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Reviewed by:
  • Welcome to Colombia
  • Glen D. Kuecker
Welcome to Colombia. Directed by Catalina Villar. Brooklyn, NY: First Run/Icarus Films, 2003. 65 min. VHS. $390 sale; $75 rental.

Comprehending Colombia's vexing civil war is the core theme in Villar Catalina's documentary. She explores how normalization of violence and the breakdown of legitimate authority form a perfect storm of never ending conflict. Catalina examines the conundrum through a cacophony of voices, but focuses them around three presidential candidates during the 2002 election. An additional layer of analysis is derived from Catalina's own introspective narration of Colombia's problems. The result is a rich portrayal of Colombia's crisis.

In an effort to understand why Colombians "can't even dream of peace," Catalina's informants offer several explanations. These include: bad government; lack of work; the guerrilla; privatization; United States imperialism; fatalism; broken promises; corruption; paramilitaries; and a lack of civil society. Horacio Serpa is the first candidate to approach these topics. He is presented as a continuation of Andrés Pastrana, a centrist seeking a negotiated settlement through dialogue with the guerrilla. We see Serpa attempting to dialogue with the FARC leadership, which devolves into a speaking past each other debate about the cause of violence. Making the transition to Álvaro Uribe, the narrator states, "The people wait a Messiah." [End Page 706] She shows how his slogan, "A secure hand and a big heart," appeals to the ruling elite and popular classes. A random interviewee states, "I'll support him because he will be tough." The left candidate, Luis Eduardo Garzón, argues for legalization of coca, and posits that war profiteering guarantees its reproduction.

Interspersed between the candidates are interviews with the FARC and civil society. One FARC commander relates how they won communities by providing roads, health care, and schools. Whereas the FARC is well represented, the paramilitaries do not have a spokesperson in the video. Their deadly interaction is adequately presented by visiting the aftermath of a massacre in Chaco province. "All we do is bear witness," states the narrator. This disempowered culture of inevitable conflict is juxtaposed to the actions of the grassroots, ordinary folk struggling to survive the violence. Powerful interviews are shown with a women's organization, the church, and an indigenous community. Each manifest how everyday Colombians are caught in the conflict's crossfire, the centrality of a weak state and poverty as causes of the problem, and the extreme dangers involved with organizing community around peaceful alternatives.

The documentary's core strength rests in the voice it gives to Colombians as they come to terms with the conflict. No outside experts are needed to explain the problem or offer analysis. There is a significant exception, however. The narrator's introspective framing of the conflict is never explored. We are never adequately introduced to Catalina. Who is she? What is her class position? What are her politics? Why does she occupy the privileged role as narrator? These are important questions because her narration creates a subjective frame for how the objective voices of the people are represented. Despite this limitation, the documentary succeeds in helping to understand Colombia's ongoing tragedy.

Glen D. Kuecker
DePauw University
Greencastle, Indiana


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pp. 706-707
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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