The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 51 Many Chinese public health workers, including many govern- ment and Communist Party officials, were frustrated by this state of affairs. Chinese journalists published stories about “HIV villages” in Henan province, where peasant blood sellers were dying of AIDS, leaving behindmany orphans. Henan province physicians Wang Shuping, the first to speak out about the threat of HIV/AIDS in the blood supply, and her colleague Gao Yaojie campaigned to raise HIV prevention awareness and to help orphans whose parents had died of AIDS. Dr. Wang had learned epidemiological skills from a CDC field epidemiology course taught in Beijing by Dr. Ray Yip in 1988. Employing those skills as a provincial blood bank worker, she was able to detect the spread of hepatitis C and then to predict the HIV epidemic. At the time, Henan blood plasma collection centers connected sellers of the same blood type to a tank that pooled their blood. Once the blood plasma was separated out using a centrifuge, the liquid fraction of the blood was pumped back into the blood sellers so that they could sell blood more frequently. Dr. Wang discovered that this dangerous practice was spreading hepatitis C, and she predicted that HIV would soon spread through the blood supply as well. Dr. Wang spoke at many conferences of the Henan provincial health department, arguing that these profitable but dangerous blood collection methods would spread the HIV virus and must be stopped immediately. In response to her activism, the local authorities hired toughs to beat her up and had her fired from her job at the blood collection station. Many Chinese health workers educated me about HIV in China and pointed me to Chinese books, media reports and medical journals that often hinted at more than they were allowed to say. The big picture is easy to censor, but nobody can fake all the details because it takes considerable background and study to know just what to fake. Chinese physicians, outraged by the cover-up, wrote articles in such a way that careful read- ers understood that things were more serious than was being disclosed. Thanks to my skills in reading Chinese science and technol- ogy literature (I was a freelance science and technology transla- tor before joining State in 1991), I was able to pick up many of these contradictions. At conferences foreigners were allowed to attend, I always sat with the Chinese, not with other foreigners, explaining, “It is more friendly this way.” I learned a lot from the whispered criticisms and commentary of the Chinese experts sitting nearby. The official reporting cables I wrote helpedWashington orga- nize more effective cooperation on HIV/AIDS. Slightly sanitized versions of those U.S. Embassy Beijing reports, along with trans- lations of Chinese articles, are still available on the embassy’s internet archive. A Chinese official toldme at the time that our online reports were being read in the office of the minister of public health, whose office thought our embassy reporting was excellent. Embassy reporting was picked up by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media. Increased foreign attention, combined with growing public pressure fromwithin China itself, seems to have helped accelerate Chinese government attention to HIV/AIDS and funding for HIV work. David Cowhig is a retired Foreign Service officer who served in Beijing from 2007 to 2012. The Making of Plan Colombia Colombia, 1999 • Peter Romero It was early 1999, and we were set for takeoff on the American flight from Bogotá. Both of us sat in silence, unnatural for either Director of Andean Affairs Phil Chicola or me. We were stunned and trying to process what we had just seen and heard. Security had deteriorated markedly throughout Colombia. Kidnapping, killing and extortion were becoming epidemic. If you could afford to fly between cities in the country, you did. Otherwise, you avoided driving beyond the city limits. Truck- ers, who had to drive, carried rolls of cash to make it through the many checkpoints manned by guerrillas and common criminals. The country’s borders, particularly those with Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, were not much more than signposts as guerrilla fighters, weapons, drugs and cash moved back and forth virtually unchecked. Cocaine and heroin production spiked. The annual CIA estimate reported that the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) coffers were approaching a billion dollars per year. Moreover, the daily visa lines outside our embassy were snaking around the block as the government of President Andrés Pastrana was losing its grip on huge swaths of territory. Pastrana had been elected as the “Peace President” to fol- low through on his campaign pledge to negotiate an end to the 40-year conflict with the FARC and ELN. As a show of good faith for negotiations, Pastrana gave the FARC a despeje (safe haven) the size of New Jersey. In turn, the guerrillas used the despeje