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March 30, 2012

Deadly education: literacy courses blamed for rebel commander deaths in Colombia

The 13 Colombian guerrilla commanders who were killed in a bombing earlier this week had gathered  in the community of El Silencio to receive literacy courses, a rebel defector told El Tiempo newspaper.

Monday’s bombing raid killed 38 members of Colombia’s Armed Revolutionary Forces, or FARC, including six commanders, three sub-commanders and four group leaders. The government has hailed the raid as the most devastating blow to the FARC's command structure in the five-decade history of the rebel band.

In a hospital-room interview, FARC member “Gilberto Castro” told the newspaper that the commanders had gathered in the village to take an eight-month reading comprehension course.

“That FARC doesn’t want its commanders to be illiterate, they want them to be people who can express themselves and write well,” he said. The course was being offered by university students, he said.

Castro said he managed to escape the bombing by throwing himself into a creek. But he suffered shrapnel wounds to his back and leg. When soldiers began searching the camp he turned himself in.

Castro said the killing of so many commanders was a blow to the organization, but he said the FARC had learned to deal with losses.

“The FARC has no lack of commanders,” he said. “If one dies they stick another one in to cover up the hole.”

March 06, 2012

Getting shot on the job. Does my health insurance cover this?

Miguel Caballero has shot more than 200 people including his wife, a British police officer, his lawyer (four times) and most of his employees.

As Colombia’s largest maker of fashionable flak jackets and bullet-resistant clothing, Caballero habitually puts his products to the test on his factory floor.

Read the full story here and watch the video by Juan Cortes of Caballero gunning down a recent visitor.

March 05, 2012

Colombia''s "green gold" glitters abroad

IMG_2475MANUNGARÁ, Colombia -- Juan Waldino Perea has been panning for gold in Western Colombia the same way his father and grandfather did — using little more than a shovel, a crowbar and thick arms. Even as excavating machines began chewing up riverbeds around him in the 1980s, and waves of wildcat miners tried to tempt him with the magic of mercury — which can boost output even as it wrecks those who handle it carelessly — he resisted.

His stubbornness is paying off. Now, Waldino and hundreds of miners like him are commanding top dollar for their environmentally friendly gold.

“I could bring a backhoe in here and I might even find more gold,” said Waldino, 46, as he swished murky water around in his panning bowl. “But I’d kill the land, and then where would I go? What would I leave for my children?”

Waldino’s is one of 114 families that are part of a project called Oro Verde, or green gold in Colombia’s Chocó province. The Afro-Colombian community has pledged to maintain its ancestral mining practice and swear off heavy excavation equipment and toxic chemicals. In return, the community is selling its certified gold and platinum at rates 15 percent higher than market value. The premium is paid by jewelers in Europe and the United States and funds a community bank account that doles out loans and invests in local projects.

Read the full story here. 


jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

Feel free to send a story suggestion. Read Jim's stories at MiamiHerald.com.

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