“Scene of the Crime” on PRX
About Scene of the Crime
This summer I traveled to Colombia on a 10-day fact finding mission organized by Witness for Peace, a Washington-based social justice organization. Witness for Peace had scheduled ten long days of interviews with human rights activists, union leaders, displaced farmers, and witnesses and victims of paramilitary violence. I’m a private investigator and working on a graduate degree in Legal Studies focusing on human rights investigations, so the delegation to the Magdalena and Cesar regions of Colombia was right up my alley. The focus of the trip was Human Rights violations, corporate abuse, and internally displaced persons, specifically in relation to lawsuits against Dole, Chiquita and Drummond Mine Company. As a law student I was interested in the legal issues of bringing allegations of human rights abuses in U.S. courts. As an investigator I was interested in the difficulties of gathering evidence of crimes that occurred years ago and in another country.
I’m also an avid NPR listener and I’ve always been interested in radio documentaries. At least once a week I come across a subject and think, “this would be a great radio piece”. It seemed like the Colombia trip had all the makings for a compelling radio documentary. So about a month before my trip I sent an email to Transom.org to see if they could suggest someone to produce a radio piece regarding the ties between these multi-national corporations operating in Colombia and paramilitary terrorists. The next thing I knew, recording equipment was arriving by FedEx. My intention was to produce an investigative piece, not a reflection on my experiences. But as Jay Allison told me, “You know you have a good story when it’s not the one you intended to tell.”
I had read about similar lawsuits, where the plaintiff’s are trying to prove in U.S. courts that crimes were committed in another country, crimes that occurred years ago. As an investigator I’ve been involved in death-scene investigations, but the body was usually still warm…or at least there was a body. In the Chiquita lawsuit there are nearly 250 victims, and in the Dole lawsuit there are over 50 more. That’s 300 crime scenes, 300 bodies. Of course, in reality, there aren’t any crimes scenes; the crime scenes have been gone for years. And there aren’t any bodies, unless they’re dug up. How were the plaintiffs going to prove any of this? And I have seen cases were people that were thought to be dead were found to be very much alive. Could that be happening here? I was fascinated. I still am.
The challenges in Colombia began right away. As an investigator I’m used to working on my own. But in Colombia I was in a group with nine others and two group leaders. The leaders of the group were terrific and had done a great job scheduling meetings and interviews, but working in a group is always difficult, especially when it comes to conducting interviews. The group interviews were less focused than I would have liked, and the background noise made effective recording impossible. So I ended up sitting through the incredibly long group meetings, and then asking for a private interview in a quiet environment where I could more intently probe. Because we were on a tight schedule I missed some good interview opportunities and the chance to record background noise and ambiance that would have come in handy during production.
One of the first people we met was Edguardo Cabrara, a human rights activist. He became our guide to the plaintiffs and their stories. Edguardo took us to speak with a group of fishermen and their families who had been displaced by paramilitary violence and now lived in Boca de Aracataca, a mudflat next to the Magdalena River. As rain poured down on us,
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