Angelina Jolie is known for her average looks, her marriage and her kindergarten made up of six children (half of them adopted), but she is also very active on the humanitarian front. Jolie became a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador in 2001. As a result of her work, countries plagued by humanitarian tragedies, especially in Africa,have received some limelight that translated into more economic help.
Colombia might have “only” 374.000 refugees but it has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world with 3million who have lost 5.5 million hectares of land, bigger than the size of Denmark or Costa Rica. It is the worst – and most forgotten – humanitarian tragedy in the Western Hemisphere. Limelight is certainly what Colombia needs.
No one in the ruling class really cares about the faces full of despair behind those figures. On the one hand, the opposition pushed through Congress a bill that in principle would help the victims of the Colombian conflict but they did not take into account the government’s coffers. In effect, only aiming at discrediting the government when this opposed it. On the other hand, Uribe had two excuses for blocking the bill. First, he refused to equate the actions of illegal armed groups against innocent civilians with the army’s extrajudicial killings. Second, he claimed the government does not have enough money to cover the economic compensation for the victims that would amount to about US$ 35 million according to dubious government calculations.
To be fair, the government is right in both counts. The actions of the army are not the same; they are more sinister than the illegal armed groups’. The guerrilla and the paramilitaries claim to have some “higher purposes”, as disagreeable as they can be, but the army kidnap and cold bloodedly murder for money and/or promotions. The army killed more civilians than the guerrilla in 2008. In terms of the second excuse, the government does not have money in their coffers because Colombia is being robbed. On Monday the Inspector General opened an investigation against 28 (out of 33) governors because there are about US$ 11 million unaccounted for. This is in addition to the 70 percent of mayors that are already being investigated for corruption. However, Uribe’s sons remain unscathed.
The Colombian ruling class is not alone in neglecting the victims of the Colombian conflict. Last Saturday was the World Refugee Day and in a video Jolie asked us to remember the 42 million people of concern such as refugees/internally-displaced in the world. And what did we do? Naturally we forgot the almost 10 percent of such figure that were born in Colombia. The two national newspapers did not publish any news about it and there was only a brief mention in an op-ed column of El Tiempo. Moreover, prestigious weekly magazine, Semana, just had a short article indirectly mentioning the Day on theinternational section.
Were Angelina Jolie to pay Colombia’s 3 million of internally displaced a visit, the situation for them would certainly change. This limelight would induce the international community to act more assertively. The government, however, would remain static towards this crisis by claiming that Jolie is politizating the situation. After all, Colombia’s internally displaced do not vote and they are just “migrants” as Uribe’s former adviser, Jose Obdulio Gaviria, claimed.
Nevertheless,Colombian public opinion may at least feel ashamed for standing by while the numbers of Colombia’s internally displaced keep on growing and their land is usurped for cultivating African palm oil.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian and lives in Hong Kong