The Families of Colombia’s ‘False Positive’ Victims Are Still Fighting for Justice
I arrived in Soacha, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, on an overcast July afternoon. We had driven away from the city center and the building that dominates its skyline—a huge structure covered in LED lights that slowly change color; a gaudy beacon for Colombia’s wealthy elite—and had pulled up on a residential side street.
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country’s ‘false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.
The National Victims Movement protests against the state’s “false positive” scandal. (Photo courtesy of Justice for Colombia)
When the scandal broke, the Colombian government insisted false positives were isolated incidents. By 2012, however, nearly 3,000 murders were recorded and, in 2007—the worst year for this type of killing—one in every five combat kills recorded was a false positive. In Soacha, 19 mothers lost their sons in the false positives scandal, and so far only one of them has seen the killers convicted, but his conviction was appealed and the main defendant, an army major, became a fugitive.
After parking up among the ownerless dogs and football-playing boys that seem ubiquitous in Bogota’s suburbs, I was led up some steps to a little house set back from the street. Waiting for me were three women, smartly dressed, warm and hospitable. They shook my hand and sat me down. As I waited for the rest of my group to file in, I noticed school pictures on the wall of young boys in suits—the dead sons of the women I’d just met.
How the Rob Ford Smoking Crack Scandal Is Just Like ‘The Wire’
The allegation that a crew of drug dealers had a video of mayor Rob Ford smoking crack has resulted in a prolonged and sad controversy in Toronto. Our city’s once triumphant king—who we have heralded for his ability to charmingly pose for terrible photographs, or conquer his rivals after getting fired—has become a political pariah while keeping both ass cheeks firmly on the throne. After the firings and resignations of several disloyal staff members and some accusations from the Globe and Mail that his brother Dougie used to sell hash, his other brother Randy kidnapped a dude who owed him money, and his sister Kathy (who was shot in the face by her boyfriend) hung out with Nazis, the once sparkling face of the Ford dynasty is now looking pimply and scabbed up.
What with City Hall, the police, Toronto’s drug dealers, and the media playing a major role in events, there’s no real-life parallel to this evolving story—it’s more like a work of fiction, specifically David Simon’s much-lauded TV series The Wire, and even more specifically the really implausible plot points in season five. (You can imagine a writer pitching a hard drug–abusing mayor to Simon and Simon tossing that suggestion out for being unrealistic.) But if Toronto’s crackgate (or whatever we’re calling it now) is The Wire, who are the analogues to the major players in the scandal? Here are the answers I came up with.
Watch This Is What Winning Looks Like, our new documentary about chaos, corruption, sexual abuse, and the war in Afghanistan.
Then head to Reddit and ask Ben Anderson, the filmmaker behind the doc, a question.
(Source: Vice Magazine)
What does “winning” the war in Afghanistan look like? It’s not good.
Big Money’s Obama
Last week, in an utterly unsurprising story, the president of the United States appointed a crew of rich friends with Wall Street ties to key government posts, some of them major fundraisers and donors to his campaigns. They hardly made major headline news—the payback game is an old, old DC tradition—but these nominations underscore again just how empty all of Barack Obama’s lofty promises to change the political culture were.
Obama’s populist shtick was more pronounced in the 2012 election than it was back in his first presidential campaign (even if he left the most gut-wrenching indictments of Mitt Romney’s business record to his nominally independent Super PAC, Priorities USA), so the speed with which he has reverted in the early months of the second term to shamelessly currying favor with entrenched financial interests is jarring. After opportunistically latching on to the rhetoric of anticapitalist movements worldwide, Obama’s 99 percent-loving campaign has given way to an administration that revolves around an all-too-familiar brand of capitalism—and capital-obsessed neoliberalism. Once upon a time, Obama was apparently devoted to reining in the influence of money in politics, but after a couple of elections and some time inside the machine, hedoesn’t seem to care about it at all. Instead of fighting against casual corruption, he’s been implicit in it.
Meet Sohel Rana, the Most Hated Man in Bangladesh
Mayday in Bangladesh: “The serenity of Jurain graveyard seems more than other days on Wednesday as 32 workers whose bodies remained unclaimed made their final journey,” is how the local Daily Star described it.
And now begins the sideshow. It’s much more engaging than the main event, it must be said. Yesterday, theNew York Times’ Jim Yardley, who has been excellent on the subject of labor abuses in Bangladesh, delivered a short and amazing profile of Sohel Rana, the 35-year-old owner of Rana Plaza, the massive factory outside Dhaka which collapsed last week, killing at least 400 workers.
