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Dangerously, we believe the story that as long as our cities are protected and beautiful, the conflict will not touch us.

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A justice official examines the area near a dead body in front of a bombed restaurant in southern Bogota, Colombia, Jan. 25, 2002. FARC claimed responsibility. Ricardo Mazalan

The Sophistry of War Distracting Colombia

by Manuel José Bermúdez Andrade

MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA, FEBRUARY 2, 2002. Most people think that we, gay men and lesbians, only use our heads to nod to music, and our senses only in the pursuit and enjoyment of sex.

But the truth is that, to work as journalists, teachers, interior decorators, nurses, doctors, hair stylists, blue-collar workers, fashion designers, office workers or any of the professions at which we make a living and contribute to the nation, and, at the same time, keep our sexuality in the closet or express it in ways that don't condemn us to social ostracism, we must have our five senses, and even a sixth one, in a state of maximum alert.

From my "simple" perception, then, I'm afraid that in Colombia's so-called peace dialogue, guerrillas, paramilitaries, the military, government, and big business, are only interested in the outcome of the armed conflict for the sake of power, and care very little, if at all, about the political and social reforms presumably espoused by Latin American insurgent movements.

I'm not referring to the theorems of the great revolutionaries. You only have to catch yourself listening to the protest songs of Ana and Jaime, among others, and, yes, nodding your head, to realize that in Colombia we haven't made any substantial progress on social issues. In a few urban centers, modernity and the quarantine of war lull us into living in a false, lethargic dream of shopping malls, luxury cars, technological and fashion advances, and globally-connected media.

Dangerously, we believe the story that as long as our cities are protected and beautiful, the conflict will not touch us. This urban outlook makes us think that the solution of the conflict is to exterminate the guerrillas, keep them far from the cities with help from the paramilitaries, negotiate a ceasefire with them, or confine them to a specific territory.

Our leaders and those who aspire to govern us, profit from this way of thinking and go along with it, self-servingly, in their speeches and electoral promises. Apparently, these promoters of war are trying to use it to hide our real problems. They don't want us to take into account the recent experiences of El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, which have not yet recovered from their misery, or of the Fujimori dictatorship in Peru, after the former President crushed the Shining Path insurgency.

In Colombia, the local, bloody, radical guerrillas have lost all popular support. The emergence of the paramilitary phenomenon in the past few years has blinded Colombians, imposing the notion that the solution is to sweep away anyone who thinks differently. The governing class is desperately trying to preserve the deals that have sustained it for so many years, and big business, afraid of losing power, continues pimping on their behalf.

It's a difficult setting for negotiation. However, it's up to the rest of us, social advocates and civil society, to press for a negotiated peace that includes, first and foremost, social and political reform. We must press for a negotiating table where not only the interests of a few are defended, but where all of us, women and men alike, can negotiate our future: a Colombia with social justice, with inclusion and equal access to health, education and employment. And for a country rooted in true democratic principles.

If we don't, a negotiation only concerned with escalating the war or silencing weapons will continue to be a sophistry distracting Colombians from the fundamental reforms the country needs.

Manuel José Bermúdez Andrade, a journalist and social scientist, is a candidate for the Colombian Senate. He represents the Gay Citizen Social and Political Project on the ballot line of the Social and Political Front, an alternative progressive movement.

Related links:

For the Amnesty International 2001 Report on Colombia. Includes analysis of U.S.-backed "Plan Colombia".

For the Social and Political Front (Frente Social y Político). In Spanish.

For more about Ana and Jaime. In Spanish.

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