Peace Corps Colombia: What do Colombians think?
Always the very best way to understand Peace Corps history in a country is to turn to that country for perspective. There may be conflicting opinions and that may be at the heart of the current controversy. In 2009, then President Uribe wrote to Acting Peace Corps Director Jody Olson inviting the Peace Corps to return to Colombia. His letter is a powerful testimony to the value of Peace Corps. But years earlier, there was a popular movie in Colombia, entitled “El Rey”. The movie’s premise was that Peace Corps Volunteers had brought cocaine production and marketing to Colombia. Peace Corps Online, published by RPCV Hugh Pickens, described the movie and the controversy. Here is the link to those articles: http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/467/2024372.html
Thanks to RPCV Bob Arias for a copy of President Uribe’s letter. Bob’s extraordinary Peace Corps resume includes work with Peace Corps Response over five years in various South and Central American countries. He served in Colombia from 1964 to 1966. He helped establish the foundation for the return of Peace Corps to Colombia.
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This letter says it all, and President Uribe is correct in his statement that the value of Peace Corps is a benefit to both our countries. Peace Corps does not go where it is not wanted. As an RPCV Colombia 1964-1966, Colombia is my “patria chica,” my second home. I married a beautiful Colombian and our son Robert was born in Cali, Colombia.
To think Volunteers were responsible for creating the drug trade in Colombia…you are out of line and do not know reality if it were facing you!
And our thanks to John Coyne for publishing this moving and informative bit of Peace Corps documentation and history. Only on Peace Corps Worldwide do we get such important news items. Thanks.
Since posting this, I have read interviews where Juan Gabriel Vasquez does indicated that he has seen materials that would substantiate the assertion that some Peace Corps volunteers were involved with the drug trade.
That PCVs may have used narcotics is not the issue, Vasquez accuses PCVs of having taught Colombians how to produce them and distribute them to the USA. His assertion is absurd since Colombians have known how to produce narcotics from the coca leaf since before Columbus.
Vasquez does not identify his references, he does say that some PCVs, according to what he had read, were involved with not “only” consumption, but aspects of production and other aspects of drugs. I do not have the resources nor the training to begin to research this. I did feel an obligation to post what I had read, after my original post and comments.
One has only to read early Spanish observations of the Andean native populations to know that narcotics were produced and used by these people long before Columbus arrived. Thus PCVs working in Colombia, named for Columbus, some 500 years later had little to add to what was already a flourishing local activity.