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International politics: UNK professor to lead summer field study to Colombia
Josh Moody
Antelope Staff
Photo by Josh Moody
Political science alumnus Matt Athey (left) and political science professor William Aviles (right) prepare to hike up Mount Avila in Caracas, Venezuela. Aviles led a similar field study class to Venezuela in summer 2008.

Spots are still open for the opportunity to travel to South America this summer.

May 23-30 UNK students will have the opportunity to spend a week in Colombia. Although this country is known for being tropical and ecologically diverse, this is no vacation for the students participating.

The trip is planned as a field study for a political science class: PSCI 456 – Human rights and democracy in Colombia. The summer class will be taught by political science professor Will Avilés and will run May 10-June 4.

Avilés led a similar class to Venezuela for 10 days in summer 2008. A non-trip option is also available for those unable to travel to Colombia.

The class material will tackle the subject of human rights concerns within the context of Colombia’s domestic issues such as drug trafficking and production, guerrilla groups and paramilitary actors. Avilés said that he hopes the trip will allow students to grasp the material more effectively and apply in-class lessons to real life concerns in Colombia. The week in Colombia will be spent meeting with members of human rights groups, scholars and representatives of the Colombian government.

Avilés said that the students would spend two weeks in concentrated studies of Colombian history and politics before leaving for the field study. “The good thing about this trip is that students will be going to the country already with some knowledge of the country, so they won’t be going there with a blank slate of what is happening,” Avilés said. “This trip is going to compliment in a very substantive way what the students are reading and various discussions of theories.”

The delegation will be working with Colombia Support Network, a human rights group based out of Madison, Wis. Colombia Support Network is responsible for bringing delegations of North Americans to Colombia two or three times a year. For over two decades Colombia Support Network has been involved in trying to raise awareness to the state of human rights within the borders of Colombia.

“Unfortunately I don’t think people have a good understanding of what is going on in Colombia,” Avilés said. Avilés described the trip as ideal for anyone interested in issues of human rights, drug policy, democracy in Latin America and U.S. foreign policy. “All these various subjects are going to be addressed in one way or another by an in-depth focus on Colombia,” Avilés said.
Avilés said that the trip will offer students the chance to interact with Colombians effected by the internal violence that shadows the drug trade and over 40 years of armed resistance to the government by various groups, most famously by the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known otherwise as FARC.

Avilés described present day media portrayals of the Colombian government as relatively positive, stating that these images cast the government as a democracy doing its best to deal with a number of weighty issues. “Elements of that are true,” Avilés said before pointing out that deeper issues lie under the surface. “There are also all kinds of things happening with the government engaging in various violations of human rights, and I don’t think that gets as much play in the media.

The class will spend most of their time in Bogota, but will also visit Villavicencio, a city outside of the capital. Avilés estimated the cost of the trip at $1,400 or $1,500, which includes airfare and in-country costs. In-country costs will cover hotels, two meals a day, a translator and a guide. The original price tag has been lowered due to university contributions including Pepsi travel funds and the Student Talent Development fund. In addition some students are selling Herberger's coupons and downtown fair trade shop Ten Thousand Villages has also agreed to contribute a percentage of sales from certain days.

Avilés said that Colombia Support Network director Cecilia Zarate will be in Kearney for the James E. Smith Midwest Conference on World Affairs. Zarate will use Monday, March 8 to meet with students already committed to the trip and accept their initial $100 deposits. The same day Zarate will also hold a general informational session for interested participants at 4 p.m. in the Lincoln Conference Room located in Founders Hall. On Tuesday from 9:30-10:45 a.m. Zarate will be part of a panel presenting on “Positive Changes in Human Rights and Business” in Ponderosa Rooms C and D.

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