Since the news show Septimo Dia aired their broadcast on August 31 entitled “Turismo sin límites: sexo, droga y peligro” my rebuttal of the episode has been incredibly popular in the blogosphere, but I am now able to follow-up that piece of personal indignation, with some facts that have been brought forward by two of the tourists filmed.
“We had the impression they were doing a documentary about the graffiti scene in Medellin and wanted foreigners take on it. We weren’t even planning on going to the neighborhood until the guys came and invited us to do the tour and doc with them.
“In addition to them being misleading, there were certain things that were complete fabrications – for example, when they stated that we paid 20,000 COP each for a tour of Comuna 13. We paid nothing – the producer came to the hostel and offered a free tour to see the work of a famed graffiti artist in Medellin, and that they just wanted to get the reactions of some tourists to his work.”
As a journalist, I am more than aware that our role as the Fourth Estate is to inform but this importance comes with great responsibility. Manuel Teodoro and María Lucía Fernández have, in the past, provided us with some ground-breaking pieces of investigative journalism but this high praise cannot be bestowed upon last week’s show. Having been contacted in the week by a hostel owner who had hosted Aaron Thomas and his girlfriend Christina Iturralde, and given the information that has now come to light, it seems that Septimo Dia might have to make a retraction or at least some clarifications.
“It was disappointing, to say the least, to see that they tried to make it into something it was not, and that they lied to us to get us to participate.”
It’s not only two of the tourists on the “graffiti tour” in Medellin who are put out. What of the owners of the nightclub in Medellin where some gringos were interviewed? They were drunk, they like women and there are no drugs to be seen anywhere. Surely this is false representation inasmuch as suggesting that Aaron Thomas and Christina Iturralde were on a “danger” tour is calumnious.
At no point am I saying that there is not a vile element amongst tourists to Colombia coming to seek out drugs and prostitutes. They do exist. But given that Septimo Dia presumably couldn’t entrap or find any actual sex and drugs tourists, they turned the camera on unsuspecting individuals.
Which brings us to the next point.
Hostels get an unjustifiably bad rap. Those hostels which are legitimate and which have their papers in order are those which have been pulling Colombian tourism from out of the sad doldrums where it had been for so long. These hostel owners were here when Colombia was bleeding; they have seen the bad days and are the ones responsible for attracting new wave after new wave of visitors to the country. Septimo Dia should offer an apology to the likes of Colombian Hostels and others. The “hostel” featured in last week’s show is not actually a hostel and neither is it legal. I suppose you could say that the Israeli-run Casa Iftah is a kind of speakeasy for people looking for that scene. The authorities have known about it for years. If they wanted or could shut it down, they would have done so a long time ago.
The question that Septimo Dia should most probably be asking instead of vilifying decent travellers is:
So, who stands to benefit while these tourists seeking drugs continue in their damaging practices in Bogota’s Candelaria and in other Colombian cities?
Instead, what they did is circulate a slander on the backpacking community. It might be worth just checking out this extract taken from Christina Iturralde’s blog about travelling in Colombia.
“We were quite fortunate to have been invited to help with the filming of a tv station’s documentary of the growing popularity of the newly started graffiti tours. Our guides for the grafitour were graffiti artist, El Perro (Daniel), an MC named El Chavo (Esteban) and a hip hop artist named Manuela. El Perro was born and raised in la Comuna 13. He gave us a short history of the neighborhood with a deeper understanding of the violence which has rocked the neighborhood from a personal point of view. While the filming held us up and made the tour a bit longer than anyone might have liked, this did not take anything away from the depth and enjoyment of the tour, the art, and watching as three passionate people are trying to transform their neighborhood through positive art for the people. I was blown away.”
Christina Iturralde is a Civil and Human Rights Advocate and had been, previous to travelling in Colombia, working at Asylum Access in Ecuador, which serves many Colombian refugees. Manuel Teodoro and María Lucía Fernández would do well to take a look at her blog, read the posts and see how much of the local community benefited economically from her visit to Colombia.
Once again, the first casualty in this ratings war has inevitably been the truth. And what’s more worrying that in Colombia’s continual situation of international isolationism, there are those who believe this nonsense. That’s the most dangerous effect of it all.