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Colombian Reporter Jenny Manrique Gives a Voice to Victims of Political Violence

The folding of several important newspapers throughout the U.S. has caused many to lament the “end of journalism” as we know it, and has left many would-be journalists to pursue other career paths. Jenny Manrique is not one of those would-be journalists. Her fearless, investigative reporting on topics such as post-traumatic stress disorder among political refugees and Boston’s asylum-seeking Colombian community has attached faces and names to the often-forgotten victims of political violence in her native Colombia and elsewhere in the region.

Manrique, 28, is the 2008-2009 Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow, an award established by the International Women’s Media Foundation given to one woman each year to focus “exclusively on human rights journalism and social justice issues.” The recipient of the award, which was founded in honor of a Boston Globe reporter who died in Iraq in 2003, spends nine months as a research associate in residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies and interns both at the Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The first Latin American to receive the fellowship, Manrique has had a rich career for her 28 years. In 2002 after working for El Espectador for a year, she left her native Bogotá for Bucamaranga, where she reported on Colombia’s civil war for TV Telepaís and Vanguardia Liberal. Her work centered on telling the personal stories of individuals caught in the midst of FARC and paramilitary violence, and spared few details. In 2004 she was awarded the Best Journalist in Bucamaranga from La Ponzona Bucara for her reporting in the region. After receiving death threats from local paramilitaries in 2006, Manrique sought refuge with the Press and Society Institute in Lima, where she wrote for Noticias Aliadas, until pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Buenos Aires.

Manrique says what’s often overlooked in her field is the psychological toll exacted both on victims and reporters amongst political violence. “You see horrible things happening and then you have to describe them for an audience,” she says. In 2006, she became the first Latin American journalist to win the Ochberg fellowship, a course in Seattle, Washington in trauma training. The fellowship, funded by Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, trains journalists both to cope with their own emotional trauma and to improve their interview tactics with subjects who might be victims of violence or repression. “It was incredible,” she says. “There were people who had covered Iraq or Afghanistan, [and] Pulitzer prize winners. I thought ‘I’ve just been covering Colombia for six years, this was nothing.’” Among other things, fellows were taught how to interview hostages—something she sees as a major shortcoming in press coverage of recently-released hostages in Colombia. “We forget how hostages have suffered because we don’t know what to ask,” she says. When you change your questions, you get different answers.”

In addition to taking classes at MIT, Harvard and Tufts and interning at The Boston Globe and the Times (her internship there begins next month), Manrique is laying the groundwork for future reporting on refugees on the Venezuelan-Colombian border, a theme she hopes to explore in a book in the near future. Her hope is to bring a human face to a problem whose casualties are often overlooked. “It’s is a problem you know through statistics,” she says. “If you want to know how many Colombians are currently displaced you can find that out. But [the situation] involves many things you can’t imagine.” Manrique,  who plans to move to Caracas at the end of her fellowship, hopes to bring workshops in trauma-training and journalism back to the region, and in doing so, train the next generation of reporters who work for social justice.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Human Rights, Colombia, FARC, Journalism

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