FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Media Omissions in Colombia’s War

by PHILLIP CRYAN

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

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail