Colombia Is at War With Its Poor

Over 4 million people are displaced in Colombia because of war; both the rightist paramilitary and the leftist guerillas steal land to make themselves richer.
  • Transcript


Question: What is the most pressing political issue in Colombia?

Ingrid Betancourt:  Well in Colombia we have had this humongous security problem because we have a war going on between paramilitaries, which are from the right wing allied with the drug traffickers.  The guerrillas, which are left wing, but are drug traffickers themselves. And the drug traffickers alone, which don’t disguise themselves into politics, they just do their business. And this has turned upside-down the whole society because to have this happening you need corruption.  You need corruption as a systemic way of handling public issues and as long as it’s going to be like this things will not be easy to change. 

Now I think that the most important problem we have to address today is the social problem because corruption has turned to be a way of targeting the poor.  I mean the poor are the ones who have been the victims of this war.  Sometimes you hear in the United States that in Columbia there is a war between rich and poor, between people that are defending the poor and the rich. And that is not the case.  That is not the case.  What we have in Colombia is a war against the poor and the guerillas from the left side are against the poor.  They use them, but to just continue doing what they do, which is drug trafficking. The paramilitaries are against the poor and they use them and they chase them and they take away from them their land. And so you have four million displaced people in Colombia in the cities.  We are the country with the most... the biggest number of displaced in the world. So this is a huge social problem that is disguised like if it was a war, but at the end what you see is warlords trying to take the land from those humble peasants and getting richer and the numbers are very explicit. 

In Colombia today we have 16% of the population, which is a very small amount of the population owning 90% of the land and 20 years ago it wasn’t like that, but it has been the concentration of ownership of land has been getting worse and worse in Colombia due to this war against the poor.

Question: Are things getting better or worse?

Ingrid Betancourt:  Well I think the army, the Colombian army, is doing a great job.  They’re really asphyxiating the FARC. And I think it could happen that we see the defeat, the military defeat of the FARC, which would be very good for Colombia because that would one problem less. But the social problem will still be there to be addressed. 

Now I think that things are getting better for a part of the population.  I think that the security in the cities is a lot better, but I think that outside the cities the peasants have no security, have no protection of the justice, so that I think is something we have to address.  Now the new president of Colombia I think he is a good man and I hope he is going to address these issues and he is going to do a good job.  That’s my hope.

Recorded on October 19, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller