HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Violence Without End?
Pubdate: Thu, 27 Apr 2000
Source: New York Review of Books, The (NY)
Copyright: 2000 The New York Review of Books, Inc.
Contact:  1755 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10019-3780
Fax: (212) 333-5374
Author: Alma Guillermoprieto
Note: This is the second of three articles.



The war in Colombia between the army and an irregular paramilitary force, 
on one side, and various armed left-wing organizations on the other has 
claimed thousands of lives, and sown terror in the countryside for decades. 
During the last couple of years, however, the guerrillas have sought to 
have a greater impact by interrupting daily life in the cities.

In Bogota, for example, a few days before the end of December, a group of 
Colombian friends considered their holiday options--a trip to the 
countryside or a long drive to the coast for a few days of sunshine--and 
decided that the choice would depend on the road conditions. The country's 
largest guerrilla organization, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de 
Colombia, or FARC, had declared a holiday truce as a gesture of commitment 
to the peace talks that have been fitfully underway since President Andres 
Pastrana took office a year and a half ago. This meant, one friend said, 
that there would be no combat activity, and so the beach might not be a bad 
idea. But other members of the group were doubtful: the guerrillas had said 
that there would be no combat, but had they said anything about kidnappings?

Kidnappings are the worst danger for civilians who are traveling overland. 
At roadblocks set up by the guerrillas, which can last for hours, or even 
days, civilians will be allowed through only if a quick search through a 
computer database shows that their bank accounts are too small to qualify 
them as "kidnappable." Combined with the large number of targeted 
abductions, these "fishing expeditions," as they are known, have made 
Colombia the kidnap capital of the world: last year 2,945 abductions were 
reported to the police--eight a day. The guerrillas were responsible for 
most of them, all of which gave the friends' discussion a certain urgency. 
If the guerrillas had not included kidnappings in the cease-fire, a long 
trip was out of the question.

There had been no recent reports of guerrilla roadblocks, and the idea of a 
trip seemed plausible, until one member of the vacationing party remembered 
something. The rival guerrilla group to the FARC, the ELN, whose initials 
stand for Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, derives its income almost 
exclusively from kidnappings and extortion.

It is still holding fourteen passengers who were on a commercial plane that 
was carrying forty-six people when the guerrillas hijacked it a year ago. 
Founded in 1965, and led by the Spanish priest Manuel Perez until his death 
two years ago, the ELN is considered the most intransigent of the various 
armed left-wing associations that have prospered in Colombia during the 
last forty years. And indeed, the group of friends quickly realized, the 
ELN had not declared a truce for the holidays.

All plans to spend the New Year somewhere other than Bogota were 
immediately canceled.

Roadblocks and kidnappings that affect even the salaried middle class are 
only one aspect of the new fear in the cities.

The ELN conducts campaigns--against the proposed privatization of the 
energy sector, against the export of the nation's oil wealth, against human 
rights violations--by blowing up oil pipelines and electric pylons.

They have knocked down 270 pylons in less than a year: brownouts and power 
cuts have become routine in heavily populated and industrial areas like 
Medellin and its environs, and darkness threatens constantly in the capital.

War refugees living in miserable conditions on the outskirts of the city 
probably number in the tens of thousands.

For its part, the FARC is building up its clandestine structure in the 
capital; the milicias Bolivarianas--poor and angry youths in the 
shantytowns who have been recruited into the guerrillas' support 
network--are known to be growing.

The war's new setting is probably the most significant reason why the 
government of Andres Pastrana sought peace talks with the guerrillas even 
before his inauguration, in August of 1998, and why those talks are now 
going on. Previous administrations attempted negotiations with the FARC, 
but those efforts always collapsed even as the war grew. The current effort 
is different from previous attempts because, as proof of the seriousness of 
its intentions, the government started off by making a great many 
concessions to the guerrillas. For the first time, and at the FARC's 
insistence, the meetings between the government and the insurgency are 
taking place inside Colombia, in a part of the country where the guerrillas 
have been active for many years, and from which all troops and police have 
been withdrawn.

And for the first time, the two sides have agreed on a schedule and an 
agenda for their negotiations.

The talks could collapse again if the guerrillas decide that the foreign 
aid bill for Colombia now before the US Congress is a mandate for more war. 
The package proposed by the Clinton administration comes to $1.5 billion, 
about four fifths of which is earmarked for military assistance. On paper, 
the aid is supposed to be designed to help the army help the police fight 
drugs more effectively, but no one I talked to in Colombia this winter 
seemed inclined to believe that. Most of the money will be spent on 
training and equipment for a battalion in the Amazon region of Colombia, 
which will secure coca fields so the police can come in and destroy the 
coca. The region is the stronghold of the FARC guerrillas, and although the 
promoters of the aid bill in the United States say that this fact is 
entirely incidental, it is evidently the critical element in the plan.

