Campus & Community

ARCO Forum addresses Colombian terror

3 min read

Peace prize winner Rev. de Roux joins others in talks over ‘bruised and bloody’ country

Abandoning their precarious homes, carrying sick babies in their arms – and a few belongings – hundreds of Colombians are forced to escape from their villages every day. The country’s rural inhabitants are attacked indiscriminately by the different factions engaged in the 40-year-old civil conflict. In Lago Agrio (above), a little village on the border with Ecuador, a group of terrorized Colombians beg for refugee status. (Photo by Maria Cristina Caballero)

A four-decade-old civil war and more than a decade of “narco-terrorism” have left Colombia’s civil institutions bruised and bloody, seriously undermining Latin America’s oldest democracy. Every 20 minutes a Colombian is killed; almost 40,000 Colombians have been killed in the past decade. Approximately 1.6 million of Colombia’s 40 million people are poverty-stricken refugees who have run away from their villages to escape the violence. The civil war is largely funded by Colombia’s cocaine production, which is 80 percent of the world’s total.

These issues and others will be addressed by experts from around the world at a Kennedy School ARCO Forum event called “Colombia: Struggling against Terrorism, Working toward Peace” on Tuesday (April 30) at 6 p.m.

The interest of the United States in Colombia’s problems is obvious: About 90 percent of Colombia’s cocaine production is bought by U.S. drug users; the Colombian defense ministry estimates 300 tons of cocaine per year are smuggled from Colombia into the United States. Colombia’s two main guerrilla groups (known by the acronyms of their Spanish names, FARC and ELN) and the illegal counter-guerrillas (the AUC) have been declared among the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. Colombia’s capital, Bogota, is a three-hour flight from Miami and a six-hour flight from Boston.

Now – with the United States dedicated to wiping out global terrorism and Colombian presidential elections set for May 26 – the U.S. and the international community are debating the most effective and constructive role to play in Colombia. A panel discussion – “Colombia: Struggling against Terrorism, Working toward Peace” – will bring together a Colombian civic leader, a leading Colombian journalist, a Bush administration official, a United Nations representative, and other commentators for a frank discussion about Colombia’s problems and the proper role of the United States and the international community in assisting in solving them. The panel discussion will be moderated by Joseph S. Nye Jr., dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Nye is a former chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council (1993-94) and former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs (1994-95).

Speaking for the first time in the Boston area will be the Rev. Francisco de Roux, winner of the 2001 Colombian National Peace Prize. Roux works in the middle of one of Colombia’s most violent regions, Magdalena Medio, overseeing more than 70 different development projects in 29 municipalities. These projects aim to educate and train the poverty-stricken population to help themselves through, for example, the building of schools, roads, and businesses.

The other guest speakers are:

  • Rand Beers, assistant secretary of international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, U.S. Department of State.
  • Anders Kompass, director, United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Colombia.
  • Mark Schneider, senior vice president, International Crisis Group; former director of the Peace Corps; former assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development.
  • Alejandro Santos, director of Semana, Colombia’s main weekly newsmagazine.
  • Ellen Lutz, executive director, Center on Conflict Resolution, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. The event is free and open to the public. The ARCO Forum is located at the Kennedy School of Government, Littauer Building, 79 JFK St.