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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Columbia: A Human Rights Disaster”

German Plata Diaz, a human rights advocator in Barracan, Columbia continues to struggle to change Columbia to make it a place where individuals can live a content life with a sense of general welfare despite the existence of deplorable human rights conditions. Plata Diaz came to speak at UMass in December at an event called, “Columbia: A Human Rights Disaster,” organized by the UMass Boston Human Rights Working Group. Held December 12th in the University Faculty Club room of the Healey Library, the event opened with artistic performances by Marina Rodriguez and Cindy Schuster of guitar and poetry reading. Following the entertainment, the moderator, Associate Provost Winston Langley introduced German Plata Diaz, who was assisted by Andy Klatt, who simultaneously translated Plata Diaz’s speech. The renowned Noam Chomsky proceeded Plata Diaz, also speaking on human rights violations in Columbia, and how it related to U.S. foreign policy.

According to Plata Diaz, a double tragedy exists in Columbia. That is, from inside Columbia it’s difficult to be heard if people speak about injustice, but if they leave Columbia they are seen as drug traffickers or subversives, and rarely seen as citizens struggling honestly to create a climate of social justice. For example, Barracan people like German Plata Diaz are singled out and persecuted and accused of being guerilla auxiliaries. According to Plata Diaz, “Anyone who takes a position in favor of more openness; in favor of democracy are called pinkos and treated as such.”

Plata Diaz stated, “Rather than a productive economy we have terrible passions.” He described the terrible passions as people turning to drug trafficking in order to survive in the terrible situation between the political climate and the guerillas. Also, the mineral extraction of gold and petroleum enriches the multinational companies based outside the region and outside the country when they could be providing wealth and help to the people of the region. Plata Diaz suggests the most terrible thing is the corruption of the political class, and the impunity of the people of the government who engage in practices of killing the citizenry and receive no punishment.

Plata Diaz explained the frustrations of his work as a human rights advocator. He pessimistically pointed out that the situation has become so dire that people who speak about the possibility of turning Columbia around must be sarcastic. People who analyze the discourse of human rights workers, academics and others “should see that we are speaking in defense of democracy, in defense of a nation of laws and of rights,” asserted Plata Diaz. However, he continued, “They accuse us of living off the human rights situation- accused of living off war as if it were our business.” Moreover, he said, “It’s not easy for those of us who actually are trying very hard to work and do so out of our conviction but have to live under constant threat, under constant persecution- we receive constant threats.”

The statistics aforementioned, according to Plata Diaz, “are very cold figures and they can’t really communicate the type of pain that people feel – that a child feels when her mother is shot in front of her- when a child sees his father killed at the factory at the shift change.” People in Barracan are accustomed to attending funerals every few days to extend their sympathy to widows, orphans and other loved ones. Plata Diaz said, “It is a very difficult and a painful thing to have to do on a regular basis.” He said that he has a hard time, even reporting the cold figures, “When I talk about these things it’s impossible not to be affected, because I remember these things that I have experienced directly, so my voice breaks at times.”

Plata Diaz spoke specifically of his friend, mentor and professor David Obetanacur. He was one of our great historians in Columbia who had the courage to tell the story of the mafia in Columbia. He disappeared for a few months and “later all that they were able to bury was one femur and his cranium.”

Plata Diaz’s organization for peace and human rights recently received the national peace prize. He said, “It’s a very painful moment to receive that prize but it was received by Francisco De Larue a priest, along with many of the family members of the disappeared and murdered.”

German Plata Diaz expressed some hope, saying that despite the terrible situation in Barracan there are many people who continue to love life and are hopeful and optimistic and “continue to write songs