In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
|March 6-12, 2008
Back to Letters
The 110-pound bomb that ripped apart Cali, Colombia’s police headquarters a year ago — killing one and injuring 34 — would have been shocking anywhere else. But deplorable as the bombing was, the greater misfortune is that Colombia, Latin America’s first liberated nation, remains trapped in a five-decade-old civil war with its cultural mentality of instability and violence, where the dinner conversation casually drifts toward which politicians must be assassinated to solve the country’s problems, while 8-year-old children talk about death while jumping rope in school playgrounds. Where each village has a hitlist posted in the town square of which enemy sympathizers are slated for execution. And where more than 35,000 people have been murdered in the past decade, not to mention the kidnappings that occur at an average of 60 per week nationwide. At least twice a year, entire villages — women, children, everyone — are massacred for being suspected sympathizers with enemy factions.
And if that’s Colombia’s tragedy, one has to wonder which is the greater insult: the absence of, or at minimum, news ticker treatment given Colombia’s intensely heartbreaking situation in the international media? Or the politicking and perpetuation of violence by those profiting at the expense of Colombia’s innocent majority who, exhausted from living in fear, want nothing more than normality?
The April 2007 bombing of Cali’s police headquarters seemed to fit snuggly into Colombia’s typical pattern of peaks and valleys of violence and calm. Under former president, Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), government peace talks began in January 1999, right when the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was on the verge of seizing the capitol — and the country. The violence slowed, and in October, when the apolitical Colombian populace held a general strike with more than 6 million marchers, things looked hopeful, as truces were agreed upon between Pastrana and the FARC.
Then in November 1999, the Colombian government began extraditing drug kingpins to the U.S., a practice that had been halted in 1989 when car bombings peaked as retribution for this gringo loyalty. By January 2000, the eight-week stalemate had completely melted down, and by July, the U.S. had signed the $1.3 billion Plan Colombia aid package, which was contingent upon reinstating the extradition policy. By all accounts, Colombia’s judicial branch is the weak link, and extradition is necessary in order to punish drug traffickers; Colombian judges have a short lifespan, as do their families, when trying to sentence drug lords. But the problem is one of the U.S. interfering in Colombia’s internal affairs, which only agitates the love-hate relationship average Colombians — proud and independent — have with both North Americans and their own government.
Funded by narcotrafico, kidnapping and military zone taxation, the leftist FARC, 17,000-plus strong, controls some 40-percent of the country, and was (likely correctly) blamed for the above Cali bombing. The ultra-right paramilitaries, numbering around 7,000, fight the leftist insurgents, killing any suspected sympathizers. Seventy percent of the paramilitaries’ funds come from drug traffickers. The Ejército Nacional de Liberación, the ELN, with 5,000 guerrillas, are a Guevara/Castro-inspired Marxist group, which derives its income from taxing the wealthy in their military zones, kidnapping, and undoubtedly narcotrafico to a lesser extent. The Colombian army is 100,000 strong. However, impotent in combating forces with greater resources, its basic task is to protect U.S. interests by using drug eradication as a means to stop trafficking at the source, while providing Uncle Sam with its last toehold in a region rapidly slipping from its grasp as the entire continent swings left.
Despite the critics, the answer to Colombia’s civil war and violence lies within the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (an offshoot of defunct Free Trade Area of the Americas), following the successful additions of Brazil and Peru with similar country-specific trade agreements in South America. The root of Colombia’s predicament is absolutely economic, and foreign investment is the only solution. Remove drug trafficking, and unemployment in Colombia would soar to 40 percent, on par with neighboring Brazil and Peru. The problem is that with the domestic and regional instability, foreign firms find Colombian investment too risky. And it helps little when Colombia’s President Uribe and his military deploy an illegal, cross-border air strike against FARC, breaching the sovereignty of neighboring Ecuador, and in the process arousing the bombast of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez who, seizing the opportunity, exploits Colombia’s internal strife as a distraction to his own country’s failures.
Since the 1980s, drug trafficking with its residual violent crimes has been the only viable alternative to extreme poverty for much of Colombia’s working class. In Medellín, the life expectancy of a young person lured into the easy money of the illegal drug trade is around 23 years old. But the price is a violent, premature death. Another funeral. Another broken family.
back to top