Rana appears to be typical of a certain type of Bangladeshi garment magnate: crass, vulgar, nouveau-riche, and involved in equal measure in organized crime and high politics. He rode with his entourage on motorcycles, he’s accused of dealing in guns and drugs, he seized the land where he and his father built Rana Plaza from small landowners by force and through illegal paperwork, and he was protected by corrupt officials.
He was involved in the youth league of the governing Awami League. Which, to put it mildly, is not quite the same thing as being involved in the Young Republicans. The youth wings of the national parties in Bangladesh often function as nothing more than massive gangs: the two main parties are crony organizations at the top and depend in large part on intimidation and politics-at-the-end-of-a-brickbat at the bottom. Every few months or so they call “general strikes” to protest this or that policy or as a pure show of force—the country largely shuts down and any unlucky auto-rickshaw driver caught violating the strike risks a beating or murder.
Crossing Mexico’s Other Border
People tend to assume that the immigrants crossing the US–Mexico border are all Mexican. The reality is that a large percentage of them come from Central America, and their journey north is grueling. To get to the US, they first have to pass through Mexico, an ordeal that often ends up being even more difficult than getting into the United States. Most migrants cross into Mexico on rafts, via the Suchiate River. After that, they need to protect themselves from corrupt Mexican police, drug cartels like the infamous Zetas, and even fellow migrants. They often travel by foot and by pubic transit, but many of them ride on top of “the Beast,” the freight trains that travel from the south to the north of Mexico.
While the majority of the migrants are young men, a small percentage of them are women who endure hardships like the possibility of being raped by basically anyone they come across. Some of them are forced to stay in the border state of Chiapas and work as prostitutes because they are too weak to keep going, need to save some money to continue their journey, or, if they decide to stay, so they can travel back and forth between Mexico and their home countries to visit their kids.
For this episode of Fringes, we followed Yoana, a young girl from Guatemala who has been living in the small town of Huixtla, Chiapas, working as a prostitute to make money to help her two sons. We tagged along with a special unit from the state government that is in charge of protecting migrants as they travel through Chiapas. We then hopped on board the Beast with more than 400 other migrants traveling from Arriaga to Ixtepec, Oaxaca, to try to understand the hardships they go through and why they leave their homes in the first place.
Watch the video
How Did Zimbabwe End Up with Just $217 in the Bank?
Last week, the Zimbabwean government announced that after paying public workers’ salaries, its bank balance is sitting at a pitiful $217. TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN DOLLARS. I once found $200 on the floor of a gas station. If I’d known that made me richer than a country, I wouldn’t have been so bummed out about having to spend it all on tax debts.
The information came from Finance Minister Tendai Biti who—as far as politicians in Zimbabwe go—is about as honest as it gets. Biti is the Secretary General of the MDC party—the good guys who’ve spent their entire existence being hurled off the edges of cliffs and dangled from helicopters by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Back in 2008, their party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, made a deal with the devil and agreed to share power with Mugabe. As Zimbabwe’s new Finance Minister, poor Biti was dropped right in the steaming pile of shit that continues to double as the country’s bank vault.
Rob Ford, the World’s Greatest Mayor, Has Conquered His Adversaries
Despite the grand conspiracy pushed forth by Toronto’s anti-high school football illuminati, Rob Ford, the World’s Greatest Mayor, is keeping his job.
Just in case you haven’t been keeping up with the Andy Kaufman-esque King of Toronto over the past few months, a whistleblower named Paul started whining about ol’ Robbie’s campaign to get donations for his beloved football team on city letterhead. It resulted in just over $3,000 in contributions, not a ton of money, because evidently Rob is not a master of charitable sales pitches. Anyway, while Paul and others found this to be a conflict of interest, and even though Rob Ford was temporarily fired, all of this jibber jabber about whether or not it’s all right for mayors to seek donations to fund high school kids’ love of touchdowns and tackles was for naught. This is the political equivalent of being pronounced dead on the operating table, then suddenly jolting back to life with a newfound respect for conflict of interest appeals.
At this point, it’s unsure how Rob Ford is going to celebrate. Over here at VICE Toronto HQ, we are speculating whether or not he will throw an awesome rager at his mom’s house, go visit the Winnipeg and Detroit border, or avoid a gay pride celebration. Only time can answer this important question.
What we do know is that Rob Ford will continue to be the King of Toronto until October 27, 2014. This means way more GIFs of Rob Ford falling down, more racially questionable comments about “orientals” and “gino-boys,” and a total lack of remorse for any cyclists in Toronto who end up underneath the wheels of an automobile. Sure, we could build bike lanes, but why the fuck would we do that? We’ve got gravy to cut back on. And no, the grand irony of a man who looks like he is made up of 70 percent real gravy trying to cut back on the city’s figurative gravy is not lost on most people.