Friday, August 27, 2010

Colombia - La Macarena - Bogota

Had another great experience today, on our last day in Bogota. We took a wander up to an area called La Macarena, which is apparently the arty part of town. While we were wandering aimlessly around we came across a great contemporary art gallery, the Valenzuela Klenner Gallery, which had a show that was obviously about Colombia's violent history, though loads of it was in Spanish so we couldn't really understand. When we were leaving we asked one of the guys working there whether there were any similar galleries nearby. He couldn't speak English so the director of the place came down and ending up talking us through the exhibition, translating it all for us and basically giving us a lesson in history of conflict in Colombia.

It was interesting stuff. The artist had gone into an awful slum in the south of the city and bought a handgun on the black market to use in his exhibit, before selling it back to some dodgy character. The point was to highlight the probem of police weapons finding their way into the hands of criminals, which seems to be a huge problem here, particularly since the cops bought $300,000,000 worth of new firepower from Smith & Wesson and had to do something with the old shooters.

He also explained the two pretty grisly sculptures that are pictured. The one of the woman depicts a method called the 'rooster cut' which was used by government-sponsored right wing paramilitaries against rural peasants who sympathised with left wing guerrillas, wherein pregnant woman had the foetus cut out to be replaced by a rooster as a warning to others in the area who might have socialist sympathies. Similarly, the one of the man shows a method called the 'flower vase', where the victim's arms and legs were cut off and stuck into his stomach. It was really shocking to see the realistic life-size models of these in the exhibition, and they were placed around corners to add impact when you suddenly encounter them.  Really gruesome stuff, but not hard to believe given some of the well documented atrocities throughout the history of this part of the world. According to the director, all of this was less of a war on left wing insurgents than an attempt to drive the peasants off their land and muscle in on the lucrative cocaine trade. He reckons that the ongoing conflict with the FARC rebels is effectively being deliberately  maintained by the armed forces purely to guarantee the flow of funds to themselves. Don't have a clue either way but it was really fascinating stuff he was talking.
Another part of the exhibition was a slideshow of really childlike drawings drawn by one of the aforementioned paramilitaries, with a voiceover of the guy talking about some of the atrocities he's committed.  The scary thing is that apparently there are thousands of these guys roaming the streets, unemployed and armed, and it's they who are supposedly responsible for a lot of the crime in Bogota. Also when the minimum wage here adds up to only $250 a month, crime seems to be the better option. The police or whoever have killed 100,000 of them but your man reckoned there are another 50,000 left.

Anyway, before we headed off the guy gave us some advice for the evening ahead. Namely be in the hostel by 8.30pm at the latest and if we were going to be out any later to get the place we were in to call us a taxi.  Haven't felt unsafe at any stage while we've been here but weren't about to start arguing with a local about something like this - they obviously know better.

Some photos of La Macarena...
Below a campaign poster for Antanas Mockus for the recent presidential elections - he didn't win....  Mockus spent two terms as mayor of Bogota and was responsible for great changes in the city, involving many wacky but effective ideas.  He once gave a speech to students in one of Colombia's main universities in the nude to get attention.  He used to walk around the city streets dressed in a superhero costume, he appeared in a TV ad for water conservation which showed him having a shower.  He famously hired 420 mimes to make fun of traffic violators, because he believed Colombians were more afraid of being ridiculed than fined.  He also put in place one "Women's Night", on which the city's men were asked to stay home for an evening to look after the house and the children.
Brian stocking up in preparation for a trek to the jungle. Delicious burgers at El Corral...
This is the shower in our current hostel...
And the lovely dog that lives here...

Tonight we went walking up Avenida Septima which is one of the main streets in the city.  Every Friday and Sunday night from 6pm it's closed off to traffic and the street is taken over by street venders and street performers with all kinds of random produce and entertainment. A real carnival atmosphere.

First thing tomorrow we're heading north to Villa de Leiva for one night and then on to San Gil for two nights, looking forward to seeing the scenery on the journey.

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