The peace talks could still be sabotaged as previous ones have been, by the 
participants themselves, or by their enemies, who are legion.

But a new factor is that, after years of pretending that the war was 
happening in some other Colombia, many of its citizens among the middle 
class and the well-to-do, including university students and office 
workers--people like the frustrated vacationers at NewYear's--have decided 
to make their voices heard.

In June of 1998 voters elected Andres Pastrana, the candidate of the weak 
Conservative Party, which had not won an election since the maverick 
Belisario Betancur was elected president in 1982. Pastrana, who served a 
modestly successful term as mayor of Bogota in 1988-1990, ran for president 
in 1994 and nearly won. Four years later his leading opponent was the 
experienced candidate of the Liberal Party, Horacio Serpa. Serpa, the 
leader of the social-democratic wing of his party, has a large and faithful 
national following, although his campaign was handicapped by his long, 
close association with former president Ernesto Samper, whose 
administration (1994- 1998) was nearly brought down by drug-related 
corruption charges.

If elected, both candidates promised, they would do whatever was necessary 
to bring the FARC to the negotiating table.

In May, Serpa won the most votes, but not a clear majority, and a second 
electoral round was scheduled for June. A few days before the sec-ond vote 
a photograph was displayed across the top of the front pages of all the 
major Colombian dailies; it showed the peace adviser for Andres Pastrana 
somewhere in the wilderness, deep in conversation with Manuel 
Marulanda--nicknamed "Sureshot"--the perennial and aging leader of the FARC 
guerrillas. Sureshot was wearing a Pastrana campaign watch.

As Marulanda must have known when he allowed the photo-op, the meeting 
established Pastrana as the peace candidate.

Five days later, on June 21, 1998, Pastrana was elected by a comfortable 

Pastrana has kept to his campaign promises, but progress in carrying them 
out has been erratic.

As a candidate, Pastrana had announced that he would withdraw the army from 
a territory in which the FARC guerrillas would have free rein, so that 
peace talks could get underway.

The joy that greeted the announcement of the talks was tempered in some 
circles by the realization that the demilitarized zone was in the heart of 
the coca-growing region of the Amazon jungle--where the FARC has been 
strong for years--and that this zone was rather large; 42,000 square 
kilometers, in fact, or about twice the size of El Salvador.

After Pastrana took power, months of tense pre-negotiations with both the 
guerrillas and the army went by, as the fine points of just how much 
authority the state would cede were ironed out. At the same time, with 
Pastrana's encouragement, the United States got involved: the chief 
spokesman of the FARC, who goes by the pseudonym of Raul Reyes, met 
secretly in Costa Rica with State Department officials.

At last, on January 7, 1999, the "peace table" was installed with an oddly 
festive ceremony that featured jugglers, dancers, politicians of all 
stripes, and a host of famous entertainers--including a salsa group, Ivan 
and his Bam Bam, and a curvaceous pop star who showed up in skintight 
leather gear, with her mother by her side--but not Marulanda, who left 
Pastrana to inaugurate the event sitting next to the guerrilla's empty 
chair. (Later, Marulanda said that he had learned of a plot to assassinate 
him at the inauguration.) Formal talks began two days later, but the FARC 
suspended them again almost immediately, on January 20, charging that the 
government had stood by while right-wing paramilitaries escalated their 
actions; they had killed nearly one hundred civilians in the first three 
weeks of the year.(1)

At least, people said, the conservative Pastrana has been able to keep the 
recalcitrant army in line while the peace process stumbled along.

But in May 1999, after Pastrana agreed to renew the demilitarization of the 
peace zone indefinitely so that talks could begin again, his defense 
minister resigned in protest, and seventeen army generals and two hundred 
colonels threatened to follow him.

On the other hand, the generals are still in place, the talks, though they 
have been suspended much more often than they have been in session, have 
never actually been broken off, and last January, after a full year of 
false starts, the two sides actually held working sessions.

