Media Omissions in Colombia’s War


Villagarzon, Colombia.

Colombian military efforts against drug production and illegal armed actors have focused on the southern border province of Putumayo since 2000, when the U.S. began disbursing a multibillion dollar mostly military aid package known as Plan Colombia. Putumayo was declared Plan Colombia’s pilot region. Colombia’s military established its first U.S.-funded counter-narcotics brigade just outside this small central Putumayo city.

Three years later, Colombian national media provide almost no coverage of the pilot project’s on-the-ground results. In particular, the media fail to mention rightwing paramilitary groups’ control over urban areas with large contingents of military and police forces.

Colombia’s largest circulation newsweekly, Semana, often goes further in questioning U.S. and Colombian military initiatives than do most national media. Yet a review of Semana’s archives between January 1 and October 3 of this year yielded only three articles focused directly on Putumayo province. None of them were about the paramilitaries.

51 Semana articles mentioned Putumayo during those nine months. The most frequent subject-areas among the 51 articles were aerial eradication of coca crops, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, and the Colombian Armed Forces. Three articles focused on illegal armed actors (both guerrillas and paramilitaries) in general terms and four focused on paramilitaries.

In most of these articles, however, “Putumayo” simply appeared on a list of Colombian provinces.

Of the three articles that discussed events in Putumayo, one was a single-paragraph story on FARC bombing of an oil pipeline; one compared statistics on how much coca remains in the province; and one was a defense of Plan Colombia written by its former director, Gonzalo de Francisco. The three pieces cited a total of one Putumayo resident, the governor.

At one point in a long February 8 interview with Semana, Colombia’s former Human Rights Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes Munoz described recent combat between guerrillas and paramilitaries in Putumayo. This rare direct reference was made less than impressive, however, when the article quoted Cifuentes describing the site of combat, the southern Putumayo municipality of La Hormiga, as “Puerto Hormiga.”

In all four of the 51 articles that focused on paramilitaries, “Putumayo” appeared as an item on a list. Two of the four described paramilitary peace-making efforts.

Meanwhile, between 1998 and 2002, paramilitaries took control of most urban areas in Putumayo. Favored tactics included massacres, extortion, selective assassinations and public torture.

In Villagarzon, home to a U.S.-trained counter-narcotics brigade and approximately 750 other military and police troops, paramilitaries patrol the streets each night, according to a local religious leader who requested anonymity out of concern for his life.

Since 2001, religious officials have buried 170 paramilitary victims in this city of roughly 7,000, he said. “But there are many more, an unknown number. They throw the bodies off a bridge into the Mocoa River.”

The district attorney, with whom citizens would file any legal complaints against the military and police for collusion with the paramilitaries, “goes out drinking and dancing with the paramilitaries,” said the religious leader. There was even a paramilitary-sponsored Halloween party in the central plaza this past October 31.

It’s no wonder many residents of Colombia’s major cities–and foreigners–view the conflict differently than do citizens of places like Putumayo. The urbanites only come to know such places through Semana and other national media–which is to say, not at all.

PHILLIP CRYAN is en route to the U.S. after 18 months of human rights work in Colombia. A shorter version of this piece appeared in Colombia Week, for which he writes a biweekly column on media coverage of Colombia. He can be reached at: phillipcryan000@yahoo.com


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving