Articles by: Garry Leech
The complexities of the armed conflict in Colombia's drug-producing region of Catatumbo are set to garner greater attention from both the Colombian military and the media. This is underscored by the fact that in addition to the presence of the EPL, FARC, and ELN guerrilla forces, the region is also host to the neo-paramilitary organizations Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños.
By August 2002, the region of Putumayo in southern Colombia had become ground zero for Washington's war on drugs: Plan Colombia was beginning to pick up steam, the cocaine trade was thriving, and illegal armed groups had reached the height of their power. In this excerpt from his new book Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia, Garry Leech chronicles this toxic cauldron of violence and cocaine in a region that to this day remains one of the bloodiest in the country's armed conflict.
In a civil conflict such as the one in Colombia, propaganda is an important weapon. It is difficult for journalists and analysts to independently investigate the reality on the ground and so statistics and information are obtained from a variety of sources in order to draw conclusions. However, the mainstream media in the United States is often over-reliant on two sources: Colombian and US government officials. Not surprisingly then, it is the perspectives of the Colombian and US governments that inevitably dominate most news reports. By comparing conflict trends and human rights statistics with media coverage of Colombia's violence, it is possible to understand why and how the public's perception of the conflict has been distorted.
Last year Sérgio Cabral, governor of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro State, praised the Colombian government’s success in reducing violence in Bogotá. Formerly one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Bogotá has seen a dramatic decrease in violent crime rates in the last five years. Cabral announced that he intended to transplant the Colombian model to Rio de Janeiro, but he has since changed his mind. Bogotá’s new urban order, he may have realized, resulted not from the rule of law, but from the rule of private right-wing militias.
In the context of the ongoing para-politics scandal in Colombia, which has undermined the legitimacy of the right-wing government, the left is rapidly emerging as the new political force in the country. Colombia’s largest leftist guerrilla insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been waging a war against the State for more than 40 years. But for the first time since the 1980s, a left-of-center political party is gaining prominence on both the local and national level, illustrating that Colombia is not immune to the electoral shift to the left that is occurring throughout the region.