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.
Senior Interactive Producer