Tag Archives: colombia politics

The Power Vacuum in a Post Farc Colombia

On Saturday, the local and international press reported that the final group of FARC guerrillas, numbering around 300 combatants, from Frentes 3, 14 and 15 arrived at Agua Bonita, Caquetá, bringing to an end the massive mobilization of men and women from their clandestine camps deep in the Colombia jungles and voluntarily arriving at the 26 UN zones of concentration around the country.

FARC

FARC guerrillas arrive in their zone of concentration. Image provided by El Espectador newspaper

This effort took over three weeks and 36 different operations as 6,900 members of the FARC moved to their new homes to disarm, demobilize and slowly…reintegrate into society. The process of creating and registering IDs for these people has begun.

And while the images of this “revolutionary migration” have generated spine-tingling moments and hope for many Colombians. There is a sinister and altogether avoidable issue which is most troubling. Who is now in control?

With the departure of the FARC, formerly the de facto authority in these outlying, overlooked and it’s reasonable to say, areas abandoned by the Colombian state, there is now a startling power vacuum.

On February 10, some 96 families were displaced from their homes in the towns of Tibú and Teorama in the department of Norte de Santander.

153 members of the Wounaan Nonam people in Santa Rosa de Guayacán displaced from their homes on February 11 to the pacific port city of Buenaventura.

In 2016 more than 70 human rights defenders and community activists were assassinated. In 2017, this chilling figure could well increase.

And while Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had promised thorough military presence in each of the problem areas where the FARC would leave a significant power struggle for control of strategic transshipment routes and coca producing regions, it appears that on the ground, far from Bogotá, the reality is strikingly different.

Where are the increased patrols, increased military presence in the regions and confrontations to keep the paramilitary, Bacrim, post-paramilitary and armed gangs at bay?

Now, the Colombian state and the powers that be can never have been accused of paying too much attention to outlying Colombia, unless of course it is for some financial gain. In fact, historically the State’s activities have hardly been profligate in outer Colombia.

Which begs the question, is the Colombian Government completely blind to the regions or is it ignoring the countryside on purpose to protect financial interests in the regions through a new and increased reign of fear? Is there a tacit approval by the State for the post-paramilitary and their presence in areas of high value?

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The Dead Do Vote in Colombia

It was a Sunday when I discovered that I had been declared dead. The dead have been known to vote in Colombia to ensure victory at the urns, but alas, by being very much alive I was excluded from this ghoulish political game.

I was going to vote until I realised I was dead

I was going to vote until I realised I was dead

In the months leading up to the national elections in Bogotá I had grown increasingly excited about my right to cast a vote and hopefully have some say in local issues in the city in which I had been living since February 2007. Months previously I had paid a visit to the Registradura Nacional office (National Civil Registry) nearest to my apartment was informed that my documents were up to date and I complied with the five requirements needed of me to be a voting foreigner in Colombia. My visa was in order, I had lived in this country continuously for five years or longer, I am in possession of a Colombian ID card, I had registered and finally, I was not in breach of any legal or constitutional norms.

It was so straightforward. I should have known then that misfortune was looming large.

In my mind I was a now a foreigner with a political voice, if only for the local elections, but a step up from the status of a wandering expat.

The big day arrived and I felt a tingle of excitement as I followed the handwritten signs of “Extranjeros” hastily pinned to the ground floor walls of my designated voting station at the Sergio Arboleda University. I repeated the numbers of my chosen political candidates in my head. My choice for Mayor of Bogotá was clear but for other local representatives it wasn’t plain sailing.

Leaving my emotions and personal politics to one side I was ready to cast my vote according to what I felt the city needed and those people best suited to do the job.

Four flights of stairs later and I was at the back of a line of foreigners presenting their ID cards to have them checked alongside the list provided by the registry office.

My name was absent.

But, I was not alone, an American gentleman furiously filled out a complaints form. And next in line, an irate Argentine lady was berating the attendant manning the complaints desk.

