The Time of Coca

Sojourners assistant editor Rose Marie Berger traveled to Colombia in January with the human rights organization Witness for Peace to get a firsthand look at the supply side of the "war on drugs." She sought to assess the on-the-ground effects of "Plan Colombia"—the $1.3 billion U.S. military aid package approved by Congress last fall. The group met with a wide range of people, from local pastors and human rights workers to U.S. Embassy and Colombian government officials. They met subsistence farmers who grow coca that is processed into cocaine, a product that ravages neighborhoods across the United States—neighborhoods like Washington, D.C.'s Columbia Heights, where Berger lives. The effects of this "Colombia-to-Columbia Heights" connection, Berger writes, can be seen every day "in the form of discarded crack bags, late-night weapons fire, and prostitution."

The most difficult aspect of the experience for Berger was dealing with the despair that is a natural response to the horrors she witnessed. How do you bring a message of hope, for instance, to the woman Berger met one afternoon in a refugee center—"a woman whose brother had been murdered by paramilitaries, crying uncontrollably in my arms." In the end, the only answer to that question may lie in the telling of the story.

—The Editors

The pistol is shapely against his hip—hard glint of steel, sweaty camouflage. "I wasn't expecting you, but you are most welcome. Please sit. I'll send someone to get you water." Commandant Roberto Trujillo Navarro, a 1976 graduate of the School of the Americas, graciously welcomes the Witness for Peace representatives to the Santa Ana Forward Post, headquarters of the 24th Brigade in the sweltering jungle of Putumayo, in southern Colombia.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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