Cowboys in Colombia: Spurring Andrés Albarracin

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BEACON

His spurs clicked and we walked down a winding dirt road with deep ruts and emerald green grass growing up through the fresh mud. The air was wet and cool. Andrés Albarracin told us the stables were just ahead, at the end of the road.

Andrés Albarracin is a Vaquero – a Colombian cowboy whose horses are just as much family as his mother and father. Riding horses used to be viewed as lowly farm work. But now horse riding is gaining a new status in Colombia, and the world of this young cowboy is changing because of it. Continue reading on Beacon…

Confession Of A Tortured Convent

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BEACON

I am 100 years old this year. 100 years… Can you believe I’ve remained intact through this brutal history? Can you believe they still come to live inside of me? I know what I look like on the outside. I look like I used to. I look like I always have. And that’s what so many of them remember me for.

But that’s not who I am…

A building called Calle del Sol in Bogotá’s Candelaria neighborhood was constructed in 1914 and destined to be a convent. But after being abandoned by the nuns that built it, and later seized by a Colombian Dictator’s regime, the building changed from a place of good to a place of evil. Nowadays, its residents say there are ghosts. Continue reading on Beacon…

 

This is Heaven. This is Hell.

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BEACON

Colombian journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez was 87 years old when he died on April 17th, on the Thursday of Holy Week in 2014. Gabriel García Márquez wrote in One Hundred Years of Solitude, “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

Continue reading on Beacon…

 

A Hole In The Drum: The Musicians From Buenaventura

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BEACON

The place smelled like rotten fish when I walked into my house that day, and a fat woman wearing a bandana was screaming – or maybe singing – at the top of her lungs. There were children and kids of every age. The younger ones played a rambunctious game of hide-and-go-seek that ran late into the evening. Every once in awhile you could hear the soft dance of mallets on the marimba or a palm strike a drum. But it sounded for only a moment, and then it faded it away.

Colombia’s Pacific port city Buenaventura is sinking in a human rights crisis. Awhile before the news started to break last week, a group of musicians from Buenaventura came to Bogotá and stayed at my boarding house – where I keep a room. I got to hear them play. It was a surprising encounter, and let me enter a world of Colombian life that rarely reaches the capital. Continue reading on Beacon…

 

Walls in Cartagena: The Ironwork of Ernesto Muñoz

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The hot sweat coming through the rugged flannel shirt Ernesto Muñoz was wearing spoke volumes about the man and his dedication to fusing power with elegance: he ripped off the heavy flannel, threw it on a giant stump, studied the piece of iron in his hands, threw the lever on a clamp to secure it, and with the fine teeth of a hacksaw, the blacksmith went into a dizzying spell of thrusts, putting all his might into the beginning of another afternoon building Cartagena.

“Of course I feel powerful,” said Ernesto. He put down the blade and took up a welder’s torch. Blinding white light illuminated his shop. Continue reading on Beacon…

 

Asphalt Blues: The Streets of Emiliano Villabon

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Emiliano got up from the curb and tossed his cigarette to the ground. He went over to his cart and readied himself for the final trek. The two worn wooden handles came up from underneath him and struck him in the soft spot of his underarms. I saw him wince. The creases and wrinkles in his face criss-crossed madly across his calloused skin. For another day, he was a human mule. He will be 64 years old this year.

Emiliano Villabon roams the streets of Colombia’s capital scavenging for trash that he might be able to recycle. He lives close to an urban underworld of crime and drug addiction, but while many recyclers in the city commit themselves to drugs in order to cope with their misfortune, Emiliano likes his streets, stays sober and seems surprisingly proud. Continue reading on Beacon…

Who is Aida Avella?

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Aida Avella is not just the woman who will be running for Colombia’s Presidency under the banner of a leftist political party called the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union party). Her candidacy – and in fact her very presence in the country – represents a big test for Colombian politics as an election nears.

Ms. Avella fled Colombia in 1995, when assassins fired a rocket at her car, trying to kill her. It was the third failed attempt on her life. She went into exile in Geneva, Switzerland, where she lived for the next 17 years. Ms. Avella returned just last year.

Ms. Avella told Colombia Reports in an interview that her political work never stopped during her time in exile:

“All of it is political work […] it’s work that comes out of the soul. No one was paying us. We do work to live in the morning…but in the evening, we do work that is very special, very special because we were doing it for the political participation [of] marginalized [Colombians].”

… for years, Avella hosted people in her home or with friends.

“When the political asylum seekers are not here… indigenous people are here, when the indigenous people are not here, the workers are here, when the workers are not here, the women are here, when the women are not here the Afro-descendent Colombians are here, where the Afro-descendants are not here, the artists are here […] There are always lots of people here from Colombia […] it’s extraordinary,” she said.

Why is Ms. Avella’s presence in Colombia a test for Colombian politics?

Ms. Avella’s party was the birth-child of the first attempt of peace talks between Colombia’s government and the marxist rebel group, the FARC.

In an effort to bring communist party members, FARC sympathizers and other rebel groups into a political arena they claimed they had been marginalized from, the Patriotic Union party won 9 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate a minority vote for their Presidential candidate: 4.6%.

But the rocket that nearly killed her was just part of a wave of violence brought against members of the leftist Patriotic Union party from 1987 through the early 2000s. The Patriotic Union party was tolerated in theory, but not in practice.

