Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia [NOOK Book]


Independent journalist Garry Leech has spent the last eight years working in the most remote and dangerous regions of Colombia, uncovering the unofficial stories of people living in conflict zones. Beyond Bogotá is framed around the eleven hours that Leech was held captive by the FARC, Colombia's largest leftist guerrilla group, in August of 2006. He recalls nearly thirty years of travel and work in Latin America while weaving in a historical ...
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Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia

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Independent journalist Garry Leech has spent the last eight years working in the most remote and dangerous regions of Colombia, uncovering the unofficial stories of people living in conflict zones. Beyond Bogotá is framed around the eleven hours that Leech was held captive by the FARC, Colombia's largest leftist guerrilla group, in August of 2006. He recalls nearly thirty years of travel and work in Latin America while weaving in a historical context of the region and on-the-ground reporting with each passing hour of his detention.

More than $5 billion in U.S. aid over the past seven years has failed to end Colombia's civil conflict or reduce cocaine production. Leech finds that ordinary Colombians, not drug lords, have suffered the most and that peasants and indigenous peoples have been caught in the crossfire between the armed groups. Meanwhile, more than thirty Colombian journalists have been murdered over the last three decades, making Colombia one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism. Consequently, the majority of the Western media rarely leave Bogotá to find the real story. Leech, however, learns the truth about the conflict and the U.S. war on drugs directly from the source: poor coca farmers whose fields and food crops have been sprayed with toxic aerial fumigations, female FARC guerrillas who see armed struggle as their only option, union organizers whose lives are threatened because they defend workers' rights, indigenous peoples whose communities have been forcibly displaced by the violence, and many others.

Leech also investigates the presence of multinational oil and mining companies in Colombia by gaining access to army bases where U.S. soldiers train Colombian troops to fight the guerrillas in resource-rich regions and by visiting local villages to learn what the foreign presence has meant for the vast majority of the population.

Drawing on unprecedented access to soldiers, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and peasants in conflict zones and cocaine-producing areas, Leech's documentary memoir is an epic tale of a journalist's search for meaning in the midst of violence and poverty, as well as a humanizing firsthand account that supplies fresh insights into U.S. foreign policy, the role of the media, and the plight of everyday Colombians caught in the midst of a brutal war.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Eye-opening . . . excellent reportage—highly recommended for would-be journalists as well as those interested in geopolitics.—Kirkus Reviews

"In this remarkable saga, Garry Leech conveys brilliantly and with vivid insight the magical qualities of this rich and tortured land, and the struggles and torment of its people."—Noam Chomsky

"That havoc within Colombia is portrayed with angry passion by the determined Garry Leech, that now rare beast in the jungle of journalism prepared to put his own life at the service of the truth. . . . A remarkable and captivating personal account of the drug war that unfolds mostly in Colombia.—Gavin O'Toole, Latin American Review of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807061466
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 12/3/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 666,472
  • File size: 323 KB

Meet the Author

Garry Leech is editor of Colombia Journal, author of Crude Interventions and Killing Peace, and coauthor of The People Behind Colombian Coal. A lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University, Leech lives in Nova Scotia.

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Read an Excerpt

The idea for this book emerged during an eleven-hour detention I endured at the hands of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group in August 2006. More specifically, it evolved from thoughts that washed over me during that ordeal about my three-month-old son, Owen. I couldn’t stop thinking that if anything happened to me, either during that detention or at any other time in Colombia, I wouldn’t be around to explain to
Owen, when he grew up, what sort of work his father did. Sure,
he could read my articles and books and discover my views on
U.S. policy in Colombia. But those writings do not explain how
I conduct my work. They don’t describe the challenges and adventures involved in carrying out investigative journalism in
Colombia’s remote rural conflict zones. And they don’t depict the moments of terror or those of inspiration that I have experienced in my encounters with Colombians from many walks of life. Most importantly, they don’t shed light on why I do this sort of work and the path that led me to become a drug war journalist. Consequently, Beyond Bogotá is the story of my work in Colombia—a sort of memoir, if you will.
Naturally, my story cannot be separated from the larger drama in which the principal protagonists are Colombians who are living and dying every day in the midst of the country’s decades-old civil conflict. Colombia is the world’s leading producer and exporter of cocaine, and its illegal drug trade has fed the habits of drug users in the United States for more than three decades. As a result, we Americans are directly linked to
Colombia’s violent drama, both through ever-rising levels of personal cocaine use and through the war on drugs that our government has been waging in this South American country.
I have tried to place my personal story within the larger contexts of the U.S. war on drugs and Colombia’s civil conflict.
I have drawn from my experiences working in various parts of
Colombia over the past eight years in an attempt to portray, as comprehensively as possible, both my personal story and the struggles of those rural Colombians who are caught in the middle of the violence. There are not enough pages in this book for me to include all of the Colombians I have met or even to reflect on every region of the country in which I have worked. Therefore,
I have selected those people and places that I hope will provide the reader with a relatively comprehensive portrayal of life in Colombia’s rural conflict zones. Woven throughout are accounts of the most profound and personal of my own experiences in Colombia. Sadly, for their own safety, I have had to change the names of some of the protagonists. I have not, however,
altered the names of those Colombians who are already public figures or visible spokespersons for governments, organizations,
communities, or armed groups.
Ultimately, this book is an account of the U.S. war on drugs and Colombia’s civil conflict as seen through the eyes of a journalist.
Colombia’s civil conflict and the war on drugs are complex issues, and I don’t for a moment pretend that I fully grasp all of their intricacies or that I have sufficiently addressed them x A note from the author
in these pages. What I have tried to do is to recount my experiences and observations as accurately and honestly as possible.
Beyond Bogotá is not a journalistic work, but rather the personal story of a journalist’s search for meaning in the midst of violence and poverty.
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Table of Contents

A note from the author ix

The First Hour: 10:00 a.m., August 16, 2006 1

Entering La Macarena; my detention

The Second Hour: 11:00 a.m., August 16,2006 9

My introduction to Latin America; a Salvadoran nightmare

The Third Hour: 12:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 26

The Panama invasion; Colombia's two faces-generosity and greed; indigenous villages and oil in Ecuador

The Fourth Hour: 1:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 43

Welcome to Farclandia; Commander Simón Trinidad and the rebel perspective; a meeting with Erika, a teenage FARC guerrilla; Geraldo Rivera visits the rebel safe haven

The Fifth Hour: 2:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 62

Investigating Plan Colombia; AUC commander Luis Enrique and the paramilitary perspective; a body in a hole

The Sixth Hour: 3:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 84

The displaced in Barranca; Gregorio and the landmine; the cocaine lab; collusion and murder in Puerto Asís

The Seventh Hour: 4:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 105

9/11 and the war on terror; detained by Carlos Castaño's paramilitaries; the battle for Saravena, Colombia's "Little Sarajevo"; media and the official story

The Eighth Hour: 5:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 140

Displaced Afro-Colombian communities of the Chocó; the Bellavista tragedy; the plight of the indigenous Embera

The Ninth Hour: 6:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 169

The Plan Patriota offensive; the new coca plant; the predicament of Colombian journalists; Plan Colombia becomes Plan Petroleum

The Tenth Hour: 7:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 192

Mining multinationals and human rights; the displacement of Tabaco; indigenous massacres in La Guajira and Nariño

TheEleventh Hour: 8:00 p.m., August 16, 2006 219

My release; chemical warfare in La Macarena

Epilogue: June 2007 235

Jungle rendezvous with FARC commander Raúl Reyes; the prospects for peace

Timeline (1948-2007) 242

Acknowledgments 248

Index 250

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