A Letter from Laura del Castillo Matamoros in Colombia

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March 4, 2004

Dear Narco News Readers,

This time it is Laura Del Castillo Matamoros writing to you – from a strange country called Colombia – located on the side of the world that the bosses of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund see as the antithesis of the sacred Western civilization: the “underdeveloped” world.

In this country that the international community views as one of the most violent places on earth, I have lived ever since I was born. This is where I learned to walk, a child of the pale 1980s, while the Left fell with the Berlin Wall and the extreme Right consolidated its power by dressing up as “democracy” to bring a New World Order that, at this moment, has begun to emerge.

Due to an absurd turn of the wheel of fortune, I grew up and ended up studying journalism. But never, prior to attending that university, had I been charged so much money in exchange for such mediocrity. The great majority of the classes that I attended taught the necessary tools to become a worker in corporate mass media, on behalf of the interests of the market. Some of my friends gave up their studies before going crazy with so much garbage, while the rest of my friends continued attending classes without questioning anything, pleased to study a career that did not demand that they think too much and that only viewed the bleeding of this country as if it were “last call” in a bar.

If I stayed in journalism school, it was only to not throw my family’s investment in my “formation” into the trash. The University became a true nightmare for me. After that, I did not have the slightest interest in becoming a journalist.

Once again I was back at the beginning: Without knowing what to do, a passive witness, far from the political, social, and economic, hecatomb where my Colombia finds itself; of a civil war that is already fifty years old and where nobody knows who is who; of the injustices and crimes against humanity committed against the most vulnerable sectors of the population under the auspices of the State; of all those who could have generated a change having been shot down or tortured or disappeared or exiled; of the traditional Colombian Left seeming to touch the borders of the Right and of this land where eighty percent of the population seems resigned to be mere slaves of their possessions and what the mass media calls “the good life.”

After various personal defeats, I chose to avoid sadness and form part of the universal morass. I began to think about reality as a movie that was so bad that nobody would even remember it. Time passed and I ended up doing what I didn’t want to do. I worked, fortunately for only a few months, in the local corporate media. The truth is that I felt very happy when it was over. Once more I could stay at home watching cartoons, while I tried to forget what I did not realize was boredom, or disillusion, or a mix of the two.

It was precisely in those days of boredom, two years ago, on a day in October, when surfing the Internet I found, by accident, a link to something called Authentic Journalism. How strange! I thought, “Authentic Journalism”? At first I did not look, but something motivated me to open it and it was then, from that moment on, that my perception about what it means to be a journalist turned around by 180 degrees.

I opened the page and found a text, preceded by a quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky, that said: “The deepest urge of human beings is the revolt against definition and the fixities of life.”

At that moment I thought, “that is the most anti-journalistic phrase I have ever seen.” A guy named Alberto Giordano had written it: Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop my eyes from opening wider and wider… He spoke of the possibility of attending an intensive course in journalism during ten days on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, where, on the practical level, we would report from the Drug Legalization Summit, in the city of Mérida. And best of all, everything would be gratis… A journalist who publishes an online newspaper who openly supported the legalization of drugs was inviting people to take a free course in journalism on the Yucatán. It was crazy.

But that text seduced me for the incredible force with which it was written. Giordano let it be known, with argument, his rejection of the Commercial Media and the servile behavior of journalists faced with the dynamics of the market: He spoke of journalism schools as “a big business.” And what moved me even more and perhaps (although it seemed strange) to apply for the scholarship in the School of Authentic Journalism was that part of the text where the author wrote: “I headed South of the Border, to the rebel, indigenous, communities of Chiapas, México, so disillusioned with the media that I told the people I met, ‘I’m an ex-journalist.’” This guy was definitely the antithesis of my university professors who were more a species of journalist-sheep. I would have liked to have had made them to read that text so that they would be able to give a real journalism class, but already it was too late.

