Friday, February 29, 2008

Colombia Trip Preview

Tomorrow I fly out of O’Hare to begin a 12 day tour of Colombia. I’ll be part of a small delegation of Mennonites visiting sister churches there. Ken Moyer, Wilmer Otto and I will be representing First Mennonite of Urbana-Champaign, and visiting El Divino Redentor in Bucaramanga, Colombia. The first part of the delegation will be spent in Bogota, where we will learn about the current political and social situation in Colombia, as well as what MCC and other peace-oriented NGOs are doing.

Probably like most Americans, when I think of Colombia, I think of drug cartels and violence, but am never quite up on who is doing what to whom. I seem to recall something called a ‘farc,’ a bunch of paramilitary outside government control, and lots of bad guys doing terrible things.

But, I’m probably ahead of the average American in that I’m vaguely aware that the US Government continues to pump billions of dollars into arms for Colombia’s war on drugs/terror/communism/whatever, and that those who benefit from that money are probably up to no good. It just seems a little too suspicious when money is so quickly rebranded to fight whatever the current bogeyman happens to be. First it was communism, then it was drugs, and now it is terrorism, and yet it is always weapons of violence sent to the same people.

My pre-trip recommended reading material is “Colombia: A genocidal democracy.” I was able to pick it up from Amazon for about $2, because the marketplace has spoken, and genocidal democracy is a total downer. The good news is that it is just over 100 pages, so it may be depressing and disturbing, but it compresses it into a single, bite-sized chunk of despondency.

From what I understand so far, Colombia consists of a small number of extremely wealthy people who own a lot of stuff. They pay thugs to control a vast number of poor people, who the wealthy people fear will take their stuff. Some poor people get fed up with being oppressed, and take up arms to revolt. Lots of violence ensues. It may sound like every other society since the beginning of civilization, but it is apparently more so in Colombia.

Specifically, Colombia has three main groups of organized violence. The first is the state and its army. The second is the paramilitary groups, who are basically the private armies of large landowners and drug-traffickers. The third are the insurgents, like the FARC and the ELN, who used to be communists, but now use drugs and kidnapping to finance their operations. We should not forget the poor masses, who just want to live in peace, but are often forced to take sides, and preyed upon by all sides.

That’s my shallow understanding of it, as much as a few days of reading have provided. I’m certainly not going to pretend or predict that I will be some kind of expert after a week and a half there. But I will describe my experience of being there, which I guess is all we can ever do.

I hope to post again on Sunday, after I’ve arrived and found an internet café.


Eric said...

You all will be in our thoughts and prayers! Safe travels! Looking forward to reading your blogs when you are in Colombia.

Take care.

Rebecca said...

Yes indeed -- travel safely. I hope the time when you're in the car with Tim ends up being the most dangerous part of your trip -- and I don't mean that as a slam on my husband's driving.

brownie said...

Good Luck and God Bless... careful, too.

Fingtree said...

Which set of thugs runs the internet cafe' there? Just don't forget to show them how compassionate we are. If you think about it Dan, ask them where Bin Ladin is too. Dubya seems to need all the help he can get.