Over the past several months, a new Colombian produced film titled: Pajaros de Verano (Birds in Passage) has been playing in various venues, such as Film Festivals in California and Colombia. In its opening scene, a banner reading: “Peace Corps”, is predominantly featured. The film then goes on to depict Volunteers being involved in the marijuana drug trade. Margarita Sorock, RPCV, Colombia, attended a viewing of this film in Cartagena and has written a review for the FOC Newsletter.

Given that this film has now been chosen to be Colombia’s entry in the Foreign Film Category of the Oscars, it will undoubtedly have increasing viewers in the international community. At its September meeting of the FOC Board of Directors, a Motion was passed for the development of a White Paper to address the unfounded charges that Peace Corps Volunteers were the early enablers of Colombia’s international drug trafficking trade with the U. S. A draft of that Paper was prepared for distribution on October 6. In a Board Meeting of October 30, it was decided to include this Draft in FOC’s Web-site, accessible via ….

In 2011, Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez published The Sound of Things Falling. He wrote specific details of Volunteers and staff being actively engaged in teaching “campesinos new agricultural techniques for the higher production of marijuana, and then using them as an advanced technology for extracting cocaine from coca leaf”. He ignores the fact that these methods go as far back as Pre-Columbian times. Campesinos weren’t breathlessly awaiting the arrival of complete strangers from the North to instruct them in more profitable ways to use these products. But, if so, then they most certainly were short-changing these campesinos by continuing to have them expensively produce coca paste when the technology had long ago shifted to cocaine powder for a more convenient packaging and a higher rate of return on investment.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s descriptions of Peace Corps Volunteers don’t match those of actual Volunteers then serving in Colombia. For instance, Elaine who is the heart and soul of this novel is shown as arriving in Colombia after only 5 weeks of training at a Florida University—when in fact, training at various universities in the U. S. was over a period of 12-15 weeks. Also, she has a child and serves as a Volunteer for 8 years, when global policy of the Agency would not have permitted her to continue as a Volunteer. Lastly, there is no record of any Peace Corps staff member being murdered in Colombia—though this novel graphically states that a Regional Coordinator was shot in the back of the neck, his naked body thrown face down on a riverbank.

The FOC encourages Members to use this White Paper if and when they find themselves in a public environment that falsely charges Peace Corps Volunteers as the pioneer enablers of Colombia’s drug trafficking trade with the U. S. If the inquiries are seeking objective evidence to the contrary, then this White Paper might well put their anxieties to rest.

To read the White Paper in its entirety click here.
By: Jerry Norris (Colombia VI)