It may be the first time that either party is feeling pressure from the 
civilian population. Colombians are notoriously anarchic--it is one of 
their great charms--but as the war has come to threaten so many aspects of 
normal life--going on vacation, turning on the lights, taking the kids to 
school--they have bestirred themselves. A grass-roots peace movement, 
probably the largest civic movement the country has seen, is taking an 
active part in the war and the attempts to end it. In addition to electing 
the president they thought could best guarantee an end to the war two years 
ago, voters cast another ballot--a bright green card--on election day, to 
signify that they wanted peace. (Pastrana was elected with 6.1 million 
votes; Serpa got 5.6 million.

The peace ballot got ten million votes.)

In February of last year, a national march against kidnappings and 
disappearances was so successful that the organizers thought they would 
never be able to repeat it, but last October a march for peace brought 
millions of Colombians out on the streets--five million, according to the 
most cautious estimates, out of a population of 48 million.

The marchers, dressed in white, didn't take to the streets only in the 
cities: six hundred towns, small and large, also had demonstrations. (I was 
in New York City at the time, but I found out about the march when I ran 
into some Colombian friends who had little Colombian flags stenciled on 
their cheeks--they had been marching for peace down Fifth Avenue.) The 
demands of the marchers were addressed equally to the guerrillas, the 
right-wing paramilitary forces, and the government: uninterrupted peace 
talks, cease-fire now, and respect for civilians.

On the morning of December 31, 1999, I sat in a penthouse office in the 
heart of Bogota with Camilo Gonzalez, a pleasantly rumpled man who looks 
not unlike the Juan Valdez character of Colombian coffee ads. Gonzalez, who 
is a man of many talents, was sitting in as a technical adviser for the 
Colombian communications ministry's Y2K watch.

Before that, he was minister of health, as a representative for the left in 
the administration of Cesar Gaviria. These days, as coordinator of a 
movement called Citizens' Mandate for Peace, he is deeply involved with the 
marches and demonstrations against the war. When we talked, his mood seemed 
cheerful but cautious.

He had unloaded the array of cell phones he carries about his person and 
spread them out on the table, and as we talked he moved them around as if 
they were pieces on a chessboard.

I asked Gonzalez how he saw the chances for peace, given that both the 
government and the insurgents seem deeply ambivalent, if not divided, about 
whether they want to make any concessions to the other side. One problem, 
he answered, is that although the military option is "strategically 
defeated" after years of confrontation, each of the warring parties 
believes that it can still make significant tactical advances. "They are 
suffering from a militarist illusion," he said, "in which the army believes 
that, given enough support, it can defeat the guerrillas, the FARC believes 
that it can continue its territorial expansion, and the paramilitaries 
believe that they can wrest control of the oil fields from the ELN 
guerrillas." (The ELN originally financed its actions with money from the 
oil companies that operate in the fields on the border with Venezuela: 
their leverage was the pipeline that they still periodically blow up.)

As the vote on aid in the US Congress draws near, "everybody wants to show 
off their military capabilities," Gonzalez said. "And so what is 
immediately ahead is an escalation of armed confrontation and at the same 
time an escalation of talks."

The big problem the peace movement faces now, Gonzalez said as he played 
with the phones, is how to continue to engage the citizenry.

After the euphoria of a huge demonstration, frustration can set in when it 
doesn't lead to immediate results.

Still, he believed that the marches had already had an impact.

The right-wing paramilitaries who are fighting the guerrillas had said that 
they would no longer recruit anyone under eighteen into their ranks; the 
ELN had hailed the peace movement's "authentic expression of popular 
sovereignty"; and even the FARC, in ignoring the movement so resolutely, 
had given an indication of how large a thorn in its side it is. (Soon, the 
peace movement would announce a letter-writing campaign, in which people 
are encouraged to write to the FARC leaders.)

As we chatted, the millennium festivities were already being prepared along 
Bogota's main avenue, the Carrera Septima, just outside.

On Sundays and holidays the Septima is usually turned into a bicycle path, 
which gets almost as crowded with bikers and skaters as it does with cars 
during rush hour. But today there would be a parade instead, of the 
peculiar, inventive, and informal kind Colombians love--more of a carnival, 
really. The weather for it was perfect; mild and sunny in this city of 
biblical downpours. Some people had expressed fear that the evening would 
turn into a drunken mess, but the street scene so far was mellow: all the 
city barrios were preparing floats and costumes with a millennial theme, 
and although it was early, dancers and musicians--jazz quintets, rock 
groups, salsa bands--were already putting on their makeup and warming up.

