In early 2004, colleagues at the Colombian human-rights group MINGA gave us a very interesting, and potentially useful, CD. It contained several videos of interviews with people in the southern Colombian department of Putumayo – farmers, indigenous leaders, teachers, health workers, alternative-development workers, a mayor.
They tell what happened to them and their communities after Putumayo – which in 1999-2001 was Colombia’s number-one coca-growing department – became the first battleground for the new “Plan Colombia.” With hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. funding, the Colombian government expanded its military and police presence, carried out several waves of massive herbicide fumigation, and hastily threw together some alternative development programs. Meanwhile paramilitaries multiplied their presence in the towns, competing with the guerrillas who had long carried out an iron-fisted rule.
MINGA gave us the CD three years ago with the intent that we distribute it far and wide, adding English subtitles to the footage. We made a few dozen copies and sent them to congressional staff, journalists and colleagues. It’s not clear how many of these very busy people – if any – took the trouble of inserting that CD into their computers, installing the special software needed to read the video’s unusual file format, and viewing their content. Judging from the lack of feedback, the number was small.
But that was in 2004, a long-ago, pre-YouTube era. A couple of weeks ago, we unearthed the CD of MINGA’s Putumayo testimonies, and found that they are still very much worth sharing and viewing. They are now available right here.
Take a moment to view some of these. They are quite typical of what we have heard in our own research in Colombia’s coca-and-conflict zones: indiscriminate fumigation, dysfunctional alternative-development efforts, and civilians caught in the middle of the violence. This glimpse into Plan Colombia’s first zone of operation makes pretty clear why the strategy has failed to achieve its goals.
2003 testimony from a woman in El Placer about being caught in the midst of conflict and fumigation:
2003 testimonies about U.S.-funded alternative-development projects being fumigated by U.S.-funded narcotics aircraft:
2003 testimonies about food crops and alternative-development projects sprayed with herbicides:
2003 testimonies about citizens, including children, being fumigated with herbicides by U.S.-funded aircraft:
2003 testimonies about the social impacts of fumigation:
2003 testimonies from indigenous people caught in the fighting between armed groups:
2003 testimonies about the frustrating experience with initial alternative development programs:
2003 testimonies about the impossibility of getting restitution for victims of wrongful fumigation: