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Villagers Load Trucks with Belongings Villagers Ride in Bearing Flag Villagers on Horseback Convene Outside Building Singing Mayor Bathes in Stream

Rough Cut
Colombia: This Little Old Town
War or no war, refugees return home


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Length: 10:35

Deborah Correa and Brittney Borjeson.

Deborah Correa (right) and Brittney Borjeson graduated from Emerson College in May 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film. This is their first Rough Cut for FRONTLINE/World. Correa's paternal family are Colombian and live in Bogota. Correa and Borjeson live in Boston and continue to work in the documentary field.

In 2004, the United Nations called Colombia the worst humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere. In this week's Rough Cut video, "This Little Old Town," FRONTLINE/World reporter Deborah Correa travels to this war-stricken country and into the heart of guerilla territory. Correa's story is also a personal journey. Her father worked as a missionary in the Colombian city of Medellin during a time when drug cartels were at the height of their power.

But under constant threat of kidnapping and ever-increasing car bomb attacks, the family moved to California when Correa was 13. Now 25, the film-school graduate returns to Colombia -- a place she describes as "a beautiful and desperate country trapped in an endless civil war."

After 40 years of conflict -- most of it inextricably tied to the drug trade -- it's hard to find any political ideology behind the corrosive violence. Right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing rebel groups have turned the mountainous coca-growing regions into a war zone, killing and displacing thousands of peasants. For war-weary Colombians, everyone is culpable. The cocaine industry is worth between $2.2 billion and $5 billion annually, and the corruption it breeds has worn down the moral and political fiber of the entire country.

Colombia's popular hardline president, Alvaro Uribe, has pushed ahead with aggressive coca eradication programs since coming to power in 2002, and with billions of dollars in continued U.S. aid, he's optimistic that he can halve Colombia's coca production sometime in 2006.

Not surprisingly, our correspondent, very much a California girl, is nervous about going back. But as a filmmaker, she wants to document how poor Colombians are coping with the cycle of violence that she and her family escaped.

Leaving the familiarity of brand-name stores and fashionable shoppers in downtown Bogota, Correa and camerawoman Brittney Borjeson visit the barrios on the outskirts of the city. There they meet some of the thousands of villagers who have been driven out of their rural communities by violent turf wars. Many of them have ended up as refugees in the big cities.

One woman, who survives in the city by scavenging for trash to make recycled paper, tells Correa why she left her home: "Strange people began arriving at our village. They assassinated the mayor. Before that, they had killed two other village leaders they left hanging from a tree over the river."

At the heart of "This Little Old Town," though, is a story that transcends violence and offers hope and renewal. When Correa learns that a group of villagers are reclaiming the mountain village of Saiza, which they were driven out of five years ago, she joins them on their journey home.

About 1,500 villagers make the trek through coastal mountains that are as breathtaking as they are dangerous, reminding Correa of the countryside in which she rode horses as a child.

When they reach Saiza, by mule and on foot, they see remnants of their burned-out homes, entangled in the encroaching jungle.

But they remain optimistic: "We think that we will rebuild a new future," one villager tells Correa. "The small amount of people who are left are very hardworking and very humble."

As the villagers make plans to rebuild and to plant crops, Correa comes across Saiza's mayor, Omar Pino, wading in the nearby river like a contented Buddha. To express how it feels to be home, he tells her: "I would like to sing a song, if you allow me. It's called 'This Little Old Town.'"

It's a scene to savor and we hope you enjoy watching this week's story.

Jackie Bennion
Senior Interactive Producer


Excellent documentary, awesome, a mini epic story.

John Roa - Fairfax, VA
Both the left-wingers and right-wingers displace people in Colombia, so it could have been either party. The conflict itself is not a "civil war" in the traditional sense, but rather a prolonged insurgency vs. counterinsurgency, mostly in rural areas. This isn't the Spanish Civil War or the U.S. Civil War, where armies fought large battles over territory. Not even the conflicts in the Balkans can be considered to be similar to Colombia's situation. So, while this documentary may be useful for showing the plight of some, it's not exactly meant to be the complete story.

Alie Lopez - Novato, CA
As a student I have been given the opportunity to learn about this country and my goodness this piece really shows a lot what is really going on. It's not all rumors and I find it hard to watch what others have to go through. So much respect goes towards the people and children in Bogot and other villages in Colombia; you show so much drive that you will survive even if life isn't as fair as it seems.

juanc hurtado - Glendale, california
I left Bogota when I was fifteen. Many years passed and I read many articles and books about Colombia and its history. I can only agree with the admiration given by others as to the beauty of this country and its people. It is sad that money can always overpower the forces of good, but that is the reality of any country of the world. The present president sounds like he is a man on a worthy mission. Colombia is not only suffering from violence, but its envioronment is being ravaged by the love of profit from some multinational companies. Maybe one day things will change for the better. I congratulate the work of the intelligent young women who risked life and limb to bring such truth to light.