The most significant thing about the peace movement, Gonzalez concluded, 
was that, even if it failed, it had given people a different way to see 
themselves. "After the marches we can say to ourselves that we're a 
peace-loving country, as opposed to our usual, self-flagellating, 'we're a 
nation of violent, cheating crooks,'" he said. Perhaps he was reading too 
much into a movement that had barely started and could fizzle out any 
minute. But on this promising day who could blame him?

Something of the same millennial spirit must have been present when the 
FARC negotiating team and Pastrana's peace commissioner, Victor G. Ricardo, 
set off together in February for a leisurely tour of Europe. Ricardo, a 
pleasant-faced man of average build and average height, gives the 
impression of being both very intense and intensely unassuming. He is one 
of the President's inner circle, and it was he who appeared in the famous 
photo in the wilderness with the guerrilla leader Marulanda.

When we talked this January in the small, crowded, corner office he 
occupies in Bogota's lovely presidential house, Ricardo went on at length 
about the need for a spiritual transformation in Colombian society, which 
might have seemed like a ploy to avoid giving information, except that when 
one leafs through the three-volume official record of the peace process it 
turns out that this is also what he says to the guerrillas. The peace 
effort at this point is all about building trust, Ricardo told me, and this 
effort was about to bear fruit, as talks finally seemed to start again in a 
promising way. The second stage would involve convincing the countries that 
consume cocaine to invest in Colombia so that the legal economy could grow. 
"It's a question of saying to the world, 'Look, Mister World, we have a 
cocaine problem,'" he said. "'But it is also true that you provide the 
market for it. Why don't you help us to solve something that is a problem 
for everyone?'" He denied that the talks were failing to produce results. 
"Very soon, sooner than you can imagine, you will see some very real 
results of the effort to build trust we have been working on," he told me.

And indeed, in the first week of February, Ricardo and all six members of 
the FARC's representatives at the peace talks boarded an Iberia flight (the 
commissioner had spent a frantic morning shopping for suits and ties for 
all of them) and flew to Madrid. Members of the Spanish, Norwegian, Danish, 
Swiss, and Italian governments had promised to receive the curious 
delegation, and for a month the FARC negotiators--who may or may not have 
traveled outside their native country before, and who have spent all their 
adult lives in the cocoon of isolation and paranoia that clandestinity 
generates--were shown versions of socialism, capitalism, and monarchy 
considerably different from the ones they learned about in their Marxist 
textbooks. They chatted with politicians, visited factories, talked to the 
workers, and had dinner with the CEOs. It was an extraordinary idea to have 
come up with and an almost impossible one to put into practice, and Ricardo 
emerged from the trip with an enhanced reputation.


No one expected the guerrillas' military activity to actually decline as a 
result of their European tour--it is taken for granted by observers and 
participants in the peace process that all sides will try to reinforce in 
the field their positions at the negotiating table. But no one expected 
them to try to assassinate Francisco Santos, either. In this long war it is 
hard to judge whose ineptitude is greater. Last year someone--presumably on 
the right--ordered the death of Jaime Garzon, a fiercely funny and 
politically sophisticated man whose television "newscast," featuring 
uncanny impersonations of guerrillas, generals, politicians, and other 
characters, was a Sunday household ritual. Crowds lined the streets of 
Bogota for his funeral. This year, credible evidence indicates that the 
FARC, which despises the peace movement, took out a contract on Francisco 
Santos, who started the free-form citizens' movement for peace of which 
Camilio Gonzalez is also part.

In addition to being a scion of the family that owns the daily El Tiempo 
- --by far the largest newspaper in the country--Santos, thirty-eight, is 
also the paper's managing editor for news. But he devotes much of his time 
to the peace movement. In many ways, the movement grew out of the Fundacion 
Pais Libre, the organization he founded that monitors kidnappings and helps 
victims and their relatives. Santos got the idea for Pais Libre in 1991, 
after he was kidnapped and held hostage for eight months by the drug 
trafficker Pablo Escobar.(2)

Last January, Francisco Santos was alerted by his various intelligence 
sources in Colombia that a plot to kill him was underway, financed by the 
FARC. He realized that he was being tailed constantly. His sources 
confirmed that the plot involved both the FARC commander of the area around 
Bogota and a band of killers-for-hire which operates under orders from a 
network of criminals who are currently in jail. Early in March, Santos 
showed up at a restaurant half an hour after agreeing over the phone to 
meet a friend there. The owner of the restaurant, an acquaintance, said 
that suspicious-looking men had just come in asking for him. Convinced that 
the plot against him would continue, Santos decided to remove himself from 
the country.

