Friday, March 10, 2006

Op Ed: The Big Lie.

I went to a political rally the other night, and it's not something I usually do, as I am not a political hack and as a foreigner in this country, I can't participate in the electoral process. But on Sunday, Colombians will go to the polls to elect House of Representative leaders, as well as, Senators. It has to be the most uneventful election in the last fifteeen years. There's no fanfare, folklore or debate. There's no solution on the horizon to resolve this country's fourty year-old civil war.

The reason I went to the rally, was to listen to the speach of a Colombian journalist called Fernando Garavito, who is on the ticket of the Liberal Party for House of Representatives, and has criticized the incursion of the paramilitaries in every aspect of Colombian life, especially their current status of handing-over weapons for 'fast track' pardons. The truth be told, Garavito wasn't at his own rally. He's in exile. Exiled from Colombia, like hundreds of other journalists and thinkers who have had to flee this country for their beliefs and convictions. The diaspora of Colombians continues to grow. Colombians have left their homeland continuously for the last two decades because of a conflict that has no end in sight. Uribe's military strategy with the two main guerrilla groups, Farc and ELN, operating in the country, hasn't forced a sit down for dialogue. Quite the opposite. It has hardened the resolve of both contenders in this bloody civil war.

The last time there was a real peace treaty with a guerilla group was almost twenty years ago, when then, President Barco accepted the capitulation of the much feared M-19. Twenty years with no progress. Instead, Colombia has lost thousands of professionals to foreign states and countries. The search for the 'American dream' hasn't abated, its surging again.

Meanwhile the Colombian media splashes on its front pages and covers, almost on a weekly basis, pictures and exclusive interviews with smiling paramilitary commanders. Men who earned their reputations for killing thousands of civilians, with such brutal instruments as chainsaws. There are mass graves scattered all over this country. Thousands of disappeared. Thousands who have no clue or answers as to the whereabouts of their loved ones. And the responsability of the local media ? . Nothing. The focus of Colombia's largest radio stations, Tv channels and print media is to generate ratings and scandals with 'reality' shows and journalistic fiction. The Colombian media is magic realism at its worst. The big lie.

Colombia is a country of the displaced, the persecuted and the disappeared. A country that only an elite few can enjoy. Garavito's plight is real. One million Colombians have been displaced in the last four years, within their own country. Millions have fled to the US, Canada and Spain. The cities are bursting at the seams with slums and poverty. Insecurity is rampant, yet the streets of Bogota are flooded with expensive cars and fashionable boutiques. But who's buying?. By the look of the cars and the characters, its not the honest, hard-working Colombians, who can count themselves lucky, to maintain a job. Drug money continues to pour into this country at alarming rates. Yet the media says nothing. The focus on front page is Carnival, but for many Colombians, the 'reality' is Kosovo.

Everyone turns a blind eye towards Colombia's plight. Expect Bruce Willis, who had the guts to question Colombia's role in stemming the drug trade. For that he was called 'arrogant' by the Colombian commander-in-chief and President Mr. Alvaro Uribe. Arrogant, maybe. But Mr. Willis has a right to his opinions, without having to face a personal attack from the Colombian Presidency. This is the attitude Colombia takes when dealing with outside criticism. Had Bruce been born Colombian, he too might, have been forced into exile.

reproduced in The Colombia Review

No comments: