Deep in the jungles of the remote Macarena mountain range in South America is a giant 82-foot Christmas tree. The Colombian army used Blackhawk helicopters to decorate it with 2,000 lights for what they call Operation Christmas. The tree is designed to light up whenever it detects any movement. Why, do I hear you ask, is this tree so special and yet hidden in the Colombian jungle? I’ll get to that in a moment …
You probably already know what Colombia is famous for – world-renowned coffee and the powerful drug cartels that have made it one of the most violent countries in the world. But there is really much to learn about this nation bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is the fourth largest country in South America; it is rich in oil, coal, gold, silver, emeralds and platinum; and its diverse culture reflects the indigenous Indian, Spanish and African origins of its people.
The families of Spanish descent are traditionally rich, but the rest of the mixed-race Colombians have little access to wealth or few opportunities to move out of their economic class. This yawning inequality in circumstances has made Colombia a fertile breeding ground for left-wing rebel groups to flourish.
For decades Colombians have been caught between and been ravaged by violent battles between leftist militia and their right-wing armed foes. Any political ideology has been mostly abandoned in favour of the easy money that can be earned from kidnappings and drugs. In 2007, hundreds of thousands of Colombians protested the killings and kidnappings and demanded the release of 3,000 people held hostage by various groups.
But now, an end to the violent conflicts seem to be in sight. The Colombian military has successfully released many hostages and killed several rebel leaders. At least 2,000 armed guerillas have surrendered their arms in return for a pardon for past crimes and the promise of help to return to civilian life.
The Colombian military has put up the giant Christmas tree in a rebel territory to encourage more guerilla fighters to surrender. The army wants to put up nine more trees in other rebel-held zones to spread the message that Christmas is a good time to abandon armed struggle.
The giant Christmas tree in the Colombian jungle wants to spread the word, ‘If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home’.