Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The Crusading Reporter

“There are no tales about our country that do not include some episode of guerrilla, paramilitary or state violence.”

Photograph by Camilo Sánchez Puerto

I don’t know what it’s like to live in a country at peace. When I was born in the 1980s, the conflict that now plagues Colombia had been going on for more than three decades. Ever since I can remember, peace has been used to express the dreams, proposals and desires of a generation that refuses to die without having lived.

But there’s another word that’s almost as important: truth. Since I began working as a journalist almost 13 years ago, I have come to realize that in Colombia truth, like peace, disguises itself and is easily manipulated. It is certainly not popular. But a generation of bright, thoughtful young people—my generation—is determined to find both.

It was during the first 10 years of my life that the bloody, chaotic reign of the big drug trafficking cartels began. The image of my neighbor crying when her niece was killed along with 196 other passengers in a plane explosion during a flight from Bogotá to Cali is seared in my mind. It was November 1989, and the drug lord Pablo Escobar had called for the assassanation of presidential candidate, César Gavíria, who was supposed to be on that plane.

Day after day, bombs and hitmen ended hundreds of lives across the country: politicians, judges, civilians, journalists. Two months before the plane attack, a car bomb partially destroyed El Espectador newspaper’s headquarters, near my elementary school. When I passed the site, traffic was stopped. I saw ambulances and rubble. The oldest daily publication in Colombia was made to pay for regularly revealing and denouncing the tentacles of drug trafficking in our society. “They set off another bomb” was what I heard on the street. “They” were part of our daily lives.

My grandfather was a union man with strong convictions, who was a witness to the beginnings of our civil war that erupted in 1948 with the assassination of President Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.

“When crisis erupts, history can be written in advance,” he told me in one of our conversations before he died. “And has ours been as predictable as was written?” I asked him.

His answer: “Ours is only half written; it is incomplete. You yourself are writing a small part.”

I decided to become a journalist and to write a part of this story 10 years ago. I was inspired by the many peace activists whose work has gone unrecognized. I worked for the newspaper Vanguardia Liberal as an “embedded” reporter with several communities that had been displaced in a northeastern region called Santander. When I was 20, I traveled to very remote villages to record testimonies of witnesses and victims of violence, fragile sources who require protection and anonymity. I did not interview presidents, ministers or people in power. On the contrary, I tried to give a voice to those abused by that power: human rights defenders, the displaced, relatives of the disappeared or kidnapped, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians…


Tags: Jenny Manrique, Journalism in Colombia, Votebien.com
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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