Finally, with fear in my heart, I applied for the scholarship that same October. When, a month later, I learned that I was in the group of 25 scholarship recipients, I couldn’t believe it. And I still didn’t quite believe it until that trip, a year ago, in February 2003, to the Yucatán Peninsula, where I had the opportunity to meet that gringo with an Italian last name who had moved the earth beneath me with his manner of writing. And also, there, I met other people, not necessarily journalists, among them professors, students, and staff members in charge of the logistics, who came from different latitudes of the earth and who, like him, also rejected the servile journalism of a New World Order that promotes inequality, injustice, and exclusion.

It’s worth mentioning that while I reported on the summit, as part of the requirements of the course, I realized that I had no idea how big the drug legalization movement was throughout the world, including: activists, congressmen, farmers, and academics. All of them were focusing on the consequences of prohibition from the widest number of perspectives. Listening in the different conferences that took place, and having had the opportunity to interview a senator from my own country who had expressed publicly, on different occasions, his disagreement with anti-drug policies, were experiences that motivated me to investigate deeper into what was hidden behind the “war on drugs” that has been waged on my country.

The Summit lasted four days and when it ended the entire J-School headed to Isla Mujeres to attend so-called “classes.” They were classes where many times the students ended up being professors and the professors, also, students. And I can say that I learned more about journalism in those ten days than during my five years poorly spent in a university.

But beyond the academic and professional support that the School of Authentic Journalism gave me I was able to know, thanks to being there, the people who returned to me something that I had lost over time: Hope.

I can’t say that the demon of sadness has been definitively lifted from my life, because evils like that can’t be cured so easily. Let’s just say that after attending the School of Authentic Journalism I don’t pay so much attention to them and when things get too heavy I just think of all these people who I met, who made me conscious of the enormous commitment of journalists in a world where injustice is so commonplace.

Right now I work for Narco News as a reporter in Colombia. I feel very proud to work with, and to have worked with, people like Al Giordano, the publisher (who, in spite of my many deviances with order and discipline, still expresses confidence in my work), and with Luis Gómez, the former Andean Bureau Chief, who was my faculty advisor during those days of the J-School, and later became my boss. He has never stopped being my teacher and invaluable counselor who, with enormous patience, helped me to survive the travails of being a rookie journalist. And, now, I work, also, with Alex Contreras, the South American Bureau Chief of Narco News. Thanks to each of them I have learned about this big lie called the “war on drugs” and how it has worsened the social, political, and economic situation that challenges my country.

The School of Authentic Journalism and Narco News became my life raft when I was about to desert the profession. And, certainly, on some corner of the world there are other people who are also natural born journalists but at the point of giving up: Or if they haven’t given up, and they want to practice journalism, they can’t do it because they don’t have a degree or the money to get one; or they are ready to declare war on the system, but don’t know how to do it; or they are simply alone and feel too tired, and don’t even know why…

Thinking about all of them, Narco News, together with The Fund for Authentic Journalism, has decided to announce the next session of the School of Authentic Journalism, which will take place in South America in late July and Early August. They count with some of the funds, but still not enough to meet all the demand from the most talented journalists for the scholarships that could be filled if you respond today with your contribution.

I wanted to share my testimony with you today because I know various people who are in the same situation that I was… who want to change the structures, but, who seeing themselves as alone and without backing end up sitting in the waiting room of life, watching the world fall apart. I know how they feel.

They need a hand, and that hand is yours, kind reader. The future of the opposition to journalism that is corrupted by the market depends on your support and collaboration. Don’t stop now. If it is possible that the School of Authentic Journalism can count with your contribution, please give today, via credit card, through this PayPal link.

Or, send your check through the mail to:

The Fund for Authentic Journalism
P.O. Box 71051
Madison Heights, MI 48071 USA

Somewhere in this world there is a former journalist adrift on the oceans of disillusion, thinking that there is nothing more that can be done. Will you allow her or him to drown?

Think about it, carefully, please… Just about that.

Fraternally,

Laura Del Castillo Matamoros
Graduate, Narco News School of Authentic Journalism

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