“I was displaced by the war in 1953” a taxi driver said to me out of the blue after overhearing one of my phonecalls in the backseat. He went on to explain his story. He was less than five years old at the time and his mother was threatened with rape unless they moved out.
I’m in Bogotá, Colombia writing about women displaced by its internal conflict. The statistics are jaw-dropping. Over six million people are internally displaced inside a country of 48 million.
Over 500,000 are living on Bogota’s outskirts alone. 50% of those displaced are women. Only 20% are men.
As the taxidriver’s story shows, people have been displaced for years and they still are. About 12,000 a month to be exact. In Colombia they are your local shop assistant, your TV repair man, the waitress in your favourite restaurant.
It seems incredible to those on the outside, but for a country like Colombia where the majority of its citizens have lived through its country in constant conflict between the guerrilla, paramilitaries and state forces, it doesn’t appear as strange.
Threats against human rights defenders has increased in the last year, while sexual violence against woment is believed to be one of the highest in the world. It’s near impossible to say due to the low rate of reporting of sexual crime.
It is though the backdrop to a country seemingly on the rise. Peace talks in Cuba could see some semblence of peace in Colombia’s countryside for the first time in over half a century, the economy is stable and growing (not all that usual in South America at the moment) and Colombian sportstars like Jámes Rodriguez are acclaimed worldwide, not just in their home.
My first couple of days have been a reflection of the paradox that Colombia seems to be. I spent the first couple of days interviewing state officials, women’s groups and Journalists. Displacement is a topic for debate, but little emotion is showed.
The opinions completely contradictory. Some said the current Government supports and helps displaced victims of conflict like no other in Colombia’s history. Others say it does nothing at all and never will. Such inconsistancy remains a fact of life in the South American state.
It’s amazing how a city can remind you so much of home, despite being on the other side of the world.
When flying into El Dorado international airport in Bogotá I was amazed by how green and mountainous the countryside is. It seemed closer to Wicklow than the pampas of Argentina or the tropical amazon.
It wasn’t long before I found out why. The weather changes quicker in Colombia’s capital than it does in Donegal. Walking down an avenue will have you in a sweat. By the time you cross into another, you’ll be fetching an umbrella.
It may be close to the equator, but the city lies 2,600 metres above sea level. It won’t have you gasping for breath like La Paz in Bolivia does, but you’ll think twice before going for an evening jog.