These short stories by two young men from Nuquí, Chocó, explore the dynamics of consumption and the meaning of life in the context of scarcity. They are testimonies to the horrors of drug trafficking and neglect. Both texts resulted from a series of creative writing workshops commissioned led by Miguel Tejada, writer and literature teacher at Colombia’s National University. The two authors currently study law in Bogotá and volunteer with Más Arte Más Acción.
The following texts are published in Better Than book.
HOW CAN YOU DEAL WITH NEGLECT?
By Klidier Josué Gonzalez
Perhaps I can begin with a question: Is happiness possible in a community that has been ignored by the state, a community where there are hardly any opportunities?
It ́s true that our people are very happy; yes, we are happy with our culture and our landscape, but underneath that joy there is also great discontent. This is something most people choose to ignore, but it’s always present: a sense of apprehension.
On a daily basis, we work growing food, carrying sand, chopping wood to sell or to cover our own needs. There aren’t enough hours in the day. At night, we go fishing. We may be happy, but we are also tired. We have to look after our families, and we have to work very hard to feed so many mouths.
The main resource we have against the ills of neglect and abandonment is solidarity. This is something very important to us. We care about what others are going through; if a member of our community doesn’t have enough food, most probably someone will give them something to eat. In difficult times, there is always someone who lends a hand. There is something
very paradoxical, though, which may be due to resentment or frustration, something you see when a member of the community is doing well. What does doing well mean for us? Sadly, many choose the path that seems to be the easiest one: drug trafficking. After a short time dealing, you can see them boasting as if they were the masters of the universe. They drink until they fall down senseless, they spend money like there’s no tomorrow, they flaunt their new lovers, and talk a lot about how great their new life is. Those of us who don’t want to go down that path wonder why we are not enjoying also a comfortable life. Are there any other options? What do we do about the neglect in which the country has left us?
It’s not easy to stay away from the more attractive option. This is an endless struggle. Those of us who want to do something different have to struggle with the consequences of the abandonment to which our region has been doomed. And this is something that has to be understood properly, because the solution is not to get some temporary hand-outs or to get others to feel pity for us. Those who think Chocó is a land full of poor people should actu- ally think that over: we have been marginalised, but our culture enriches our daily lives, in spite of the scarcity. All Colombians have been abandoned by the state, except that maybe Chocó, and more precisely, Nuquí, seem to have drawn the short straw. The fact is that we have shed many tears and have been promised much, but things remain pretty much the same. Our people’s talent seems to wilt, and then it blossoms again in this cycle of laughter and forgetfulness.
Now that I am in a situation in which I can think about our condition, looking at it from a wider perspective, I cannot help but going back to an issue that haunts me: how drug trafficking has harmed our communities. It’s not rocket science: this way of life, which seemed the easy option, has been disastrous for our people. Many families have lost loved ones to this phantasy of blood. We are happy, indeed, but underneath our joyful demeanour there is an un- certainty that keeps us awake at night.
We owe much to our legacy; many of us display an amazing talent to rebuild our lives within the community and with our own hands. But we also have deep wounds in our memory. Some day we will have real opportunities, those we truly deserve.
THE POSSIBILITY OF A LANDSCAPE
By Osneyder Valoy
Coredó, 11 May 1996
How much is there in a file?
Let’s see. In the vast landscape of oblivion that is the Internet, this is how a piece of our history appears today:
TRIAL FOR MASSACRE IN CHOCÓ:
The Public Prosecutor’s Office accused Eroito Alvarez Badillo, Elkin Fernando Restrepo Rodríguez and Wilberth Córdoba Badillo for the massacre of nine inhabitants of the small village of Coredó, Juradó (Chocó), on 11 May 1996. The three men, allegedly paramilitaries, were called to trial as co-perpetrators of the crime. Alvarez and Restre- po are in jail while Córdoba escaped from the Malambó military fort of the Nariño Battalion.
Date of publication: 7 June 2000 1
The families of the victims stayed in Coquí waiting for news. But nobody knows anything. And there are no saints or Santeria that can help. The months pass by and there aren’t even rumours. A mother decides to sleep under a palm grove. She is resigned. The only thing she wants is for a coconut to fall on her and end her suffering once and for all. But fifteen days passed by and not one coconut fell from the sacrificial palm tree. The miracle of life. More days pass by and then the news everyone is waiting for arrives: Thank God the people from Coquí are alive.
Back to life again. Four days later they would arrive to Nuquí in a cargo ship. The good son returns home.
There is a saying in Nuquí: Let’s wait and see. Money is scarce and lasts only for the day’s needs. What happens tomorrow is uncertain. And this is but one of many shortages. The health centre is empty. It has nothing, not even ibuprofen, nothing. Not even the most basic implements to help a patient. Nothing. In the library you can only hear the sound of the wind. There are but a few dying books because almost no one reads them. Education is precari- ous in Nuquí and there are few and inadequate resources; the Internet is as fast as a turtle. The youth are in the middle of the swamp. Which way to go? Where to turn to? After secondary education, dreams fly away like the breeze because families cannot afford a future. There are only two alternatives for these youths: military service or drug trafficking. There are, of course, other options in between: to starve (which takes a long time) or to work with the ‘paras’, the paramilitaries.
