Q. & A.: Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Fighting Terror and Corruption in Colombia

Photo

Credit Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times

When the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, Colombia’s bloody troubles did not die with him. In “There Are No Dead Here,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, who spent years as a Colombia researcher for Human Rights Watch, writes about the harrowing violence carried out by paramilitary groups that bloomed in the country in the late 1990s. She focuses on the stories of three men who have tried to help solve the problem against enormous odds: the human rights activist Jesús María Valle, who was murdered for what he exposed; the prosecutor Iván Velásquez; and the journalist Ricardo Calderón. The book covers their dangerous efforts, the links between the paramilitaries and Colombia’s political establishment, and the influence of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and its war on drugs. Ms. McFarland, now the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, discusses below the bravery of her subjects, the inspiration she takes from photojournalists who work in conflict areas and more.

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

It started when I had finished up being a Colombia researcher for Human Rights Watch. I had spent six years documenting atrocities and trying to get the government to address them. But I was frustrated, because all those documents I had been producing didn’t really capture the reality I had gotten to know so well, the stories of these extraordinary people, who despite horrendous conditions often insisted on fighting for truth, for justice; insisted on being incredibly honest even though they could have easily gone in another direction and all the pressures were in that direction. In the United States, anyone who knew anything about Colombia knew about Pablo Escobar and the FARC, but very few people knew about the paramilitaries, and stories usually depicted the heroes as D.E.A. agents or law enforcement. They were missing this whole piece, these ordinary people who make tremendous sacrifices, take huge risks and often get killed because they’re standing on principle.

I started out with the idea of just doing an article in 2012. I was very focused on the story of Iván Velásquez, who had followed the links between congress and these paramilitary death squads. He had worked very much alone with not much support, and faced an elaborate campaign by high-level government officials and those in the intelligence service to discredit him. As I talked to him, I realized it was part of a much larger story. He was personally connected to the other two characters in the book. I started drafting a book proposal, which took four years to write. The book took two.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

I knew that people were brave. But once I started asking them for their stories in details, I was surprised by just how many risks they took. And when I spoke to their family members, they received threats and had themselves been wrapped up in this and terribly impacted. Yet they had never tried to get them to stop doing their work. In fact, María Victoria, Iván’s wife, kept some very serious threats made against her secret because she didn’t want him to give up what he was doing. She knew it would break him because it was such an important part of who he was, to follow through on his commitment.

Continue reading the main story

Хостинг сайтов Joinder.Pro

State of the Art: Saudi Money Fuels the Tech Industry. It’s Time to Ask Why.

The money from regimes that have been criticized for their human rights records — from Saudi Arabia’s government in particular, which has plans to funnel potentially hundreds of billions of dollars into tech companies through its state-controlled Public Investment Fund — stands in stark contrast to those aims. By accepting these investments, tech companies get to revel in the branding glory of global good while taking billions from a government that stands against many of those goals — a government that has an abysmal record with human rights groups, that has systematically marginalized women, that has not had much legal due process and that has advocated an extreme form of Islam that has zero tolerance for just about any religious or intellectual diversity whatsoever.

“Look, every company has a choice about their actions and inactions,” said Freada Kapor Klein, co-chairwoman of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which advocates for a more diverse and inclusive tech industry.

She said companies could choose not to do business with governments whose actions they found troubling, but many of today’s tech companies have lost a moral compass. “There is an elitism that makes it far too easy for them to rationalize their behavior with their belief that they are the smartest guys — and, yes, it’s always guys — in the room,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, this is not a topic many people want to talk about. SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that runs the $100 billion Vision Fund, which is shelling out eye-popping investments in tech companies, declined to comment for this column. Nearly half of the Vision Fund, about $45 billion, comes from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

WeWork and Slack, two prominent start-ups that have received recent investments from the Vision Fund, also declined to comment. So did Uber, which garnered a $3.5 billion investment from the Public Investment Fund in 2016, and which is in talks to receive a big investment from the SoftBank fund. The Public Investment Fund also did not return a request for comment.

Twitter, which got a $300 million investment from Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Company in 2011 — around the same time that it was talking up its role in the Arab Spring — declined to comment on his arrest. Lyft, which received $105 million from Prince Alwaleed in 2015, also declined to comment.

Privately, several founders, investors and others at tech companies who have taken money from the Saudi government or prominent members of the royal family did offer insight into their thinking. Prince Alwaleed, some pointed out, was not aligned with the Saudi government — his arrest by the government underscores this — and he has advocated for some progressive reforms, including giving women the right to drive, a restriction that the kingdom says will be lifted next year.

The founders and investors also brought up the Saudi government’s supposed push for modernization. The Saudis have outlined a long-term plan, Vision 2030, that calls for a reduction in the state’s dependence on oil and a gradual loosening on economic and social restrictions, including a call for greater numbers of women to enter the work force. The gauzy vision allows tech companies to claim to be part of the solution in Saudi Arabia rather than part the problem: Sure, they are taking money from one of the world’s least transparent and most undemocratic regimes, but it’s the part of the government that wants to do better.

Another mitigating factor, for some, is the sometimes indirect nature of the Saudi investments. When the SoftBank Vision Fund invests tens of millions or billions into a tech company, it’s true that half of that money is coming from Saudi Arabia. But it’s SoftBank that has control over the course of the investment and communicates with founders. The passive nature of the Saudi investment in SoftBank’s fund thus allows founders to sleep better at night.

On the other hand, it also has a tendency to sweep the Saudi money under the rug. When SoftBank invests in a company, the Saudi connection is not always made clear to employees and customers. You get to enjoy the convenience of your WeWork without having to confront its place in the Saudi government’s portfolio.

Then, finally, there’s the justification of desperation. Some companies don’t have any choice but to take money that’s offered to them. (In 2009, The New York Times Company took a loan from the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who has been criticized for gaining his wealth through close connections with government officials.)

But the tech companies that the Saudis are itching to invest in often do have a choice; they are some of the most highly valued companies of our era, and many of them have no immediate need for more money. For instance: Slack, which raised $250 million from SoftBank last month, said it had no plans for spending the money and instead had raised it to preserve long-term “operational flexibility.”

But why take it from the Saudis? I suspect it’s the most obvious reason: because the money is there, and no one is making too big a fuss about it.

It used to be that most of the money in tech came from more vaunted sources — universities, philanthropies, pension plans and other nonprofits, which made up the bulk of funders to venture capital firms like Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Now we’re in a new era, when giant pools of money splash through sleek-sounding Vision Funds and come out seeming squeaky clean — and ready to fund the next great thing to make the world so much better, we promise.

Continue reading the main story

Хостинг сайтов Joinder.Pro