Colombia

The Bundesbank has just announced that it will forgive $829 million in debt for Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia and the Ivory Coast under condition that the money be used for debt reduction. The chair of the Bundesbank said that hopefully this decision will act as a precedent for other banks to do the same. Its spitting in the ocean but its a start. The New York Times coverage of Colombia has been mixed. The reporting of Diana Jean Schemo has been fairly objective.

I forgot to add in a previous post that the ELN was reduced to 26 people in 1977 and now has 5-7000 people under arms. The FARC was born in 1964 with 13 people. It now has 10-15000 people under arms. At this point, the guerrillas are in a position to overthrow the government within the next 10 years. Some Colombian generals have called for an outright invasion of Colombia. Colombia is currently the 2nd biggest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel. Since 1988 there have been an average of 26 politically motivated killings per day in Colombia. The Central Organization of Workers one of the umbrella trade union groups in Colombia has reported over 230 of its members have been murdered since 1988. Over 4,000 members of the Patriotic Union, a left-wing political party formed by the FARC and the Communist party have been murdered since 1985.

In 1996, the offices of Voz Proletaria, a leftist weekly, were blown to bits. In 1994, the former editor of Voz and sole member of the Communist party in the Colombian senate was murdered. There isn't much in English on Colombia but I would recommend; Inside the Labyrinth by Jenny Pearce, Colombia The Genocidal Democracy by Javier Giraldo, Colombia in Focus by Latin American Bureau, Revolutionary Writings by Camilo Torres, Our Guerrillas, Our Sidewalks by Harvey Kaye and The Fruit Palace by Charles Nichol. The novels of Marquez give a good flavor of the country. I would also recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to visit Colombia, I love Colombia, its a beautiful country that offers the best (and worst) of Latin America. Just keep your hands on your wallet, be careful who you talk to and don't buy drugs on the street! Adelante!

Sam Pawlett


...there was a good article on the Colombian attorney general in CAQ a few issues ago. Some of the civil servants are sincere in their battle for human rights and against corruption. They are in the minority however. They receive death threats and are quite often murdered. Many Colombian judges have been murdered by paras and the drug gangs.

The Magdalena Medio is a hell hole. There is a large para base at Puerto Boyaca on the Magdalena river. There is a sign outside that town (I've seen it) that says "welcome to the anti-communist capital of the world". Down the river is Barrancabermeja the principle oil town in Colombia and a traditional seat of the Colombia left with the strong and militant oil workers union (regularly accused and then tortured and murdered for being ELN members/sympathizers.) as well as strong ELN presence. So it is the sight of many brutal human rights abuses, street battles between g's and paras. I was once in a town on the Magdelana called Mompos where there was a Shell refinery with the "S" burnt out of the sign. It gave me a grim satisfaction to see this huge sign that said "HELL" every night when perched on my barstool.

I really like to hear of Dennis's experience and knowledge of working in that region.

Sam Pawlett


I work a lot in Colombia's Magdalena Medio region around the area of Barrancabermeja (see http://www.prairienet.org/csncu)

This is where USO, the petroleum workers' union, is centered. Also, SINTRAPALMA (palm plantation workers' union) and FECODE (teachers' union) are strong here.

It is also at the epicenter of paramilitary violence and the area in which the ELN has traditionally had much of its support. It's wild country and quite dangerous, especially if you are working-class and living in northeastern Barranca, in the barrios populares. You are liable to get shot or tortured to death by the paras (see interview with para commander "Morantes" in http://www.prairienet.org/csncu).

It's so hot in Magdalena Medio. One of the hottest places on earth insist the locals. Once in a while there is a gentle breeze. Make that once in a rare while:-)

Travelling down the river Magdalena on a chalupa (a small boat that holds about 15 people with an outboard motor that serves as a river bus) we are stopped at a naval base two kilometers north of Barranca. Everybody gets out and men line up against the fence to be searched, while women are gathered at the other side to be searched. We hand over our bags and our identification cards and the marines turn over the ids to the young officer under the tent with the Galil rifle on his lap sitting at a rickety table. Just another stop, yet another search. One gets used to these sort of amenities:-) All is quiet. Not a sound except for the river as it is going by. The marines look us up and down. One marine is tapping his rifle with his fingers. Nervous? Bored? I know I am nervous. I am always nervous at these stops.

The young officer picks up the ids one by one and seems to be checking the names against a thick notebook in front of him. Next to him is a civilian. He looks like a campesino, over fifty I would say, although it could just be that the sun has scared his face with age. He is wearing a dirty white sobrero. A couple of the buttons of his shirt are unbuttoned and I spot a handgun in his waist. He is casual, relaxed sitting next to the officer. Funny thing is, he too has a notebook. Everytime the officer checks his notebook, the campesino looks over his shoulder and then into his own notebook.

One of the marines has spotted me checking out the campesino and looks at me strangely. Then I think that he signals me to look away. He is very subtle, he does it with his eyes and his eyebrows and a very slight jerk of his head toward the river. I oblige. Is he being helpful? I get the sense that he is giving me a friendly warning, as if to say "Careful, hombre! Don't let anyone catch you checking out the tipo. Look away now." Some marines have been checking out the chalupa carefully.

The tipo is surely not military and damn sure not just plain ole civilian you know. The gun, the notebook... I ask myself: "Can it be a para out in the open next to a Navy officer?" The answer seems clear enough.

Everybody has checked out... Except me... A conscript comes up to me and tells me the officer wants to talk to me. It's about my U.S. passport. He doesn't know what to do with it. Not too many gringos around these parts [except maybe the CIA:-)].

But he has to make sure I am a gringo. I am not blessed with blond hair, and I am of Greek extraction, therefore can pass for Colombian, a blanco from Bogota or Medellin.

He looks at me. The sun is hot. I am sweating. Do you speak Spanish? Yes. Where are you heading? I am going north. Where? Puerto Wilches. Puerto Wilches? Yes sir. What are you going to do there? I am a geographer doing research on palm plantations. Where are you from? Chicago. Are you a professor? Yes. It's dangerous around here, lots of subversives. I have heard. What do you think about Colombia? It's a beautiful country, very nice people. Be careful. Thank you.

He gives me my passport. All other passengers are back in the chalupa looking back at me. I am heading back escorted by a marine that must be 18 years old, no more than that.

Are you from Miami? No, Chicago. You like Colombia? Very much, very beautiful country. Be careful. Thank you.

I get in the chalupa. The chalupero heads to the chalupa. I swear he palms some money to the NCO who had officiated over the search of the chalupa.

My fellow passengers are quiet. As we move away from the naval station I look around. I think I sense some relief on their part. Maybe it's just me. No talking. It's like we are stuck in an elevator. Fifteen passengers, the chalupero and his 10 year old kid.

North on the Magdalena. The noise from the motor covers everything except the noise from the water as it is cut by the chalupa.

Later I find out that I probably guessed right that it was a para back there at the naval base. They had been out and about lately. It was the time of the big massacres in Barranca. They were looking for subversives.

Dennis Grammenos