Chris - Bogota, Colombia
I have been living in Bogot for the past 9 months. As a North American, the social divisions could not be more stark. Bolivar City and the other poor neighborhoods of Bogot represent a powerful contrast with wealthy areas not even seen in my native country. Colombia is a beautiful place; let's hope the country can find total peace soon. Equality, peace, generosity and trust will make this country better.

Ty S. - Maui, HI
Colombia is a beautiful place to visit or live; I am a recent resident as well as a long time visitor. Every thing you can think of is here and from the adventures to the knowledge that one can learn while here or many other places, the more you know the better. Just keep your eyes open when you are not familiar with your surroundings.

(anonymous) - Portsmouth, New Hampshire
I belive you did a great job. I lived and grew up in Colombia. Colombia is a great country but unfortunaltely like many other countries in the world, it is suffering because of the selfishness of the guerillas and paramilitares. I hope one day the stupid bureaucracy and repd tape that Colombia has can be erradicated. I also hope to retire in 10 years and move back to my beautiful country. Thanks for video taping what is happening in Saiza.

It's true that we are and have been going through difficult times, but security has increased a lot in the last years and there are many good and beautiful things people around the world don't know about Colombia. I was one of them, I grew up in New Jersey not knowing much about this country. In the hollywood movies every time they mention Colombia they film a poor Mexican Village and say that it's our capital city Bogota. That's not right. Don't only see the bad thing. There are many good things also.

Ned Johns - Sacramento, CA
This was a tremendous piece showing the strength and resolve of people who choose hope in the midst of severe hardship. As close friends of the Correa family, we spent a season of our lives together here in the Sacramento valley as our families grew. Deborah and her family have shared many stories regarding their lives and the brutal struggles in Columbia. Yet, with true love, care, and passion, the Correas return to the people of Columbia as often as they can. Their hope is to be used as vessels of honor and to pour out their lives to help bring the Columbian people true peace, even when events around them might try to steal it away. Thank you! GREAT job!

Valerio - Los Angeles, California
Great piece. Looks amazing and really interesting. Keep up the good work!

Alma Osorio - San Francisco, CA
I want to say so much but also don't know what to say. I left Colombia 6 years ago because my husband (an American) had to move to Florida for business reasons. I love and miss my country very much but also struggle with mixed feelings of love and anger because of what is happening. I want to go back and live there. I know it is hard to believe that, but probably the best way to describe it is in the words of the song Saiza's mayor sang. I still feel and call Bogota my "home." Great job, and the song touched my soul very deep (I learned it when I was little). Thanks.

Colombia's hardly a "civil war." The "civil war" violence is rather like an amalgamation of organized crime and banditry and the vast majority of murders in the country are as a result of delinquent street gangs, common bandits, drunken brawls and domestic disputes. This is a stonewall fact yet never seems to be touched upon.

Brian Morgan - Putney, Vermont
Congratulations! You've done Putney School proud, Brittney! May you continue to broaden your horizons and do your piece to level the global playing field!

Molly Gill - Minneapolis, MN
It's great to see a documentary that puts a big problem into perspective, that tells the story of a nation-wide civil war by telling the story of one town. I admire the courage of the people of Saiza, as well as that of the filmmakers!

Dorothy Fay - Portland, OR
I lived in Colombia over 30 years ago and think about it often. I would like to know more about what is happening. What has happened to the "villiage" set up by priests on the edge of Bogota to help people living in the barrios? How do people exist? I would love to go back but that is not possible except in your films. Thank you.

ben holloway - Tulsa, OK
Great piece of journalism. You girls did a very brave and courageous thing. Thank you, Deborah, and thank you Brittany for all your hard work.

Mila Messner - Washington, DC
Wow ... Congratulations on this work.

South Bend, IN
Thank you for bringing this beautiful piece of work to light. I felt like I was there alongside Ms. Correa and her camerawoman. It was truly an eye-opening piece for me.

New York, NY
Like most of what I see on FRONTLINE/World, this film provided an invaluable sense of place through video portraiture of local people. What I missed was any sense of which side, if either, the villagers felt more sympathy to in the decades long "civil war." I wondered if perhaps the reporter intentionally obscured those sympathies? The reporter used terms "paramilitary" and "rebel forces" interchangeably. Was it right wing government troops or left wing rebels, for example, that commited the atrocities that led to the desertion of the village 5 yrs ago?? I didn't know from this story, and wished I did.

Betty Thomson - McEwen's Beach, Queensland Australia
Many times we hear a news story over here and apart from the sensationalism, we here little else. Our Church's misionaries who worked in Colombia have had to get out as well. I'm sure, as a missionary's daughter your reporter is heartened that her father's work is carrying on in that country.

Austin, Tx
The footage on this short film is beautiful! Correa and Borjeson did an excellent job using the voices of Colombia to tell so many people's story. The mayor's interview and conclusion statements by Correa made me want to know more about the people and their struggle for survival.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
For more about displacement in Colombia check out the Facts and Links section of this story.