“I registered to vote in 2011 and in 2015 and on both occasions my data is missing! It’s clear now that you say that we are entitled a vote, but, in the end you don’t want us to vote. It’s farcical, it’s a flawed system.”

The group of disgruntled foreigners grew to a handful and now I was amongst them. For some reason unknown to us we had been scratched from the list of voting internationals.

Preparing myself for a screaming match with someone regarding the inefficiencies of Colombian bureaucracy and get to the bottom of my death I strolled back to the registry office. I suspect that it was not by chance that the public servant manning the complaints desk here was several months pregnant. Upon seeing her advanced state of gravidity, and being a new father myself, my anger passed. It was hopeless anyway; she could not provide me with anything more profound than standard holding pattern answers.

While it’s true that the dead have been known to vote in Colombia and on all too frequent a basis, it appeared that my luck had run out. Four million deceased Colombians were removed from the official voter registers in 2011 to prevent fraudulent voting on behalf of the dead. And in 2013 the electoral register underwent a major cleanup in which six million deceased Colombians were removed from the electoral register who up until this moment, in spite of their deaths, were miraculously still able to vote resulting in questionably high voter turnouts in relative ghost towns in the country’s interior.

Back in the office and determined to crack the case regarding my untimely passing, an online search revealed an official page which registered me as having passed away in 2008.

It appeared that since the registry updates were so infrequently overhauled that perhaps I never got my name on the list despite receiving an email confirmation of the fact.

Colombian bureaucracy, if you hadn’t already guessed is an experience of Heath Robinson proportions and an exercise in unbridled patience. Expats routinely gripe about it and locals themselves seem to be somewhat embarrassed but accepting.

Latterly I found out that at the central registry office, once they have the information of the foreigner applying to vote, they will send the details of the individual in question to Migracion Colombia, an entity which could be loosely described as the Colombian Immigration office. If, once Migracion Colombia has reviewed your paperwork, and they feel entitled – and it can be on a whim – you can be removed from the voting list and they are not obliged to provide a reason for this action.

war-is-peace-800x450

I suppose my position of that as a critically thinking journalist perhaps places me in jeopardy but I am not quite ready to sign up to the conspiracy theory that we too here in Colombia are subject to an Orwellian Ministry of Information managed via a psychopathic control grid.

20 plus phone-calls later to Migracion Colombia and the central Registry Office and after being pinballed from office to office telephonically not one sole person could furnish me with any satisfying information and neither do I know the cause of my death.

Five months later, I received a formal letter from the central Registry Office informing me that they had forwarded my query to Migracion Colombia.

The long-awaited letter from the immigration department arrived. The text within was disheartening. Migracion Colombia had seen fit to disregard a period of seven years, as in their mind, my residency in Colombia, could be “interpreted literally as having begun in 2014.”

Bizarrely, there was no mention of my death in the correspondence. I suppose it’s not something they wish to dwell on. My death neither prevented me from requesting a bank loan nor registering for University. You’d think that the bitter end would be more final?

In this funny old world and dwelling on the situation of my untimely and ultimately bureaucratically instigated demise, I find myself pondering the existentially unsound question of “who showed up at my wake, not, will I be able to vote in 2019?”

I won’t be voting in the Colombian referendum on Sunday October 2 since I am not permitted to do so. But, I urge all of you to cast your vote if you can, whether it is SI or NO. 

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The Sentry

You could see that he was bored. It was clear that anything was going to be more interesting than what he was currently doing. So, I struck up a conversation with the Military Policeman at that moment on sentry duty three buildings down from the residence of the Colombian Minister of Defense in Rosales.

a military helicopter flies overhead

a military helicopter flies overhead

He came from Risaralda, yes, times are much better now in Colombia. He believed in the peace accords with the FARC. In his mind, the ELN (Colombia’s second guerrilla group) were not interested in striking a peace deal. We agreed on this. He was nineteen and a conscript. He remembered the bad times in Risaralda when the guerrilla ran amok at will. Being in the Military Police was a decision that was made for him. Long hours he said. He would be here on this street from 6am until 6pm and was not permitted to sit down. When he wasn’t registering the cars parked on the road, he was focused intensely on his mobile telephone or thinking about lunch. At least the day shift was better than the nighttime one from 6pm to 6am he said.

