13 June, 2007
Four hours after leaving New York on the Avianca flight for Bogota, the Caribbean coast of Colombia appeared, a electric green arc of banana plantations and thick jungle. It was strange to fly south instead toward the blood-charged cauldron of the Middle East where I have spent the last four years covering the conflict in Iraq. Colombia is a different story, one that is much closer to home.
The purpose of the trip is to understand the current climate of human rights in Colombia as President Uribe petitions U.S. Congress for trade benefits and billions of dollars in military aid. As Uribe makes his pitch for Plan Colombia, the U.S. funded program to eradicate the coca farms, I am particularly interested in the relationship of U.S. aid, American corporations and violent paramilitary groups. As we flew over the great Magdalena river and the long stretches of jungle lining the banks, it is impossible not to meditate on Colombia's long-running civil war and the consequences of U.S. involvement in Latin America. Colombia has a brutal history of political violence which reaches back to the 19th century. Many Colombian citizens suffer from a sharp disparity in income, unable to make a legitimate living. Colombia's wealth, illegitimate and othewise is concentrated in the hands of a small proportion of its citizens.
The lack of land reform fuels this violence and feeds into the illegal businesses and armed groups that plague the country. Many are simply shut out of society and are forced into lives of subsistence. It is a strange contrast. Our plane followed the great Magdalena river into the mountains where it is fed by silver threads of streams running through deep gorges.
In terms of resources, Colombia is one of the richest and beautiful countries in the world. From the Caribbean coast to the Amazon basin in the south near the Putumayo river, the land of 44 million people is verdant in an almost mythological way.
Colombia, wracked by war for so long, is in the green beating heart of the planet.
In the notebook, I have only three people to contact.