Colombia: Realities

I am tired. I am weary. I have been in Colombia three years. I have lived in both city and village. I have had enough.

I am tired. I am weary. I have been in Colombia three years. I have lived in both city and village. I have had enough.

Foreigners are funny,. They never want to know the truth about this place. I've seen this before. People from the developed world often want to claim a part of the third world as if it were their own.

I lived in Cuba for two years and it was the same. You can insult their country. But don't dare insult their adopted place. While almost every Colombian I know not only agrees with me but almost universally wants to leave. They all do the same thing when I say any of this: Nod silently and sadly and then tell me I'm right.

I have grown to hate gringos. Well, not gringos. Just some of their attitudes. Many of those I meet here see the positives but ignore the negatives. Or they simply can't see them. Or refuse to. This is playground for gringos. You can do anything at an affordable price. Anything! And remain oblvious to reality. That is Colombia's danger - much of what is really going on is happening beneath the surface.And what is really happening is often frightening.

To see some of the realities here you don't have to go very far. I was taken to a hospital in January and held against my will in one of the worst areas of the city. I had to pay to get out. I hesitate to say I was kidnapped but I can think of no other word for it. I did need treatment but I lived over 60 blocks away. And there was a hospital four blocks from my apartment. But instead the ambulance took me La L - also called the Bronx. And once there I was held against my will under armed guard in a place comparable to hell. The hospital is called Santa Clara.

La L lies barely ten blocks from the touristic centre of Bogotá, La Candelaria, which is home to most of the backpackers. Despite the proximity, it is a scary place. I was only held there for 24 hours before paying whatever I needed to get out.

La L is home to drug traffickers and drug addicts and truly reflects a scene from Dante's Inferno. I will forever be haunted by the things I saw there. I have seen how low humanity can sink. Half naked women who had no awareness of where they were or even who they were, so strung out were they. Men with their eyes half punched out. Others with a crazed look in their eyes - you have to see that look in the flesh to understand. It terrified me. These were people trapped by poverty, drugs and circumstance. I didn't care what I had to pay. And I will never forget what I saw.

I was traumatized for weeks after, sometimes bursting into tears in the street. It was a hard time. It left me with no illusions and it brought to the surface many of the things I had been through since arriving here. In the three years I have been in Colombia, I have had friends murdered, I have been threatened with death, I have had my girlfriend threatened with death. I lived in a village in a conflict zone for a year. The region is called El Meta. It is a zone with a reputation for drug barons and paramilitaries. The police chief of the village was the foremost trafficker of cocaine. He also sold girls from the local schools for sex.

In the time I have lived here, I have heard stories of rape and sex-trafficking. On the way to work I have to pass a brothel everyday. Coming home from work on the bus one night I heard a girl next to me telling her friend how she worked in that brothel. When her friend asked how her boyfriend felt about her job, she replied that he was fine with it.

I am tired.

I'm under no illusion about this country. I simply want people in the West, where we are privileged, to know that there is a whole different world out there. Most of Colombians are good people. They work harder than you can imagine. And they earn a pittance.

The rich here live a life of luxury. And, if I'm honest, ignorance. They have no idea of what is really going on...

And then, those in power... Well, they're just simply shameless in their corruption. Not all. They are a few shining lights. See Claudia Lopez who was recently elected to the senate here as part of the Alianza Verde. She is also a journalist who was instrumental in exposing the links between paramilitary groups and politicians. She's now serving with many of those people.

When I interviewed Claudia before the elections she told me that one of the great failings of certain politicians here is that they don't understand - or accept - that in a democracy sometimes you lose. For the most part, the politicians here refute that. They make me ashamed. But Colombians accept their corruption. It's normal here. Most Colombians feel frustrated and powerless. But they accept that as the norm. And that's terrifying.

I love Colombia. I love the Colombian people. I just feel shame for what they suffer.


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