The question of whether or not leftist rebels should be and can be brought back into politics is a question Colombians are asking themselves as the fourth attempt at peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels drags on in Havana, Cuba.

Tolerating the Patriotic Union party and letting it come back into politics peacefully will likely set some tone toward the peace talks.

The history of violence against her political movement is something Ms. Avella will probably be unable to forget as the campaigning takes off for elections set for May of this year.

But she seems more focused on future plans:

“There are so many things we could do,” she told Colombia Reports. One thing, though, is high on the list: “We’re going to fight corruption.”

Other sources related to Aida Avella & The Patriotic Union Party

Aida Avella Esquivel – La Silla Vacía

Profile of Aida Avella – Colombia Reports

Patriotic Union Party – Colombia Reports
photo credit: Unión Patriótica

Who is Garry Neil Drummond?

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Who is Garry Neil Drummond? Is he H.E.’s boy, the son of Drummond Co.’s founder, H.E. Drummond, who started the company in Jasper Alabama by putting up his 3 mules for collateral on a $300 bank loan in 1935? Is he Garry, the young civil engineering student who graduated from the University of Alabama in 1961 and became the company’s first engineer?

Or is he Mr. Drummond, the man who owns 100% of the U.S.-based coal mining company, whose majority of assets are made up of a series of open-pit coal mines sprinkled across Colombia’s Northern Caribbean coast? Is he Mr. Drummond, the man who directs a volume of mining activity in Colombia that turns out most of Drummond’s $3 billion in revenues (2012), pays some $278 million in royalties to the Colombian state, and accounts for 25% of Colombia’s total mining royalties?

Most in Colombia recognize him as the latter man. And since 1986, when Drummond Co. acquired its first mine in Colombia, Garry Neil Drummond has earned more and more attention for the controversy surrounding his company.

Recently, Mr. Drummond’s company has been fined more than $100 million and got its shipping license revoked for a a series of blunders, including failure to pay taxes and intending to cover up an environmentally hazardous coal spill through 2013. From Colombia Reports

The Alabama-based company was forced to close its private Caribbean port two weeks ago when it failed to meet the January 1st deadline for the implementation of a direct-loading conveyer belt system. The deadline was set by the Colombian Environmental Ministry after a company barge dumped almost 2,000 tons of coal into the Bay of Santa Marta last year. The regulation outlawing crane-and-barge coal loading had been in place for six years prior to the incident.

But the company has also come under attack in the US for alleged links to paramilitaries and funding the murder of several union leaders who represent Colombian miners at Drummond. From Business and Human Rights

In 2002, the families of three deceased Colombian labour leaders and the union they belonged to, Sintramienergética, filed suit against Drummond Company, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary Drummond Ltd. in US federal court.  The plaintiffs alleged that Drummond hired Colombian paramilitaries to kill and torture the three labour leadersin 2001.  Sintramienergética represents workers at Drummond’s coal mining operations in Colombia…

Drummond Co. seems generally quick to dispute the legal matters it faces in its Colombian operations. But it’s hard to know exactly what Garry Neil Drummond really thinks about any of the complex matters surrounding Drummond’s coal mining in Colombia. For example, in 2012, beset by accusations that he sponsored murder in Colombia, Garry Neil Drummond reportedly confessed,

“I was never in charge of anything in Colombia.”

photo credit: Portafolio

John Carlin reaches at reconciliation in Colombia

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John Carlin has a big mission in Colombia: he wants to bring reconciliation to the country’s conflict, adding a new dimension to the peace talks that have been going on for over a year now in Havana, Cuba, a negotiations intended to end a half-century of conflict between FARC rebels and the Colombian government.

Carlin’s project, called Reconciliación Colombia, wants to get people from around the country talking about the silent progressive they have made in overcoming the conflict. In a sense it’s a way to cut through the blaring noise over the drama of conflict that continues under the hum of the talks, something that often soaks up the media’s attention.

From the project’s site…

Medios de comunicación y ciudadanos –a través de las redes sociales– decidieron sentar su posición frente a la iniciativa Reconciliación Colombia… una alianza de 35 organizaciones sociales, empresariado y prensa en un intento por resaltar procesos y experiencias que han avanzado en el camino hacia la reconciliación, a pesar de la adversidad.

News outlets and citizens – through social networks – decided to set out their position through the initiative Reconciliación Colombia… an alliance of 35 social, business and press organizations in an attempt to highlight processes and experiences that have advanced in the road toward reconciliation, despite all the adversity.

John Carlin, born to a Scottish father and a Spanish mother, developed chops early on for diplomacy when his father was stationed in Buenos Aires as a diplomat. He worked around Latin America as a reporter in the 1980s before turning his attention to South Africa’s struggle for reconciliation. In South Africa, as a journalist, Carlin studied Nelson Mandela’s tactics for reconciling a nation torn apart by apartheid.

The project Carlin is behind might sound like a big PR event to promote the peace talks – a government policy many on the right in Colombia oppose. But the man behind the project might be worth listening to for getting through a half century of fighting. After all, of this Mandela had to say to him:

“What you wrote and the way in which you carried out your task in this country was absolutely magnificent…it was absolutely inspiring. You have been very courageous, saying things which many journalists would never say.”

More about the project in Colombia media:

Reconciliación Colombia

El proceso de paz, la lucha entre la reconciliación y la venganza: John Carlin

photo: johncarlin.eu