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There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia Hardcover – February 27, 2018
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"This well-researched and beautifully told history explains how three civilians rewrote Colombian history."―Booklist
"A deeply informed account of Colombia's decades long civil war and the many figures who profited from it... An admirable work of journalism in the interest of human rights."―Kirkus Reviews
"In her masterful work, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno unravels the intrigue, politics, and history between Colombia's government and its paramilitaries. Through her precise reporting and elegant prose, There Are No Dead Here paints a vivid and harrowing portrait of three brave individuals who, despite death threats and great risk to themselves and their families, expose some of their country's darkest secrets. This book is a must for anyone fascinated by Colombia's complex history."―Melissa del Bosque, author of Bloodlines
"The horrific violence in Colombia during the 1990s and 2000s is made painfully palpable in this account of three men who risked their lives to make public the atrocities committed by paramilitary forces and the Colombian government.... A necessarily grim narrative about the effects of government corruption in Colombia, with rays of hope to be found in Calderón's, Valle's, and Velásquez's impressive achievements against formidable odds."―Publishers Weekly
"A gripping and illuminating portrait of three far from ordinary Colombian whose courage, leadership, and perseverance continue to influence and inspire the fight for justice throughout Latin America. In a way, this story provides a roadmap of the hard, daring journey toward hope."―Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit
"Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno has written an important, gripping account of how three individuals heroically risked their lives to fight terror and corruption in their country. The violent dramas and acts of human bravery that are told in There Are No Dead Here unfold in Colombia, but also offer lucid insights into the fragility of civil society-and of rule of law-anywhere. At a time when the boundaries between tyranny and democracy, truth and falsehood, become increasingly opaque, McFarland's book offers a narrative that is unerring in its moral clarity."
―Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
"Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno has woven together a remarkable tale about drugs, violence, greed, corruption and -- far above all else -- human courage. A deep knowledge of Colombia and the people who live there is threaded through every page of the story, yet the book's relevance reaches far beyond that country's borders."―Monte Reel, author of Between Man and Beast
About the Author
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Previously, she held several positions at Human Rights Watch, including as the organization's senior Americas researcher, covering Colombia and Peru, and as the co-director of its US program. She grew up in Lima, Peru, and now lives in Brooklyn.
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This book is an almost three-hundred page dissertation on the failure that was, is, and will always be the “war on drugs.”
Ms. Sanchez-Moreno and I grew up at the same time, and, even though we were separated by thousands of miles during our formative years, we got to see the colossal failure that was Ronald Reagan's “war on drugs” from different ends – her from the Columbian side (although she grew up in neighboring Peru) and me from the American side.
She skillfully details the plights of prominent human rights figures in Columbia who were assassinated due to their daring to speak out about the horrific human rights abuses that occurred almost daily in small Columbian villages, even spreading to Bogota, by the paramilitaries who, it was later discovered, were working hand-in-hand with the military and high government officials.
It wouldn't be until years after many activists were murdered or fled Columbia in abject fear for their lives, as well as that of their families, when a few beyond brave prosecutors put the pieces of the puzzle together and figured everything out: The deplorable level of corruption that went all the way to the top of the Columbian government, all of which was fueled by the unreal amounts of money coming from drug lords such as Pablo Escobar and, later on, the people who replaced him when he was killed.
Everyday civilians, people who had no part whatsoever in the drug trade – from manufacturing the stuff to using it - were the ones who got caught in the crossfire. And no one seemed to care enough to investigate why massacres and looting were going on in Columbian small towns and villages almost daily, in full view of the military.
One thing that will pleasure the reader is the way Ms. Sanchez-Moreno weaves some heavy and detailed information into a readable narrative. Her writing is not convoluted. Instead, it reads smoothly and there's little need to go back and figure out what's going on because she keeps you on track.
The only (slightly) negative thing about this book – something far from Ms. Sanchez-Moreno's fault - is that there are many (!) names and places to remember, but she does us the favor by breaking down the people by chapter in the back of the book. The copy I have is an advance reading copy, so I don't know if this was the way the final version of the book was laid out. I certainly hope so because I had to refer to it a few times to keep names and places straight.
This is FAR from light, nighttime reading. Ms. Sanchez-Moreno dealt with a heavy, sad subject, one with not many (if any) happy endings.
She ends the book with the uncomfortable fact that another paramilitary group popped up in La Granga, Ituango just last year (2017). Hopefully, a lot of people in Columbia will, indeed, find the courage to fend these people off with nowhere near the body count of the 1980s and 1990s.
As for me, seeing the failed “war on drugs” from the other side of things made me think of everything I had seen and experienced growing up in one of the most dangerous, drug infested neighborhoods in the U.S. in a different light. I don't minimize my experiences, but I see other people went through tougher times than I did and realize we're in similar struggles together – whether we know it or not.
There are No Dead Here is a very grim portrait of paramilitaries, drug cartels, governments, and the few brave souls who dared stand up against them. Death and brutality often go hand in hand for thousands of Colombians over the last several decades. This death and brutality is both targeted and random. If they want to kill you, they will. That’s what makes the three people profiled in this book so intriguing: they stood up, knowing the likely consequences.
There are No Dead Here is also an tangled look at the interconnected ties between paramilitaries, governments, and drug cartels where the line between where one ends and the other begins. In Columbia, the divide between good and evil is blurred and no one may be who they seem to be. This is the toxic soup that the drug war in Columbia has bred. Even moments of optimism are met with skepticism.
A sobering portrayal of a country awash in drugs, blood, and corruption.
It is not an easy read. You need to have a background in the history and strong interest in the topic to stay with it. For that reason alone, I rate it a four.