sábado, 15 de mayo de 2010
lunes, 8 de febrero de 2010
6:00am, an alarm tolls the end of my night. Suddenly, the rumbling noise of buses rolling down the street takes over my tiny eight square meters room: 6 o'clock, Sunday morning, why am I up again?
A few days ago, Javier Camilo, director of the NGO's Un Techo para mi pais (TPMP)social integration programs, invited me to join them in one of their regular visits to Soacha. An opportunity I could not miss.
Going to Soacha means going South, this very place where, arriving to Bogota, one is quickly made to understand he is not supposed to go. Indeed, a few kilometers away from the Capital's shiny zona rosa, abundant in fancy restaurants and malls, the town of Soacha stands as a sad collection of Colombia's main demons. As the ongoing context of rural violence keeps throwing dozens of families out of their homes each week, urban suburbs such as Soacha have become the ending point of this forced migration. This phenomenon, along with other social factors such as an ever-growing economic exclusion and the high rate of unemployment, is largely responsible for the daily increasing spread of slums over the valleys and hills surrounding big cities. A great opportunity for illegal groups (including guerillas and paramilitaries) to dictate their rules.
On that last Sunday of January, TPMP is visiting one of its partner neighborhoods named “Altos de Florida”. The aforementioned, partly due to the extremely high number of desplazados living there, constitutes one of the poorest parts of the town. Getting to the Altos de Florida implies taking the transmilenio down to the Portal Sur station, then a 15 minutes ride in a small bus deeper into Soacha, finally a jeep or another small bus up to the top of the hill.
This particular neighborhood embodies yet another issue in Colombia: the so-called “invasiones”. Indeed, all of the makeshift houses have been illegally built on land that did not belong to the inhabitants. Yet, Altos de Florida represents a tricky case: those who built their houses did buy an informal title deed, but to a swindler whose rights are now being claimed by the sixteen real owners of the land. In consequence, last December, the 192 families living in the neighborhood learned that a court order permitted for their houses to be demolished. Since then, a few organizations such as TPMP, which were already involved in the community through the construction of emergency wooden houses, the main purpose of the organization, brings a legal and organizational support to the inhabitants throughout negotiations with the owners.
The purpose of our visit on that very day was to assist to a general assembly organized by the elected leaders so as to explain the state of negotiations. As we arrive to the Altos, we head directly to the house of one of the community leaders: Alex. On our way, an old man stopped us: “are you going to build new houses soon?”, and whereas he will not be the only one to do so during the day, TPMP's answer remains the same: “constructions will not start until the legal situation of the neighborhood is solved”. Here, the fate of the neighborhood is on everyone’s lips. Where to go if the negotiations fail? How to pay for the official title deed?
Alex's house is a wooden house TPMP built for the family a few years ago. Since then, the man became TPMP's main support among the inhabitants, letting them know of all problems or projects and helping them in their task. His wife, also very active, shows us the official report offering estimations of land prices for the upcoming discussions. She confesses to us: “I don’t understand anything about those numbers, do you”?
The assembly starts an hour later; it will go on for two more. The leaders, those who participate in the negotiations with the owners, show a real interest for the process to be as democratic as possible. Everyone has their word to say, their preoccupations to express. They show maps, explain numbers, blame the absent members of the community for their lack of interest in what is a “concern to everybody”.
This seems almost like a perfect representation of democracy. Nevertheless, when the discussions are over, everyone's fate depends on the benevolence of a handful of powerful people. As of today, negotiations are still running, and in spite of their determination, a great uncertainty remains over the future of those 192 families.
It seems so easy while living in Bogota, to forget about Soacha. So easy from new elegant buildings of the Northern part of the Capital, to forget about the misery of the spreading slums in its southern areas. So easy... and yet, in a country where 20 million of fellow-citizens are poor and around 3 million are “desplazados”, this is not only another reality, it is a major part of it.
lunes, 31 de agosto de 2009
Il se remarque a peine. Un tas inerte de couvertures sombres et usées. Un coin de rue, tout juste un bout de trottoir. On le passerait sans même s'en rendre compte. Pourtant, un sursaut dans son sommeil lui fait bouger le pied, et là, brusquement, l'insignifiant ramassis de linge sale découvre un corps rachitique, si petit, si recroquevillé, que l'on ne discerne pas bien qui de l'enfant ou de l'homme y passe sa nuit.
Un regard autour, rien a changé. Les passants continuent leur promenade dominicale, une poignée de vendeurs se disputent leur attention en paroles bienveillantes, quelques voitures viennent et disparaissent dans une avenue de la capitale. En Colombie le chiffre officiel est tombé il y a un mois: 20 millions de pauvres, soit presque la moitié de la population totale. Parmi ceux-là, plus de 5 millions d'indigents. Un quotidien d'errance inlassable dans les rues des grandes villes, de mandiance, de fouille parmi les detritus, et finalement un banc, le coin d'un pont, où s'achevent des nuits longues et solitaires.
On les remarque à distance, au premier coup d'oeil: démarche claudiquante, les epaules recourbées, une couverture sur l'epaule et un ensemble de guenilles noirâtres en guise de vetement. Ils portent souvent un gros sac poubelle, qu'ils remplissent ici et là, d'objets trouvés dans la rue. Ils se remarque de loin et vous remarquent également: “Mona monita, una monedita?” Quelques-uns insistent, vous suivent, certains parfois deviennent agressifs, mais au final, chacun fini par suivre sa route. Evidemment quelques pesos s'offrent en chemin, mais quel geste bien absurde face à une détresse humaine qui se compte en millions.
Ils sont là, vous interpellent, vous font changer de trottoir, ils sont là mais se remarquent à peine. Car finalement ici comme ailleurs, la ville se vit sans les voir...
sábado, 8 de agosto de 2009
domingo, 2 de agosto de 2009
Here is the witty and patriotic answer given by the national office of tourism...
"Si quiere conocer el Caribe, vaya a Cuba o a Republica Dominicana
Si quiere conocer el Pacifico, vaya a Chile
Si quiere conocer los Andes, vaya al Ecuador
Si quiere conocer la selva amazonica, vaya al Brazil
Si quiere conocer las culutras precolombinas, vaya a Mexico o a Peru
Pero si quiere ver todas eas cosas reunidas...vaya a Colombia papa!"
“If you want to know the Caribbean, go to Cuba or the Dominican Republic
If you want to know the Pacific Ocean, go to Chile
If you want to know the Andean Mountains, go to Ecuador
If you want to know the Amazon Jungle, go to Brazil
If you want to know pre-columbian cultures, go to Mexico or Peru
But if you want to know all of those in just one place, go to Colombia!”
As tourism is surely not the only motive driving someone to go and spend a year in a specific foreign country, this may only reflect one side of the story. So, why Colombia? Here is a recurrent question. Some ask this simply, others go on: "we often see people leaving the country for Europe, the US or other parts of the world, so it is always suprising to see foreigners come here and stay." But what about this good old "American dream"? Although the idea is often wrongly tied to the United States, South America has become to many as attractive as its northern neighbor, if not more.
Needless to say that the very word "Latino" does not do justice to the extreme variety caracterizing the continent. Yet, foreigners are probably all driven by a common idea: there is here, from the desert of Northern Mexico to Patagonia, a particular taste to life...
That being said, the original question remains: why Colombia? Because in many ways, its geographical, historical, cultural and political features make it a perfect compromise between the best, and unfortunately the worst, South America has to offer. Here is the rational answer. Now, there is something else, something that does not need justifications. Peculiar attraction or as the national saying goes: "passion", perhaps?