Although Raul Reyes, the FARC spokesman, immediately and energetically 
denied that his organization had anything to do with the murder plot, 
intelligence services insist that the guerrillas were responsible. This in 
itself might not mean much--one could even credit the spooks with pulling 
off a neat propaganda coup--but the declarations of Manuel Marulanda, 
"Sureshot," on one of the extremely rare occasions when he made himself 
available to reporters, still ring in the ears. He was asked last January 
whether it was true that he was unfriendly to the press. "It's not that," 
he answered. "The jefes of the press have a lot of debts, and we have to 
call them in. They distort everything, they are not correct in their 
dealings with they have these little debts." What this all says 
about the guerrillas' real interest in, or understanding of, what is at 
stake in the peace negotiations is hard to say: they could be trying to 
sabotage them without appearing involved. On the other hand, they have been 
isolated for so long that they may not be able to measure the negative 
effects of their actions.

When I talked to Santos on the phone recently in his self-imposed exile, he 
was homesick and lonely. He is by nature chipper and hyperactive, but now 
that he is spending his days abroad, alone with the phone and the Internet, 
I had the impression that he felt as if he had been kidnapped again. He was 
perplexed about the state of affairs in his country. The peace movement has 
grown out of the conviction that Colombia's wars cannot be won with more 
wars, Santos said, but increasingly, since the FARC appears unresponsive to 
the general desire for peace, people like him feel that they have been put 
"between the sword and the wall." He feels that Pastrana requested the new 
American aid in order to brandish it as a threat against the FARC, but that 
the plan for spending the money is shaky. For example, he said, "if the aid 
gets approved, and Pastrana does not have a very concrete plan for dealing 
with all the civilians who will be affected [in the coca-growing area where 
the aid is supposed to be used, and where the FARC is strong], it will be a 
disaster," because the campesinos who grow coca are by and large supporters 
of the guerrillas, and there are a couple of hundred thousand of them, and 
in the past they have proved that they can be mobilized very effectively.

At this stage, Santos thinks, it will be devastating to Colombia if the US 
aid package is not approved by Congress, because the Pastrana 
administration is so invested in the effort. But he would like to see most 
of the money used for social programs rather than military equipment, as 
the Massachusetts Democratic congressman William Delahunt has recently 
suggested. Whether that idea prospers or not, he concluded, is now up to 
the FARC.

Marulanda's comments on "little debts" and Santos's assassination plot do 
not sound as if the FARC were attempting to improve its handling of its 
image, but it is. Only a few days before announcing that the FARC intended 
to call in the "debts" of the press, Marulanda had allowed reporters to 
approach him and lob a few soft questions. The occasion was the 
inauguration of the headquarters for the talks in the demilitarized zone 
declared by Pastrana, but it also happened to be the day that Madeleine 
Albright was meeting with the President in the Caribbean resort city of 
Cartagena. The press interpreted Marulanda's apparition as a gesture of 
support for the peace process, but it was more likely designed to distract 
attention from the US envoy.

For her part, Albright had a busy schedule in Cartagena, dancing with 
schoolchildren and dining with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This was her first 
trip to Colombia, and what she saw of it--one of the most beautiful 
fortress cities in the world, quaint streets, deluxe hotels--could easily 
have led her to conclude that the only thing wrong with Colombia is that it 
has a drug problem and a guerrilla problem, and that what one does with 
problems is fix them. But what Colombia has is an environment of violence, 
in which, as the journalist German Castro Caycedo, who has interviewed many 
of its practitioners, pointed out to me,

"Manuel Marulanda joined the Liberal guerrillas [as a youth, in the early 
days of the violencia] because his family was getting killed; the founder 
of the ELN, Fabio Vazquez Castano, started that guerrilla group because his 
father was killed. And Carlos Castano [no relation; the leader of the 
bloody antiguerrilla autodefensas, or paramilitaries] got into violence 
because his father was kidnaped and killed by the FARC!"

None of these crimes was ever brought to court, and the list of children 
with murdered parents could go on forever, because, in Colombia, justice 
works poorly when it works at all. (A small portion of the aid package is 
allocated to improvements in the legal system.)

Colombia has what is often advertised as the oldest democracy in Latin 
America. Technically speaking, this is true, but the details have to be 
taken into account. Citizens were not allowed to elect their own mayors 
until barely twelve years ago. Popular elections for governors of the 
thirty-two departamentos took place beginning in 1992. Affiliation with 
either the Conservative or the Liberal Party was long a requirement for 
becoming a civil servant. The country was under a state of siege, or of 
emergency, for most of the last fifty years. The sons, grandsons, or 
nephews of presidents lay claim to the presidency with predictable 
regularity, as Andres Pastrana did. Almost without exception the principal 
newspapers, television stations, and magazines are owned by the leading 
political or business families, and until very recently the dominant tone 
in the most important newspapers and television stations was unfair, 
intolerant, and full of poisonous class prejudice.


