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There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia

Maria McFarlan Sanchez-Moreno

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South America, History: specific events & topics, Political oppression & persecution, Political assassinations

The bloody story of the rise of paramilitaries in Colombia, told through three characters--a fearless activist, a dogged journalist, and a relentless investigator--whose lives intersected in the midst of unspeakable terror.

There Are No Dead Here is the untold story of three brave Colombians who stood up to the paramilitary groups that, starting in the mid-1990s, decimated the country in the name of counterinsurgency and drug profits. With the complicity of much of Colombia's military and political establishment and in a climate of widespread fear and denial, the paramilitaries massacred, raped, and tortured thousands, and seized the land of millions of peasants forced to flee their homes. The United States, more interested in the appearance of success in its own War on Drugs, largely ignored them. Few dared to confront them.

Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews and five years on the ground in Colombia, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno takes readers from the sweltering Medellin streets where criminal investigators constantly looked over their shoulders for assassins on motorcycles, through the countryside where paramilitaries wiped out entire towns in gruesome massacres, and into the corridors of the presidential palace in Colombia's capital, Bogota. Throughout, she tells the interconnected stories of three very different Colombians bound by their commitment to the truth. The first is the gregarious Jesus Maria Valle, whose prophetic warnings about the military's complicity with the paramilitaries got him killed in 1998. A decade later, Valle's friend, the shy prosecutor Ivan Velasquez, became an unlikely hero when his groundbreaking investigations landed a third of the country's congress in prison for conspiring with paramilitaries, and put him in the crosshairs of Colombia's then wildly popular president, US protege Alvaro Uribe. When Uribe's smear campaign against Velasquez threatened to bury the truth, the scrawny investigative journalist Ricardo Calderon exposed the lies, revealing that the paramilitaries' reach extended all the way into the presidency.

Thanks to the efforts of Valle, Velasquez, and Calderon, Colombians now know the truth about the brutality and corruption that swept like a lethal virus through the country's society and political system. And slowly, the country is breaking free from the paramilitaries' grip.

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