Friday, August 1, 2014

Colombia's Un-Pacific Coast

Mónica Julieth Pernia Cortes, tortured and murdered,
apparently by the FARC guerrillas. (Photo: HRW)
Houses where people are chopped up. Mass displacement. Bombings. Torture. Poverty. Forced recruitment of children.

In recent years, while Colombia's Caribbean coast has boomed with tourism, its Pacific coast has been scourged by violence and misery.

What's the difference?

Culturally and geographically the two coasts aren't that different. Both are hot and home to mostly Afro-Colombian people. But the Pacific coast is historically more remote and lightly populated, and its coastline has lots of inlets which lend themselves to smuggling.

As a result, government control is particularly tenuous on the Pacific, and the region is prized by all sorts of violent, outlaw organizations, including guerrillas, paramilitary criminal bands and straight out narcotrafficking groups. Their criminal activity goes way beyond drug trafficking, to human trafficking, illegal mining and terrorism.

Human Rights Watch just published a report describing the small city of Tumaco as a veritable horror scene: rape, planting of land mines, murders and disappearances - and virtually no punishment for the atrocities.

According to the HRW report: "The Attorney General’s Office reported that only seven of its investigations into the more than 1,300 homicides committed in Tumaco since 2009 have led to convictions. Prosecutors have not obtained a single conviction in any of their more than 680 investigations into disappearances and forced displacement committed since 2009 in Tumaco and several nearby municipalities. Only four of the 314 investigations into sexual violence and abuse in Tumaco since 2009 have led to a conviction."

Many of the atrocities around Tumaco, at least in the past year or two, were apparently committed by the FARC guerrillas, who have taken control of the region.

"The FARC has a tight grip over the lives of many Tumaco residents, who are forced to keep silent as the guerrillas plant their fields with landmines, drive them from their homes, and kill their neighbors and loved ones with impunity." José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director for Human Rights Watch

The FARC, of course, are negotiating a peace deal with the government in Havana, Cuba, and one of their chief demands is political representation after any peace deal.

Could Colombians live with the perpetrators of war crimes in Congress?

Will that injustice be worth the ending the nation's half-century of conflict?

That decision's coming up pretty soon.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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