How long does it take to get to England he asked? Colombian women are indeed beautiful. What did I think of paisa women? He was suitably impressed that I had spent time at both the Tolemaida and Macarena military bases. He would have preferred to have been in a more active military unit. Yes, he said, President Santos’ son Martin had been based in Puerto Lopez and so had seen military action. We agreed that this was but a precursor to a career in politics. But yes, there are a couple of divisions specifically for the children of the wealthy. They don’t see action he said. One is the Guardia Presidencial and the other is the Division 13 he informed me.

If he went to England, he wanted to know, would he have success with the women? Dance I said. Even if you dance badly you’ll be better at it than us.

The sentry smiled.

 

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Colombia Calling: 130 Episodes and counting…

It has been a red-letter year so far for my niche podcast Colombia Calling. Call it what you will, growth and maturity, greater audience participation, active listeners, or fantastic and more serious interviewees willing to participate, things are improving immeasurably.

Colombia Calling Radio show

Colombia Calling Radio show

Who would have thought way back in mid-2013 that we would still be here and pulling in the numbers? The inaugural interview was with Kevin Howlett of Colombia Politics (he’s since appeared five times!) and from there we’ve drawn interest from travellers of all types, the Colombian diaspora, security specialists, legal experts, expats in Colombia, experts on Venezuela, writers, journalists, a coffee farmer, a British former kidnap victim, a young Brit bringing Lacrosse to Colombia. NGOs, cooking enthusiasts, the survivor of a croc attack and many many more.

So, this is a huge and heartfelt thank you to those who have stuck with Colombia Calling through the ups and downs, weaker episodes and of course the more controversial ones. There are now upwards of 7000 of you faithful souls downloading each episode every week and to me this astounding not to mention flattering! How times have changed since the era of 300-odd downloads for each of Episodes 1, 2, and 3.

I am particularly pleased with the way that 2016 is unfolding for Colombia Calling and feel that we have really reached a new high in terms of quality.

So here’s a big shout out to the following interviewees and their various projects in Colombia.

podcast

Interviewees on Colombia Calling so far in 2016

 

Episode 124, Erin Donaldson of the Open Minded Traveler 

Episode 125, Santiago Giraldo of the Global Heritage Fund

Episode 126, Sam Miller of Colombia International

Episode 127, Dan Eley of the Dan Eley Foundation

Episode 128, Jennie Levitt and her various cooking projects

Episode 129, Gregg Bleakney of Where Next?

Episode 130, Paula Delgado-Kling of Talking About Colombia

As Colombia Calling is not something which generates me any income at all, you’ll understand when I take a break on the rare occasion if an appropriate guest is not available and I don’t feel that I can carry the show alone. There is always plenty to speak about in Colombia but I am certain that hearing me harp on for 45 minutes may not be the most appetizing for whenever you tune in, be it walking your dog, on the treadmill at the gym, in the kitchen preparing food or simply as background noise.

As always, I love receiving feedback and ideas for new people to interview so please feel free to hit me up and suggest people for future episodes. Colombia Calling at gmail dot com.

And don’t forget, Episode 131 of Colombia Calling is in the pipeline and we have Andrew Perez of the lauded indy movie Bastards y Diablos in the hot seat this coming Tuesday. I cannot wait to see this film but will have to wait until funds become available to launch it down here in Colombia.

movie

So, please spread the word and tune in to current and former episodes here either on iTunes or Stitcher

iTunes: Colombia Calling 

Stitcher: Colombia Calling 

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