Education Equals Empowerment

The Contractor

By Levi Butts

The streets and sidewalks of the city of Quito, Ecuador, can
become crowded but remain empty at times.

In a bustling diner filled with rudeness rare in Ecuador but in abundance in the sunbaked border town of Tulcán, a pleas- ant Colombian server agrees to sit down on his break for an interview. He is a contractor by trade; therefore, to protect his identity, he will be referred to as the Contractor.

Like many Colombians inter- viewed, the Contractor is quick, energetic and quick to smile.

Like his father before him and most of his family, the Contractor was born is an area of Colombia called El Cañon de la Repata. His family moved to the canyon and began farming there generations before the fighting began.

For many years after the war began, the people of the can- yon, mostly farmers and laborers, were not affected heavily by the conflict. But as the conflict became more complex and spread further, narcotics and paramilitary operatives began moving in to the region around the canyon.

They began setting up operations and narcotics growth, processing and distribution facilities. This, according the Contractor, was the beginning of the end.

The operatives soon began focusing their attention on the canyon itself. The geography of the region offered narcotics workers safety from aerial attack and the fertile soil proved perfect for raising cocaine and marijuana. The Contractor tells of how the conflict, for the people in the area was a lose- lose situation.

More and more narcotics lab- oratories and facilities were set up in the area and its people came under ever-increasing pressure from narcotics and paramilitary operatives to participate in the illicit activities.

The area became a war zone as the paramilitary, the narcos, local police and the nation’s military fought for control of the canyon.

One day, a neighbor of the contractor and his family pro- vide the police with information that led to a narcotics raid. The raid resulted in the killing of one narcotics boss, several lieutenants and the confiscations of a small arsenal, a large amount of cocaine and explosives.

Several days later, the narcos received false information implicating the Contractor and his family as police informants. The family began to be harassed and threatened.

One night near their home, the Contractor and his cousin were attacked. Three masked men shot the Contractor’s cousin to death. Not knowing where to turn, the Contractor hid until he could flee the canyon.

Once out of the canyon, the Contractor traveled south until he reached Tulcán. He had heard stories about ACNUR. He hoped they would help him. He laments that he has received little help from the U.N. organization. He says that too many Colombians are crossing the border and that sometimes those who are not refugees take the aid, leaving little for those who actually need it.

The Contractor was able to get a job in the little restaurant in which he works now. He began working for the owner as a handyman and then became a server and cook.

When he had made enough money to so do, he traveled to Ibarra and was able to receive refugee status documentation. Having nowhere else to turn, he returned to Tulcán and to his work in the restaurant.

The Contractor, though pleas- ant, carries immense weights on his shoulders.

He says, “My land is my land. I would return to Colombia but I can’t now and I do not know what the future holds for my country. I will not lose hope but it is impossible right now.”

He later laments that the conflict may never end. He may never be able to return to his canyon.

Tears come to his eyes as he says, “I will never be able to forget seeing my cousin murdered in front of me.”

When the Contractor left his home in the canyon, more than 20 people per day were being killed there. The war has destroyed his family but he will not let it take his life. He says defiantly, “Only God can take my life, not a Colombian criminal.”

A man walks the streets of a town in Ecuador where at least
people do not have to endure the violence rampant in Colombia.

The Contractor, as he is called here to protect his identity, is a refugee living and working in the small border town of Tulcán.

He is, in true Colombian style, energetic, courteous, and quick to smile.

One would never guess that the Contractor was once a Colombian soldier.

Here, as an ex-combatant, he discusses the present and the future of the Colombian Civil War.

As a soldier in the Colombian army, the Contractor’s main job was to track down and engage narcotics and paramilitary operatives working in the mountain jungles of Colombia.

He says the brutality and violence of the conflict has only increased in recent years. For example, more than 20 people per day are killed in his hometown.

Countless others are brutalized, harassed and kidnapped.

The conflict is not only becoming more violent, but it is also becoming much more complex, says the Contractor.

The entire nation is a prime stage for autocracy.

The powerful manipulate the poor, the facts and the media to preserve their power.

Paramilitary groups, bands of highly organized criminals, narcos, local police and the military are all fighting for the land and often for their own piece of the pie.

According to the Contractor, in a land where prime cocaine is as valuable as the most sought after diamonds and as commonplace powdered sugar on a funnel cake, international assistance does little to actually help alleviate the conflict.

In fact, the Contractor says the global community does far more harm than good.

The United States of America is indifferent to the situation, ignores the death toll and will not sacrifice American lives, time, money or technology to try to help the Colombian people, he continued.

The United States does not have any substantial political or economic interest in the country right now, so the problem is ignored, the Contractor says.

The international community can never provide enough aid to offset the damage it does on a daily basis, he says.

The world, with the United States of America leading the way, funds one hundred percent of the narcotics war in Colombia.

"Colombia has the worlds best cocaine and will remain the center of the international drug trade as long as people continue paying for it," the Contractor says.

The high international demand for top-quality cocaine and other narcotics funds the Colombian civil war.

The world’s money is stained red with the blood of innumerable human rights atrocities, crimes against humanity and the displacement of over 130,000 refugees like the Contractor and his family.