The brutal twenty-year-long episode known as la violencia was a civil war 
without battles; one in which peasants armed with peasant 
weapons--machetes, knives--carried out a long series of massacres against 
other peasants. It lasted from 1945 to 1964. In 1957, the liberal and 
conservative hierarchs who presided over the killings signed an accord 
which set the stage for much of what has followed: the two sides agreed 
that there would be presidential elections but that for the next sixteen 
years the two parties would alternate power.

That agreement was threatened in 1970, when the populist caudillo, General 
Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, ran an upstart candidacy against the Conservative 
Party nominee, Misael Pastrana, father of the current president. Although 
Pastrana claimed victory, many historians believe that a majority of the 
vote may well have gone to Rojas Pinilla. No independent body was ever 
allowed to count the ballots. Unfraudulent presidential elections have been 
the norm since 1974, but by that year there were as many as a dozen armed 
organizations roaming the country--including the M-19 guerrilla movement, 
which took its name from the 19th of April, the date on which Rojas Pinilla 
was defeated--and the current survivors, the FARC and the ELN.

Assuming that escalating the war is the most expedient way of bringing it 
to an end, the question that comes to mind is just which of the many sides 
in warring Colombia the Clinton administration expects to benefit most from 
a billion-odd dollars' worth of weapons. The mere threat of that aid may 
already have proven useful enough. As the economist and historian Salomon 
Kalmanowitz--now on the board of the Colombian Central Bank--pointed out to 
me, "it has made the FARC more willing to internationalize the conflict and 
make it a political one, to bring in the European countries as participants 
and supervisors of the agreement--that is why the negotiators went on the 
European tour--and to allow the Red Cross and other non-governmental 
organizations a greater role, in order to neutralize the US presence."

The threat of US aid, however, is not the same as the reality of the 
relatively small, and not beloved, Colombian military suddenly empowered 
with a billion-plus dollars. For it is they who will be the real 
beneficiaries of the aid package--President Pastrana, who requested the 
aid, will be gone from power in just two years. The gift of howitzers and 
heat sensors, helicopters and planes, assumes that the military 
establishment is capable of reforming itself from within, purging itself of 
the officers and soldiers who collaborate with the paramilitaries or with 
the drug traffickers, and elevating its combat spirit enough at last to 
take on the guerrillas and win. And it assumes that all of this can be 
accomplished in the coming two-year period when the military forces would 
be flooded with aid money. If these calculations are wrong, the 
consequences will make the present situation much worse.

In Colombia peace has always been achieved by use of force, leading to 
exclusions that lead to more violence. A great many Colombians who want an 
end to the war think that the military assistance package might help bring 
that end about; but on the basis of their past experience they seem to have 
no appetite for what the immediate consequences of an escalated war are 
likely to be. Indeed, as the peace ballot and the peace marches would 
indicate, what people want is not war at all, but a national reconciliation.

As midnight approached on December 31, 1999, "peace" was one of the 
frequent New Year's wishes of the group of friends who had failed to leave 
Bogota on vacation. The city had turned out to be not such a bad 
alternative, after all. It was midnight, the Septima was pleasantly crowded 
with families and groups of friends, and no one at all seemed to be drunk. 
The parade had been a success: the jugglers juggled and the dancers danced 
and the musicians played, but the great hit had been a transvestite on 
stilts who had two giant balloons with painted nipples strapped across his 
chest, and outsize balloon genitalia tied on further down--all of which he 
stopped to wiggle merrily at the spectators whenever they cheered and 
called out to him, interrupting his stork-like progress down the avenue.

Now it was midnight, and in the crowd smiling men and women turned to 
perfect strangers and hugged them, wishing them peace and a happy new year. 
Fireworks bloomed in the sky to appreciative gasps. For now Bogota felt 
safe; the holiday truce announced by the FARC would end in a few days.


1 For its part, the State Department suspended its meetings with the FARC 
after it assassinated three Indian rights activists from the United States 
in February 1999.

2 Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book-length account, News of a Kidnapping 
(Knopf, 1997), is partly about Francisco Santos.

- --This is the second of three articles.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D