which security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups “exploit girls as sexual slaves in order to seek vengeance.” They are often treated as “war trophies” who have to be silenced and punished. In many cases, sexual violence forces families to abandon their land and become internal refugees.

(See: Women as war trophies: Impunity and sexual violence and Women are most vulnerable among displaced.)

Currently, the ICC has charged seventeen individuals with sexual and gender-based crimes. They constitute about 70 percent of cases before the chambers of the ICC.

The ICC found former African warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of using children as young as nine as bodyguards, sex slaves and fighters.

(See: ICC verdict of Congolese leader found guilty of using child soldiers sends message to Colombia’s child abusers.)

Besouda believes there is an overlap in both the conscription of minors and the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes.

One of the challenges of sexual and gender-based crimes is the underreporting, or the non-reporting. The ICC is looking for new ways, for alternative forms of evidence to be able to bring forth to the judges; such as forensic or hospital reports, where they exist.

The ICC is also trying to see what are the best ways to approach people, or approach victims and be able to speak to them in a manner that will not expose them, in a manner that they will not suffer afterwards from stigmatization or re-traumatization.

Bensouda said, “ .. Because we all know that in most of societies once you are seen or known as a victim of — of rape, instead of being looked at as a victim you are probably blamed for being raped. You are stigmatized in society, you become an outcast. If you are married, sometimes you are divorced. Your husband would not want you anymore because you are a victim of rape.”

Related:

If Colombian authorities do not address gender violence, ICC will. 

 

 

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