You can feel it, the inescapable sense that intensely painful moments have occurred here in Bogotá’s Bronx. It’s a perception which clings to you upon entry of the old “L,” and stays with you until long afterwards. These ruminations do scant justice to the horrors and suffering which took place here and what this man-made hell on bricks represented, but, now, we all have the opportunity to visit, and to glimpse an infinitesimal sliver of what life was like in Bogotá’s infamous Bronx.
“Here was my entry point,” says Gustavo as he throws his distant stare over a now demolished building.
Shattered bricks and gaudy bathroom tiles cling to where floorboards and landings meet the wall. Behind this structure, the Colombian Army’s Recruitment Centre had its Bogotá headquarters, right now they are in the process of relocating to the north of the city. There was a strange, if not probably, a beneficial synergy between the Bronx and the battalion and the Dijin and Police Station just a couple of blocks away.
Gustavo makes his opinions clear. “This was a State-run enterprise; the police came in wearing civvies and were the ones receiving the payoffs.”
Currently, the parade ground next door is the heart of the new campaign with concerts and big screen tv football games broadcasted to ensure that all is forgotten about the area’s recent past. Bringing hipsters to the Centro for a few hours seems to be this administration’s solution thus far. I wonder what the locals think?
What is imagined as a “Bronx Distrito Creativo,” is well underway and beyond this, plans are afoot – in a major hat tip to an Economia Naranja – to try and convert the old morgue, where, decades ago, medical students from the Universidad Nacional would practice their surgical skills, into vault-styled bars and chic tienditas. The rest of the building will be given over to “creative” industries and a SENA headquarters.
“Over here is where the guns were kept, this was the Millonarios’ turf and that was where the Homeros ran things,” says Gustavo. “This area,” he points to the ground, “was painted with pictures from nursery rhymes. And that building was called the Quinta Pisos, and was the oldest drugs establishment where you could get anything you wanted.”
We wander on and what strikes me is that there’s a great deal to observe while there’s almost nothing to see. Underfoot feels uneven and a light drizzle starts and stops all too frequently, adding to the feeling of unease. I remain unsure whether this should be place to visit, but can understand the reasons why it has been opened up like this.
They tell you that the shop on the left-hand side as you enter has been left exactly as it was while the “L” was still the Bronx. A large flag of Colombia divides the bar at the front with a child’s room at the back. There’s a bed and a child’s pram, the filth is impenetrable.
But, the most interesting object in my mind was arguably the most banal, a notebook on the bar. Scribbles on the page detailed each patron’s tab and what had been ordered out, beers, marijuana, perico and pepas, all written down as if it was as simple and as ordinary as a shopping list.
Finally, Gustavo sighs: “I am glad to have come here, I spent five years here, lost my family, lost everything. Christ has shown me the way, and what I feel is a great sense of relief that this place no longer exists.” He picks up his briefcase and bids us farewell.
There’s something awry though. I know what it is, because I have been here before. It’s the smell, that pungent fetidness of stale and spilled alcohol, body odour, cigarette smoke, the oily smell of marijuana, faeces, blood and finally it’s misery and squalor. In this space, this has come to an end, and this is to be applauded. What about those others who just migrated from here to the Calle 6 and below?