COLOMBIA: Speaking to Survive
Violence in my country is often linked to the drug trade. The world needs to know that the drug trade creates and encourages rapists, guerrillas, kidnappers, and gangsters. Every time someone does cocaine at a party, that act could be linked to a kid being raped, a mother losing a child to murder, a husband whose wife is forced to work as a prostitute, a young child killed by a landmine, an indigenous group displaced forever from their sacred land, a journalist disappearing for advocating drug legalization.
Colombia is a huge country with a coastline that touches two oceans, making it strategic territory. For more than 500 years, we have been extremely vulnerable to illegal drugs and illegal business. With no education and few opportunities, young people are easily recruited as "mulas" by the drug trade. Rape is the cost of being a woman in my country, and our people are facing an increase in prostitution as more tourists travel to third world countries for paid sex. Poor people give these tourists what they want: their bodies, their souls, their feelings, their hopes, their peace.
According to International Narcotics Control Board estimates, Colombia produced 430 metric tons of cocaine in 2008. This trade is tearing apart our country. During 2010, 810 people died from conflicts, 117 people were killed by landmines, 557 were injured, and more than 210 were kidnapped. Out of a population of 43.7 million people, almost 20 million live in poverty. Seven journalists were killed in 2010, 470,000 kids are abused every year and 35 of them are raped every day in my country. During the last eight years of the drug war, 94,000 women were raped. My friend is part of those statistics. I am not, even though twice I have escaped being raped. The pain of these experiences—the way they change a person’s life—make the official numbers seem small.
Developed countries need to reform their drug policies to address the root of this global problem. Before it was legalized, the trade in whiskey fueled crime. Today, it is drugs. Until developed countries put drug legalization on their agendas, violence against women, children, and families in third world countries will continue, hidden under this huge and illegal industry.
In the global drug trade, there is more than one side of the coin. If everybody keeps looking only at the side facing them, there can be no hope, no future, no peace in my country. I want to tell people from other countries to come closer, turn this coin in your hands, so you can feel deeply how we feel, so you can see how drugs create violence for us every day.
Women in Colombia have been silenced from the inside out. Our own families are not built for women to speak, to write, to be heard. They are not built to cry over our painful stories. Our stories are not believed.
What happens in Colombia is part of the United States, Canada, Africa, Antarctica, the world. It is time to end our global silence. International readers are very brave to listen to our stories. I feel an immense gratitude for readers who could ignore our stories, but choose not to. It encourages me to speak out and to continue writing, no matter how painful it is.
My voice is back, and it is making my life lighter, solidifying my relationships. It is cleaning out my heart of its pain. As I speak out, I am able to feel again. I can touch. I can see. I can smell my beautiful son and my forest. I can taste life. Speaking out has taught me the real meaning of resilience. It saved my life, and it will save my country and our planet.