Selected for Best American Travel Writing for 2012
This includes original translations by me.
An examination of why American Protestant churches have a higher likelihood to support torture
Colombians often say-at times with pride and at times with frustration- that the roots of the country's conflict are deep and defy easy explanation. Human rights and conflict resolution are but two of many strands. The concept of human rights is not foreign to Colombia or imposed from the outside, but is deeply felt and has played a role in Colombian life for almost a century. Colombia was among the forty-eight member states of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly that voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. At the time, few signatories had a worse internal political conflict (among those who voted against the document were Saudi Arabia, the Union of South Africa, and the Soviet Union). Colombia's vote was evidence of its citizenry's profoundly civic aspirations. When it adopted a new constitution in 1991, respect for human rights was a central theme. Nevertheless, Colombia has the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. An average of four thousand people each year currently fall victim to political violence. In 2002, massacres, traditionally used by paramilitaries to spread terror, were less numerous than in previous years, but the decrease appears to have reflected a change in paramilitary tactics rather than a decrease in overall violence. Witnesses, church officials, and municipal observers, among others, say that paramilitaries now seize large groups of people, then killindividuals separately and leave the bodies scattered in different locations to avoid the publicity that results when incidents are recorded as massacres. At the same time, guerrillas seem to be increasingly interested in creating terror with their attacks, in complete disregard of civilians' safety. A tragic example was the case of Boyajá, Chocó, one of the worst slaughters of the entire Colombian conflict. On May 1, 2002, guerrillas launched at least one gas cylinder bomb that hit a church where displaced persons were gathered, killing 119, including at least 48 children. A year after the tragedy, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the population remained subject to threats from guerrillas and paramilitaries and that they remained living in a state of emergency. Efforts to resolve the country's prolonged conflict have been varied, persistent, creative, and largely unsuccessful. Since 1984, ten illegal armed groups have demobilized, more than seven thousand people have been "reinserted" into civilian life, and there have been numerous peace negotiations. Yet in that same time period, many more Colombians have joined illegal armed groups, and thousands of "reinserted" Colombians have faced exile or death at the hands of paramilitaries or their former comrades in guerrilla groups. In 2002, the authorities estimated that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army) had twenty thousand members. The Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC, United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia) is estimated to have twelve thousand members. The smallest active group is the Unión Camilista-Ejército de Liberación Nacional (UC-ELN, Camilist Union-Army of National Liberation), which has five thousand members. The FARC-EP and AUC have increasingly faced each other on the battlefield, a new phenomenon. When the latest round of peace talks ended in 2002, Colombia was stopped cold, a fl y in the amber of violence with no visible way out. An Inter-American Bank study showed that Colombians were just as poor in 2000 as they had been in 1990.1 Meanwhile, the casualties caused by political violence more than doubled. Copyright © 2009 by Syracuse University Press. All Rights Reserved.
I translated this from the Spanish and included a forward. First published in Peru in 1990, The Shining Path was immediately hailed as one of the finest works on the insurgency that plagued that nation for over fifteen years. A richly detailed and absorbing account, it covers the dramatic years between the guerrillas' opening attack in 1980 and President Fernando Belaunde's reluctant decision to send in the military to contain the growing rebellion in late 1982. Covering the strategy, actions, successes, and setbacks of both the government and the rebels, the book shows how the tightly organized insurgency forced itself upon an unwilling society just after the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime. One of Peru's most distinguished journalists, Gustavo Gorriti first covered the Shining Path movement for the leading Peruvian newsweekly, Caretas. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and an impressive array of government and Shining Path documents, he weaves his careful research into a vivid portrait of the now-jailed Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman, Belaunde and his generals, and the unfolding drama of the fiercest war fought on Peruvian soil since the Chilean invasion a century before.