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.
After assuming office in August 2002, President Alvaro Uribe immediately set about strengthening the Colombian military and taking the offensive against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). There is little doubt that he has been successful on both counts. The question is: To what degree has he been successful? Most mainstream media reports suggest that the FARC has been pinned back and is on the defensive, even in its traditional rural strongholds; that the FARC's ranks have shrunk by as much as half over the past five years; and that the amount of political violence perpetrated by the guerrillas has diminished dramatically, thereby making the country much safer. Some analysts even go so far as to suggest that the FARC is now on its last legs and the conflict will soon be over.
However, a review of available statistics suggests that the picture is not as clear-cut as Colombian and US officials and mainstream media reports suggest. Firstly, increased security in urban areas has dramatically curtailed common crime including murders, but much of the country's political violence has traditional occurred in rural regions where the armed conflict is being fought. The Bogot