Jokes from drug-smugglers explain everything.
A retired Colombian cocaine-smuggling submarine captain once told me a joke:
God was bent over his workbench, hard at work designing and shaping the Earth. Saint Peter peeked over his shoulder:
“Whatcha making there?”
“Oh you know, just another part of the world. Humans will one day call it ‘Colombia.’ “
“It’s incredible! Not one, but two oceans with breathtaking coastlines? Those incredible emerald hills? All of those mountain chains and snowy peaks? Thousands of rivers and rapids and swamps and mangroves? The Amazon rainforest? Enough productive farmland to feed millions? Don’t you think it’s unfair to spoil all of its inhabitants, while giving so little to so many other people of the world?”
“Nah, I’m not too worried about it.”
“Wait, what? Why?”
“Just wait til you see the assholes I’m gonna put in power to fuck everything up!”
This sums up so much of what I’ve seen here in the past 6 months. A country blessed by beauty and warmth, but ravaged during the last sixty years by a pandora’s box of the worst of third world problems: guerrilla movements, political violence, kidnapping, terrorism, bombings, assassination, drug trafficking, corruption, and deep poverty.
Today there’s a lull in much of the country, and it’s quite pleasant to be here, which is a relief considering the terror in Bogota neighborhoods like my own in the 80s. Yet huge swaths of the country are labeled red zones, with too many roving bands of AK47-wielding peasants to warrant a visit from the average tourist (just check out the Table of Contents of Lonely Planet Colombia, in which half the country is conspicuously absent).
But why? Is it the hijos de puta in power, as the Spanish version of the story put it? The corruption? The legacy of the Spanish? American imperialism? Left-wing violent assholes? Right-wing violent assholes? Left-wing and right-wing violent assholes who forgot about their ideology after they got a taste of the profits that sending drugs to the yankees up north brings? Violence begetting violence?
Hell if I know. The paragraph above gets about as close to the meat of the argument as I can muster right now. Throughout the decades, what is certain is that bunch of rich guys keep battling over who get the profits from a well-endowed country of poor peasants, and they bring as many bystanders into their violence as they can.
Things seem to be getting better for Colombians today. Here’s to an asshole-less future.
I just hung out with an assassin. Two actually.
I’ve been living in Colombia the past 5 months, filming, you guessed it, drugs. This is where I should add, in order not to be slapped by the Colombian friends over drinks tonight, that Colombia is so much more than just cocaine and criminals, that it is an endlessly gorgeous, diverse, and fascinating place that I have fallen in love with, and has been moving beyond Pablo Escobar and daily bombings for twenty years.
That said, a frightening underworld does exist here beneath the shadows, sometimes even in the headlines, and American TV loves to explore it. So a production company sent me out here to produce a new series for National Geographic. I’m not supposed to divulge the details of the show. So let’s just talk about assassins.
The female assassin: Curvy. Dolled up. Method of choice — dropping poison in your cocktail at the bar.
The male assassin: Normal-looking. Really fucking normal-looking. Bland even. A bit stylish. Method of choice — pulling up and putting a bullet in your head (see photo above).
The two of them are for hire. You pay the right price — which believe me, is not a lot — and they will ask no questions, concoct a little plan, and kill the guy. Rival gang members, businessmen, politicians, the guy who’s screwing your wife, it’s all fair game for the right pesos.
I had been arranging the meeting through some contacts for weeks, and it was finally happening. My crew and I were setting up lights for the interview, when the two silhouettes came through the door. Why, sir, your murderer friends have arrived.
The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, the guy wore my personal sunglasses during the interview to hide his eyes. I must have shook his hand and man-hugged him six times during a few days of filming.
I was nervous about everything I said, I even tried to put him at ease with warm eyes and a warm smile just so he’d have no reason to come after me and whack me during the rest of my stay in Colombia.
But even worse than my unease was what happened next — it all started to feel normal. I was asking him questions about his life, and he was answering very honestly. And the creepiness began to wear off, and he was another guy that I was sitting in a room with and chatting up for my job.
Except, yuck. Those two bastards represent everything I hate in the world — violence, viciousness, lack of empathy, humanity destroying humanity. Yet there I sat, quietly, burying my true thoughts, to get the job done and share this story.
Sure, such is journalism.
But it destroyed me inside.