Over dinner a few evenings ago, I was asked by a predominantly European crowd whether I had ever experienced any problems in Mompós from Colombia’s nefarious paramilitary groups that allegedly control the region. Rather than addressing this topic as something for a dinner conversation I largely evaded the question and deferred it to my wife suggesting that “the family” has me protected.
Quite frankly this is not something I am going to discuss here and open the issue for debate to internet trolls for fear of both virtual and possibly physical reprisals. But, rest assured, I am grappling with the tenets of the realities of Colombia as I pen my thoughts in my latest and long-running undertaking of “The Mompos Project”.
How far can I push the envelope and put myself, my family and my business at risk by revealing all? Would my narratives work if I were to “fictionalize” names and places? Would the people involved even read my book were it to be published? I am getting ahead of myself as I still have an incredibly long road ahead of me before I can even consider submitting my manuscript to editorial houses for consideration or whether I decide to self-publish. But, this aspect of the “security situation” in Colombia must be addressed.
This past weekend I read possibly the most complete and fascinating article regarding the political situation in Colombia written by James Robinson entitled: “Colombia: Another 100 Years of Solitude?” Despite being published in February 2013, this was only recently brought to my attention, but I found it to be groundbreaking and refreshing. Of course, Mr. Robinson is a household name to those of you familiar with his widely respected and distributed: “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.”
Mr. Robinson has been visiting Colombia for many years and is a guest lecturer at the University of Los Andes dictating a summer course in Political Science each year and so there is no debating his credentials. Personally, I was relieved to see such an open article about Colombia as the one he published. He minced no words when he discussed the way the country is governed as being the principal problem in Colombia.
“Fundamentally, all the ills that Colombia has experienced stem from the way it has been governed. The best way to conceive of this is as a form of indirect rule, common during the period of European colonial empires, in which the national political elites residing in urban areas, particularly Bogotá, have effectively delegated the running of the countryside and other peripheral areas to local elites. The provincial elites are given freedom to run things as they like, and even represent themselves in the legislature, in exchange for political support and not challenging the center.”
I’ll not paraphrase the document, but, the above is indicative of what the whole article is about and no one is left untouched from President Santos to La Gata. Why have I quoted this article and decided to write this blog? Well, for one it is decidedly empowering that something of this strength should be written and published and indeed alluded to in a recent interview with the author in the magazine Semana.
And, secondly, La Gata is the personaje – as they say here in Colombia – theoretically in control of Magangue (the nearest major town to Mompós), San Sebastian and presumably Mompós as well. This is the same La Gata who is presently being held in Bogota as she gives the judicial system the runaround as she claims that health reasons should keep her from being imprisoned. The same La Gata who was allegedly a mistress to Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha or “El Mexicano”.
Given Mr. Robinson’s profile he is undeniably protected. I can only imagine the fury and furrowed brows when his piece hit the shelves. There’s no debate here, the article is damaging and points the finger firmly at the ruling elite. So, herein lays the issue. How do I write truths or fictionalized truths and protect my loved ones? Were I an editor in a publishing house I would be pushing for a truthful account in order to shift copies with headline ringing testimonies. But, I’m not; I have responsibilities and need to question every phrase that I type out. I have no plans to leave Colombia and wish to keep on pushing the limits of tourism and journalism here. But, how far can I thrust this forward before the elasticity and permissiveness of those in power hardens to my cause?
The wise lady with whom I consulted a couple of weeks ago informed me that I would be facing some serious decisions soon. So far her predictions have dictated play completely.
Mompos, Colombia, a town that has offered me so much but which continues to produce all sorts of ethical problems for my writing career.
Thanks for the interesting read, I will go my first time to Columbia in 2 weeks, so it is interesting to read more about the county.
Janine, this is a fascinating country and deserves to be visited.
Sadly, reluctantly, I'd advocate the position that it's not worth it. Fictionalization is the way to go. As example, I reckon what Louis de Bernieres wrote about Colombia is more true than reality, so there's that.
Thanks Chris, I am being very careful now!