Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The US military has long had fingers in Latin America's counternarcotics war. But with the post 9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, Congress had recently expanded SouthCom's mission to include training Colombian troops in counterterrorism techniques against leftist guerrillas infesting their jungles. Miami TV news coverage had made mention that the expanded operation would be delayed until Colombia could supply an adequately fortified operating base to house American Special Operations troops.
The exact location of said op was classified. However, American intel restrictions couldn't keep local photojournalists in the eastern guerrilla zones of Colombia from capturing on film the newly reinforced walls and sandbag barricades of a small military base outside the jungle town of Saravena, its reconstruction rumored to be paid for by the Americans.
Then came a casual mention in the Miami Herald that SouthCom troops could heading to Colombia within the month, pending approval of the new facility by US Special Forces command. Again no details. However, just a few days later, the front page of eastern Colombia's regional newspaper boasted a large photo of an American military jet disgorging a dozen US soldiers in camouflage fatigues onto the single airstrip of Saravena's tiny airport. The caption underneath proclaimed, "Southern Command officers arrive from Miami to inspect the future home of their soldiers."
SO when a SouthCom Special Forces captain walks in the door a few days later from 'two weeks TDY down south', where else but Saravena, Colombia, is he likely to have been spending his time?
Which all goes to show that investigation is basically a matter of:
1) Putting puzzle pieces together.
2) More importantly, being in the right place and time to uncover those particular puzzle pieces.
Today virtually every place I lived as a child remains under guerrilla control. Saravena, a small homesteading town in Colombia's eastern plains, was in my teen years a Wild West stereotype of cantinas, unpaved streets, cowboys galloping into town shooting pistols into the air for weekend drinking sprees, and one tiny thatched evangelical church where my father preached. It was in fact the blueprint for the fictional town in The DMZ, my second adult novel set in the Colombian guerrilla zones.
The discover of oil in the region brought in electricity and pavement, followed by bombs and guerrilla attacks that left much of the town in rubble. But I could still recognize in news photos the vegetation-shaded airstrip where my siblings and I would jog. And the dusty playing field and rusted hoops at the tiny military base on the outskirts of town where as teens we squared off at volleyball and basketball with conscripts little older. Are local youth still allowed through those massive new gates and security barriers to play sports with American Special Ops? Somehow I doubt it.