Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog

4.16.2008

My Colombia Trip Cliff Notes

By Eran Wade
Now that my experiences in Colombia have come to an end, I cannot resist one final story. This one comes from an anthropologist who kept a diary for two weeks in a small town in Colombia sometime between 2001-2006. Michael Taussig, professor at Columbia University in New York, tells a story of a displaced group that is very similar to the stories I’ve heard while here in Colombia. The book is titled, Law in a Lawless Land. He writes:

“I was invited by a schoolteacher who worked there many years and knew the peasants in the mountains in that region. He showed me the army barracks by the barrier across the only road leading from Buga to the mountains of the cordillera Central. There’s no way the army wouldn’t know the paras went by on their on their way to cut people to pieces. ‘It was a terrible thing to see that apparatus,’ a young peasant man said in the newspaper, referring to the laptop computer the paras use when they pull into a mountain village to check their death list more than likely provided by army intelligence. Everyone evacuated the area immediately and came down the mountain to stay in Buga. I interviewed a few of the several hundred living in an enclosed basketball stadium. They had been there exactly a year, sad and scared to go home, their farms and animals gone.”

He continues, “Even cornered in the stadium they were receiving death threats. Where else can they go? They cannot go back to their farms. The army says it cannot guarantee their security. What the army means, I think, is “We will kill you…either directly or by setting loose the paras.” I was told by the peasant refugees that the army had supplied the paras with transport and even, on one occasion, helicopter gunship support when they engaged with the guerrilla that has been in the high mountains there for many years.”

As one of the United States leaders of the program said, “There are 3 reasons for going to Colombia: 1) To see 2) To be seen and 3) To communicate what’s going on with people in the United States”

Our presence in Colombia allows us to walk alongside those leaders who are being intimidated, threatened, and violated. We then see the work that is going on and the reason for their request for accompaniment. Finally, if we communicate what’s happening with those in the U.S., we can do our part to put an end to the injustices that cause the abuses in the first place. With our freedom of speech and petition, we can make our voices known to the United States government to make sure our relationship with Colombia is predicated by true and independent verification of basic human rights and freedom.

One day, we were called to an unexpected meeting. The meeting had to be scheduled at the last minute because there was someone wanting to meet with him that could be dangerous. This was the one time it was clear to me how my role possibly helped deter any abuse. Who knows how many potential threats were averted by our presence as international observers? I remember thinking, my God, how is it fair that these people—my friends—have to live in this predicament? Unfortunately, I've been sent word that some of the leaders I met in Colombia received threats a couple weeks after I left. It makes me feel sad and weird that this would happen to my new friends.

People always asked what I was going to be doing in Colombia—“Building something, teaching, giving out basic necessities of life?” Yes ,I did all of these things. I built something. I taught. I gave out provisions. I built a new frame of mind. I taught intimidated communities that they were not alone. I gave out provisions of hope, time, and the ideas that there are people in the United States who are just like them who care about them. This reminds me of our copy of the U.S. constitution we received as volunteers at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum. The front cover says, "What will you build?" My time in Colombia and understanding from being at the museum has also built something in me.

Taussig mentions in his writings that human rights groups have been criticized for not condemning the work of the guerrillas as often as they should. One of the pastors in Colombia described his view of the situation, “We are in defense of life. There are no other marches.”

I did not do this by myself. I took each one of you with me. I was supported by many friends and family. All the good that came out of this trip was a result of the gifts of so many in my life—including being allowed to blog with Shawn. Thank you, thank you, and thank you! I hope my writing gave a picture of both the challenges and the vision to make our world a better place (cue the Michael Jackson music now).

Click here to view my previous blog.

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SHAWN HEALY

Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project


Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.



Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.


First Amendment journalism initiative


The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at



Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project


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