The most popular day for office murders in Cali is Sunday.
February 7, 2005 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Martin Amis visits Colombia. Life in the hellholes of Cali:
To say this of human beings is to say both the best and the worst. They can get used to anything. And I got used to it too. You find yourself thinking: if I had to live in El Distrito, I wouldn't stay at Kevin's but at Ana Milena's, where they have cable TV and that nice serving hatch from the kitchen to the living room... Similarly, I now found myself thinking: you know, this crippled murderer isn't nearly as interesting as the crippled murderer I interviewed the day before yesterday.
One of the scariest things I've read recently. (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)
posted by languagehat (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I reread London Fields recently, and this is a nice post to find. Thanks.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:06 PM on February 7, 2005

It does end with a small note of hope but I really wonder how these kids could ever live normal lives. How does the violence come to and end? Scary indeed.
posted by arse_hat at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2005

That's incredibly sobering.

"Abruptly you were struck by the thinness and inanity of it: an existence so close to nonexistence."

El precio del machismo. Que triste.
posted by theFlyingSquirrel at 2:27 PM on February 7, 2005

One of the best accountings of venganza that I've come across is Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
posted by felix betachat at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2005

Between this post and yesterday's about the ten most overlooked humanitarian disasters of 2004, I find myself relating to the end of this article, when the author has an experience that allows death to regain its meaning. I'm really steeling myself against the misery of humanity, and I'm only reading about it.
posted by purtek at 2:37 PM on February 7, 2005

This reality makes Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold seem somehow quaint. A document from a kinder, gentler time.
posted by arse_hat at 3:22 PM on February 7, 2005

two words: "Colombian necktie"
posted by matteo at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2005

I am reminded of the film Our Lady of the Assassins. The film "is a lament for a city [Medellín, Colombia] gone mad."

As well, The Rose Seller (which was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998) comes to mind. It is an adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Seller , director Victor Gaviria cast real street kids to portray their lives, surviving on the streets of Medellin."

Art soon became life. The teenage street kid who portrayed the protagonist in the film was sentenced (in 2003) to 26 years in prison for murder.

"Leidy Tabares, 21, who was named after Lady Diana, as the Princess of Wales was known in Colombia, is one of the few members of the cast of The Rose Seller still alive. Many of her co-stars, street people from the slums of Medellin, have been killed in gangland violence since the film was made five years ago."
posted by ericb at 4:52 PM on February 7, 2005

*It is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Seller". Director Victor Gaviria cast real street kids to portray their lives, surviving on the streets of Medellin."*
posted by ericb at 5:06 PM on February 7, 2005

posted by bardic at 9:59 PM on February 7, 2005

Thanks for posting this, languagehat - very disturbing. I looked up the Médecins Sans Frontières report Columbia: Dancing in the Dark and the photo gallery on which this story is based. Good that MSF is getting the support of more prominent authors to give this story a wider audience.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:52 PM on February 7, 2005

Thanks for the post, LH.
posted by dhruva at 10:58 PM on February 7, 2005

This article sounds a lot like what was going on in Rio, as depicted in City Of God. The documentary on the DVD features a lot of interviews with boys that are very similar in attitude to the boys (and men) that are featured in this story.
posted by supertremendus at 12:29 AM on February 8, 2005

I couldn't even finish this article.
posted by orange swan at 5:47 AM on February 8, 2005

Colombia does not provide free health care or free education for its citizens; and the first explanation you reach for here is the enormous South American lacuna - taxation. Taxation, necessarily of the rich, is not enforced.

Well, that certainly makes me more sanguine about libertarians.

posted by lumpenprole at 10:06 AM on February 8, 2005

Ah yes. ALDailyFilter I guess.

Still, the article was pretty good. A truly fucked-up society down there.
posted by Ayn Marx at 10:18 AM on February 8, 2005

I suppose it would be stirring the pot to mention that, as Amis himself notes, this violence is not only poverty driven but is also about gender; and that it is largely carried out by young men against other young men (and, one assumes, women). The question of masculinity runs all the way through this article; I have a friend who has often said that the challenge for any society is figuring out what to do with young men and their aggression, and I've often felt ambivalent about pursuing that line of thought for the usual reasons (a distrust of essentialism and fear of falling into sexism, mostly) but after reading this I can't help but remember her insistence that young men as a whole are inherently dangerous.
posted by jokeefe at 9:36 PM on February 8, 2005

I think that's an extremely important point that is usually underplayed for the obvious reason that (I dare say this only because the thread is moribund and hopefully my remark will slip under the radar) men run the world and anything that reflects badly on them gets deflected into discussions of poverty, ideology, religion, social policy, you name it. And yet the violent nature of young men is such a constant across such a wide range of societies that I think an objective observer (*peers around for hidden Martians*) would see it as one of the major facts of human life. OK, it's an inheritance from our mammalian past, blah blah, but how are we going to do anything about it if we don't confront it? We just go on having these stupid wars and slums and oppressive governments (whose power rests on the willingness of young men to take orders and kill people to maintain them). The fact that the occasional woman winds up in charge (Indira Gandhi, Maggie Thatcher, you know the drill) and perpetrates the same violence and oppression is not really relevant: it's not a matter of all women being sweetness and light and all men being drooling thugs, it's about a structure profoundly based on violence that promotes its own continuation, whoever's in charge. It will take a complete restructuring of society (see the collected works of Joanna Russ for thoughts on this) to change things, and yes, it's difficult to see how it would happen and perhaps it's impossible, but are we really content to assume that—to murmur something about "human nature" and go on our merry way, killing and being killed in ever-increasing numbers?

Oops, I seem to have gone on a rant. Sorry about that; put it down to the bad cold I'm suffering from. And don't tell any of the pc-liberal-feminist-bashing crowd, OK? I'm not up for a brawl today.
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on February 9, 2005 run the world and anything that reflects badly on them gets deflected into discussions of poverty, ideology, religion, social policy, you name it.

It just seems LH that a sizable portion of the world's population finds violence entirely natural in the same way as a much smaler portion desires the whole world to be uniformly changed into that softer version of themselves.
posted by semmi at 11:30 PM on February 10, 2005

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