6 July 2010

There are some things in the neighborhood that are kept quiet and not shared very openly.  Everyone knows that Cazucá is a destination for the displaced, that it is poverty ridden, not particularly safe and that there is a paramilitary and guerilla presence.  However, while you see poverty and soldiers, as an outsider you do not directly feel the presence of the armed groups.  After being in Cazucá for a little over a month, stories started to arise in casual conversation.  One coworker came back from her vacation early because the guerrilla had threatened her.  The word Para was coming up more in conversation.  And, one of the staff had told me about falsos positivos, a phenomenon which occurs at very high rates in Altos de Cazucá where, prompted by government reward, young innocent men are killed and framed as guerrilla soldiers.  The most interesting part about conversation revolving around these topics is that while generally not mentioned, when they are, they are mentioned in such a way that makes the whole situation seem very common place.  For instance, we were at the upper school the other day talking to the foreman of the construction project aimed at adding a second floor to the school rooms.  It turned out that he was one of the founders of the neighborhood, meaning that he had moved in with others when no one else was living there and as he mentioned, when there were no services to speak of.  He continued to tell about the neighborhood, basing most of the story on the building and remodeling of the school, all of which he participated in.  As he continued, my boss interrupted, telling him that we should make a video and he could show pictures and tell the story of the neighborhood and the school.  He answered that he was totally up for it.  Then added, it would be even easier if the rest of the men that founded Cazucá with him were there, but they had all be murdered.  Smile.  Laugh.  CRAZY.  Just the way things are.  As you’ve been there a bit more, you can also see how life has adapted to the danger in the neighborhood. I am never allowed to walk in the neighborhood by myself, nor are the Colombians that are not from Cazucá.  While Cazucanos can, and do, walk alone, they generally get someone to accompany them.  The interesting thing is that it has become almost a social/cultural thing to accompany people around the neighborhood.  Generally if we are walking up the hill and see someone we know, they just turn right around and walk us wherever we are going.  You have a pleasant conversation; it does not touch on the fact that this is done at all for safety reasons.  This can last anywhere from a 2 minute walk up the hill, to an hour or so.  On several occasions, if we are visiting houses, people will walk with us for a while until we come upon someone else.  Nothing is really said, but the first kisses us goodbye and the second starts tagging along.  I find it to be an incredible social system.  It really is a way for people to talk, share things about their day, socialize, and also assure that everyone is safely getting to their destination.

While making a few house visits one morning in the rain, my coworker started talking about the situation in the neighborhood and I took the opportunity to ask more questions than I had been able to before.  She explained that both the paramilitaries and the guerrilla were in the neighborhood and much of the violence was generally conducted between the two, with civilian casualties as a result.  In addition, the population deals with the pandillas (gangs) that are organized up North, and who take a cut of the members’ earnings in Cazucá.  Apart from the violence and robberies perpetrated by the gangs, the population also has to deal with the paramilitaries killing and attempting to kill gang members, who they see as a social problem.  Along those same lines, the paramilitaries from time to time enact limpieza social, which in essence means that they are  cleaning up the “unwanted” population; drug addicts, drug dealers, homosexuals, homeless, prostitutes, street kids, etc.  The good news is that the violence has become less in the last few years, the worst years being from 1998-2000 (this was added into the conversation unsolicited by me, meaning that those years were likely far worse than those that were to follow and that 2001 brought great changes to the neighborhood).  The bad news is that according to my coworker, the neighborhood is once again becoming more violent and the limpieza social is becoming more frequent.

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