In any case, the decision must be quickly made. This is Nuquí. It’s the Colom- bian Pacific Coast. This reality is repeated along the entire coast. And it’s the entire country, of course, the country that is starving…
They have to go to the wilderness to make colinos 2 to plant plantains and bananas. They must buy fishing gear and they need to build a canoe; the land must be tilled. The timber business in Buenaventura is good, which is why it is essential to have a chainsaw. Life seems peaceful in Coquí. People live with everyday essentials but they are happy. At breakfast time, they need only harvest a cassava tree and go to the mangrove swamp to fish for an hour. Instead of salt or sugar there are coconuts, lots of them. In December people take a couple dozen coconuts and some wood to sell in Buenaventura. This is how they get money for end-of-year celebrations. Those who cannot get it this way find it any other way. There has to be money for partying no matter what, even if you have to do business with the devil himself.
January. Celebrations are over and only the hangover remains. Children must be enrolled at school but there’s no money, not even for food. The father becomes ill but there is no way to take him to Nuquí because petrol is ex- pensive. After gathering some money, they manage to take him. They are agitated; there’s a lot of rebusque (rummaging). A great effort. But in Nuquí doctors say he must be moved to Quibdó because there is no equipment to help him. Now what?
2008. The people from Coquí say it is the year of misfortune. During March things seemed to be going well. Many in town had new appliances and boats with up to 75 HP engines. But one day the sky darkens: The tiny town is looted by delinquents from Buenaventura.
It was a beautiful afternoon. Many were at the beach playing soccer, others were playing bingo, chatting about life or looking ahead, their eyes lost in the ocean. They were there when they heard someone say that a big power- ful boat was closing in. People ran over lured by the gossip: at first the boat seemed to be empty, a large boat, they said. This made spectators more curi- ous: five minutes later the boat arrives on the beach and lies still on the sand. One of the crew shows his rifle as if indicating they come to meet with the townspeople. They all must go to the school. An hour later, people were gath- ered in the classroom as though they were about to receive lessons, scared to death and guarded by a man with an AK47. The robbers went into the houses and looted everything; they took the pigs, the new appliances, they emptied the clothing stores, they emptied the piggy banks and turned over the mat- tresses. Coquí was left completely deserted and plundered.
The attack was denounced to the National Army in Nuquí. But the lieutenant in charge did not move a finger because he thought it had been carried out by paramilitaries who had already bribed the majority of officers above him. Days later, Navy officers from Bahía Solano showed up to take declarations from the community. A mere formality. After some weeks it was said (“by a little bird”) that the lieutenant in Nuquí was called in for questioning for hav- ing connections to the paramilitaries. And the case of Coquí was set aside. There was no reparation of victims by the state whatsoever. Again absolute and unconcerned impunity.
THE MECHANICAL BIRD
An abandoned land and coast. Delinquency deprives them of a future. There doesn’t seem to be many options. Faced with this desolate and brutal land- scape, many youth from Nuquí and nearby towns decide to venture to crown their first trip; others become paramilitaries; others enter the army and a few resilient ones insist on the dream of attending university.
In 2013, some paisas 3 arrived to Coquí offering benefits to the small ham- let in exchange for their cooperation in the transportation of some “goods”: Cocaine. If everything goes well, in December the shipment gets exported by airplane.
Among the promised benefits there was a new power generator, renovation of homes, students subsidies and millions in cash, enough to enjoy a very fancy Christmas.
As the cooperation plan began, many unknown but very charming men arrive into town. They understand from the beginning that the role of those stashing the stuff is fundamental since they are in charge of hiding the cocaine and the boats. The paisas know what to do: they hire men from the town who know the mangrove swamps well, very safe places away from the army’s radar.
After months of work, the improvised landing strip made from wood planks is ready for use. It’s December and it’s necessary to finish off details. There are meetings everywhere with the townspeople to conclude the agreement on the conditions of the operation. On the 22 December, the crucial date, the streets are empty and only a few people around with long bored faces. It’s seven o’clock and there are no youth anywhere: only children and women becoming anxious. Four hours later, around the area of Boca Vieja, the main estuary in town, the beach is covered with lights indicating the point of landing. After 15 minutes of anguish and despair the plane lands with technical difficulties.
But once the small plane is loaded it refuses to take off. When the men start to unload it, the army arrives to surprise them. People run towards the man- grove swamps carrying their package of cocaine. They hide the merchandize and manage to escape from the persecution. The army stays on the beach with the small plane and a few containers of petrol as their loot. And the townspeople are left with only their disappointment. So much for permanent electricity. Goodbye to all those benefits! Because the only thing left here are the scratches on the bodies and dreams flying off with the wind like foot- prints of what could have been but never was.