They were twenty-two, said the report.
Seventeen men, three women,
two children with bewildered eyes...
forty-four feet with their shoes,
forty-four unarmed hands,
a single fear, a hatred that sizzles,
and a thousand silences putting
bandages on the mutilated soul.
--From "A Matter of Statistics" by Colombian poet Piedad Bonnet
On May 30th elections will be held in Colombia to replace the current president, Álvaro Uribe. This event warrants a commentary on the state of human rights under Uribe's eight year leadership.
During his reign, Uribe is often lauded for driving down the violence in major cities by muscling FARC out of metropolitan areas. But there are two Colombias, and in the countryside, far away from the cafes of Bogota, gross human rights violations including murders, kidnappings, and abuse frequently occur. The most vulnerable to attacks are indigenous groups who live in strategically important locations for both the guerrillas and the paramilitary. The presence of warring factions has also obstructed their ability to receive food, medicine, and education. Their schools have been turned into military bases.
Offenses committed against indigenous groups are generally disregarded by the authorities. In fact, the authorities were responsible for the murder of over 1,700 civilians, a systematic atrocity known as falsos postitivos. The Colombian military lured men from poor areas from their homes by promising work. Then they were murdered. Their corpses were slipped into guerrilla fatigues, in order to pump up the number of guerrilla deaths at the hands of the military-a military heavily subsidized by the US.
The violence has displaced between 3 and 4 million people, crowning Colombia with the dubious honor of having more internally displaced persons than any other country in the world after Sudan. According to Amnesty International, the displaced population is more susceptible to physical and sexual violence because their rights have largely been ignored.
Violence in Colombia's cities has not completely abated under Uribe, either. The Colombian government's inadequate efforts to demobilize paramilitary groups have resulted in a new generation of paramilitary activity and drug trafficking.
In Medellín, the birthplace of President Uribe, the murder rate has doubled due to gang activity. Uribe's strategy to combat the violence in his hometown was to pay university students and youth from the comunas, or slums, fifty dollars a month to inform on drug traffickers. This puts not only the few people desperate (or naive) enough to take him up on his offer at risk, but makes possible targets out of the entire university age population. Not surprisingly, most students have declined to participate in the program. .
Despite Uribe's attempt to change the constitution so that he could run for a third consecutive term, come August, Uribe will no longer be in office, and presidential candidate Antanas Mockus is a potential ray of light in Colombia's political miasma of corruption. The eccentric, two time mayor of Bogota employs a paradigm which shifts the priority away from Uribe's outmoded military mindset, instead emphasizing education and culture (he was a mathematician, philosopher, and dean of the National University of Colombia before running for mayor). The aim of Mockus's approach is to transform the mentality of the community through dialogue and imaginative strategies emphasizing the informal regulation of the community to change behavior. His unorthodox tactics to increase public safety and order included using 430 mimes to control traffic, and dressing up in red spandex underpants as Supercitizen.
Mockus used art, education, and dialogue to battle the chaos and corruption of Bogota ... and won. The murder rate was dramatically reduced. In addition, water usage dropped, the sewer systems were greatly improved, and motor-vehicle deaths were halved. Under Mockus Bogota has become a paragon of cosmopolitan development. If elected president, Colombia may one day follow suit.