Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia
By Garry Leech
Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807061459, 280pp.
Publication Date: December 3, 2008
Independent journalist Garry Leech has spent the last eight years working in the most remote and dangerous regions of Colombia, uncovering the unofficial stories of people living in conflict zones. Beyond Bogotá is framed around the eleven hours that Leech was held captive by the FARC, Colombia's largest leftist guerrilla group, in August of 2006. He recalls nearly thirty years of travel and work in Latin America while weaving in a historical context of the region and on-the-ground reporting with each passing hour of his detention.
More than $5 billion in U.S. aid over the past seven years has failed to end Colombia's civil conflict or reduce cocaine production. Leech finds that ordinary Colombians, not drug lords, have suffered the most and that peasants and indigenous peoples have been caught in the crossfire between the armed groups. Meanwhile, more than thirty Colombian journalists have been murdered over the last three decades, making Colombia one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism. Consequently, the majority of the Western media rarely leave Bogotá to find the real story. Leech, however, learns the truth about the conflict and the U.S. war on drugs directly from the source: poor coca farmers whose fields and food crops have been sprayed with toxic aerial fumigations, female FARC guerrillas who see armed struggle as their only option, union organizers whose lives are threatened because they defend workers' rights, indigenous peoples whose communities have been forcibly displaced by the violence, and many others.
Leech also investigates the presence of multinational oil and mining companies in Colombia by gaining access to army bases where U.S. soldiers train Colombian troops to fight the guerrillas in resource-rich regions and by visiting local villages to learn what the foreign presence has meant for the vast majority of the population.
Drawing on unprecedented access to soldiers, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and peasants in conflict zones and cocaine-producing areas, Leech's documentary memoir is an epic tale of a journalist's search for meaning in the midst of violence and poverty, as well as a humanizing firsthand account that supplies fresh insights into U.S. foreign policy, the role of the media, and the plight of everyday Colombians caught in the midst of a brutal war.
In this remarkable saga, Garry Leech conveys brilliantly and with vivid insight the magical qualities of this rich and tortured land, and the struggles and torment of its people . . . inspiring in their courage and dedication in the face of terror from within and from outside. Leech shows how our insatiable greed and easy resort to violence play no small part.—Noam Chomsky
"Garry Leech belongs in the company of a handful of war correspondents—Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Christian Parenti—who have been risking life and limb to bring to light the catastrophic human and environmental consequences of U.S. foreign policy. In prose that is clear, calm, and vivid, Leech relates the harrowing experience of being kidnapped by the largest rebel group in America's forgotten war in Colombia. Beyond Bogotá is thus an extraordinary portrait of grace under pressure-not only of the author himself, but of ordinary Colombians fighting for social justice and a negotiated peace to total war. Leech's unforgettable story is part of their story, and part of ours as well."—Forrest Hylton, author of Evil Hour in Colombia
"If you really want to know what life is like for rural Colombians who are living through the horrors of the country's brutal-and under-reported-internal conflict, read this book. Having reported from Colombia myself, I can vouch for Garry Leech's honesty-and bravery. This no-frills book grips you from first page to the last." —Sue Branford, journalist, former Latin American analyst for BCC World Service and co-author of Chemical Warfare in Colombia: The Costs of Coca Fumigation
"Leech's Beyond Bogotá is critical to understanding the so-called 'War on Drugs' waged by the U.S. government in Colombia. To hear the government line about U.S. involvement in Colombia, stay tuned to the establishment media. If you want the truth about the reality on the ground there, read this book."—Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq
"Garry Leech has seen more of Colombia than almost anyone, often at great personal risk. In Beyond Bogotá, a gripping and inspired book, he tells us what he saw and heard. Leech has created an essential volume for anyone who wants to understand Colombia's conflict, or indeed the U.S. role in Latin America."—Adam Isacson, Director of Programs, Center for International Policy (Washington DC)