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Refugees of the War on Drugs

Since 1985, over 4.1 million Colombians have been displaced from their homes because of the war. At least 20,000 others have disappeared and over 5,000 have been found in communal graves by authorities. While the rest of the world makes “recreational” use of the white powder, this country is chained to the cultivation, production, commerce and power struggle that come as the result of being the provider of over 80 percent of the world’s cocaine.

The war in Colombia, though fueled by narcotics, is not a war on drugs. Nor does it affect the substantial drug trade in the country, which accounts for almost three percent of Colombia’s GDP. Confrontation between FARC guerrillas and paramilitary forces—backed by the national army and international forces—have turned Colombia into their battlefield and used civilians as tools of extortion, terror and income.

According to Human Rights Watch, the paramilitaries are causing the biggest hardship on civilians: it reports paramilitary forces are responsible for 78 percent of human rights violations in Colombia. Police authorities say between 1982 and 2005, paramilitaries—who joined in a consolidated organization in 1997 called United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC—conducted over 3,500 massacres and robbed over six million hectares of land from farmers in different areas of the country.

From 2003 until 2006, 35,353 members of the AUC were demobilized. However paramilitary groups and delinquent activities have not ceased. Today an estimated 3,000 Colombians take part in emerging groups. The number of threats against labor unionists, human rights workers and communities nearly doubled between 2007 and 2009, and continues to grow.

Another cause of the flood of refugees in Colombia is government’s use of glyphosate in coca field eradication. This herbicide kills not only the source for the white powder, but also peasants’ food crops and causes health problems. Tens of thousands of Colombians have fled over the borders to escape the fumigations.

Colombia has the highest displaced population in the world, with a significant number of refugees in its neighboring countries, Ecuador and Venezuela. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees operates field offices in key zones within Colombia and in Ecuador. Other international refugee organizations are also present.

In the south, Ecuadorian NGOs have adopted different strategies to handle the large amounts of Colombian families crossing the border. As the numbers of immigrants increased from 1999, Ecuadorian organizations have periodically consulted civilians from both nations in forums and seminars. In 2008, Ecuador reformed its refugee visa policy, thus allowing many Colombians to legalize their status. However, xenophobia is on the increase in this southern neighbor. Since January 2011, Ecuador has received on average 1,500 refugees per month.

Venezuela has also seen a significant number of refugees come in at the border. However, they have not always been received with open arms. In 1999, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, expressing concern with the way a number of Colombian refugees were transported back to their homeland forcefully, even though there was still eminent danger from paramilitary forces circulating the area.

On February 4, 2008, thousands of people in cities across the globe put on “Colombia soy yo” (I am Colombia) T-shirts and marched for peace in the country and against the FARC. Parting from that initiative, another walk was organized for March 6 to support and remember all of the victims and refugees of the war on drugs.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: History, History, The History of Tierradentro, History of Villavicencio, Capitanejo History, Pamplona History, History of Southern Colombia, History, Cartagena Neighborhoods and History Of San Andrés.

26 Sep 2011

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