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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.
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Garry Leech is an independent journalist and editor of Colombia Journal. For the past eight years his work has primarily focused on the US war on drugs and Colombia's civil conflict. He is the author of several books including Crude Interventions: The United States, Oil and the New World (Dis)Order(Zed Books, 2006) and Killing Peace: Colombia's Conflict and the Failure of US Intervention (Inota, 2002). He also teaches international politics at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Canada.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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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