I?ve been traveling through South America for the past two months visiting many small towns in Ecuador, Venezuela, and finally, Colombia. When talking about Colombia, what first comes to mind is Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drug trafficker in Latin America, the Medellin cartel, the Narco traffickers, the big mansions, la coca, and los guerilleros.
Before leaving Ecuador to medellin, Colombia, I encountered a father and his two daugthers, ages 13 and 9 years old, at Quito's international airport. As I waited to buy a sandwich at the food stand inside this small but very modern airport. The father went up to the person standing next to me asking him if he could help him with some change to feed his family. The person shrugged his shoulders and nodded a no.
He then came up to were I was, just I was handed the hot sandwich. I stood still with the sandwich in one hand and a husband and father of three on the opposite side. He had just arrived from the southern part of Colombia as a refugee a few days ago. His wife was absent from the scene, as well as his 15 year old son. I inquired the whereabouts of his wife and son. Once I knew of their exsitence, his eyes became watery as he started to tell me that his wife was kidnapped by one of the conflicting forces in Colombia?s 50 year plus internal war between the guerrillas knowns as FARC, the oldest guerilla force in Latin America, the paramiltaries and the military. The family was well aware that it was a matter of time before his eldest son would be kidnapped. They had no choice but to leave right away. Before he and his three children could gather the little they possessed, his 15 year old son was killed.
This was my first encounter with a family?s fight for survival. Once in Medellin, I met with friends I?d made during the First Social Forum in Ecuador. I did not know what to expect once in Colombia. I was aware of the armed conflict but not aware of the full U.S foreign policy details such as PLAN COLOMBIA (Plan Colombia is a U.S government plan to eliminate the guerrillas and maintain military control in South America. Yet it is sold to the America public as a fight against drug traffickers). While the U.S sprays toxic pesticides on and around peasant's fields, their way of life is also destroyed.
What most don?t know about this war against the narco traffickers are the negative effects the chemicals are having on the land and rivers. Not only are the coca fields sprayed by toxic chemicals sterilizing the land, but so are the peasant's fields. Most of the crops grown there are for personal consumption and the rest is sold at the local mercado. The campesinos are left with few options. Some leave to cities, others seek refuge in the neighboring countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador. Over 2 million Colombians have left for countries.
Once my friends and I started to discuss with further detail the situation of Colombia, I felt guilty. Only a small handful control and decide what's good for Colombia. Plan Colombia is a U.S strategy to get rid of the insurgent forces that have been fighting for five decades, while keeping the status quo intact. Not only does the U.S supply Colombia with aide to fight narco trafficking but it also supplies them with military weapons, helicopters, and sophisticated training in guerrilla warfare.
Once I settled in Medellin, and started to meet other friends of theirs, I felt it a bit uncomfortable when someone called me Mr. Gringo. I said to myself "I dont have blues eyes, neither do I have blonde hair", yet the simple fact that I was born in the states qualified me as a gringo.
Once I started to understand what was happening in Colombia, and the role the U.S has played in this tragic situation, I understood why I was called Senor Gringo.
Jimmy Centeno, student Of Latin American Studies at CSLA