Independent journalist Garry Leech is one of the few foreigners who have
seen the Colombia that hardly anyone sees. He has spent nearly ten
years in Colombia’s war zones and has seen a side of Colombia that most
prefer not to know about.
Leech, editor of colombiajournal.org, has recently finished the book ‘Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia’ about the years he spent investigating Colombia’s conflict. A book he decided to start writing while he was held at gunpoint by FARC guerrillas and realized his son would never know the kind of work his father did if at that point or anytime something would happen to him.
Without Leech’ reporting, the stories of the Colombia that most of us never see would not be told. The reality that hardly anyone of us know, is still hitting hard on the rural areas of Colombia, the reporter assures. The American does not report on the beautiful women of Medellín, the architecture of Cartagena and the vibrant nightlife of Bogotá. Leech reports the stories of the Colombians who live in areas where you and I are smart enough not to go.
According to the independent reporter, there is no one-sided answer as to whether Colombia has improved over the years he has spent researching the country. “The situation has improved incredibly in cities like Bogotá, Medellín and Cali and large parts of central Colombia, but if you go to the rural areas the situation is equally bad and in some cases even worse than ten years ago,” he says.
Most people are not aware of the seriousness of the conflict that’s still going on, because they’re simply not told about it, he says. “All mainstream media and press agencies are based in Bogotá and rarely leave Bogotá. They do not see or show what goes on in the country. Because of this lack of investigative reporting they are over-dependent on official information. This causes a lot of misconception of Colombia and a lack of awareness of what is really going on here.”
“There are very few foreign reporters who have been to the war zones.
Even Colombian journalists hardly report from where the war is taking
place, except for guys like Hollman Morris,” he says.
Having spent that much time in the conflict areas and having seen so many sides of the country, Leech sees very little future in the military approach to the conflict with the FARC or in Plan Colombia as a way to end the cultivation of coca. “To be able to achieve peace in Colombia, it is necessary that the FARC lay down their weapons. The problem is that the FARC are not like the AUC and won’t demobilize without real compromises made in the economic system in Colombia,” Leech says. “The AUC could demobilize, because they never demanded change, they were protecting the system. The FARC does demand change and now, although it is using terrorism and
violates human rights, tries to achieve that. The only way to stop the
violence is by addressing the inequalities and poverty so prevalent in
Colombia, which is something that many Colombians are struggling
non-violently to achieve.”
Leech’s ‘Beyond Bogota’ is not an analysis on the situation of Colombia’s violent conflict, but more an eye-witness account of the gringo that goes where no gringo goes.
Garry Leech talks about and signs Beyond Bogota
February 21, 7PM
Authors Bookstore and Cafe
Calle 70 #5-23, Bogotá