Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Much is a Life Worth?

That apparently depends on who you are and how interesting your death is.
University student Luis Andres
Colmenares, whose death has become
a national obsession.
Take the death of Luis Andres Colmenares, a popular student at the Universidad de los Andes whose body was discovered under a bridge in a north Bogotá park two years ago. Since then, we've seen an unending drama of news stories, court appearances, arrests and releases of suspects and tales of romance and betrayal. Colmenares, who was just another student, even has a Wikipedia entry and El Tiempo lists nearly 2,000 stories about his case. Most recently, a journalist even published a book about the case - in which he concludes that Colmenares' death was an accident.

Certainly, Colmenares' death was a tragedy for him, his family and friends, no matter what caused it. But does it really rate all of this attention in a country in which many people die violently every single day?

The grieving family of six-year-old Isaac, killed by a bus.
(Photo: El Tiempo
In contrast, take the case of six-year-old Isaac, who was hit and killed the other day by a bus, which also severely injured his friend. Even tho the bus driver, who witnesses said had run a red light and tried to flee the scene, had tens of millions of unpaid traffic fines, the last I heard he was resting comfortably at home. He hadn't even lost his driver's license. And how about his victims? A bus company lawyer claimed the company had done nothing wrong by hiring an evidently dangerous driver. He did mention something about insurance benefits for the victims, but didn't sound very sure.

In fact, now that the few days of attention to Isaac's death have passed, the bus company will likely give a token payment to Isaac's family, who are very humble people, and then continue with deadly business as usual.

Luis Colmenares was just another partying
student until his death made him interesting.
A dealth like Colmenares', which might have been a murder, accident or even a suicide, is no easy thing to prevent, and the resources and attention spent on it don't seem to have gotten us any closer to preventing a repeat. But in Isaac's case we know who killed him and how it happened. And prevention, if anybody has the will to do it, seems clear enough: make sure that bus companies and drivers pay for the consequences of their actions. (which is why one of those miserable, ambulance-chasing liability lawyers could do great things right now.) The city also needs to take measures to end the murderous 'War over the penny,' in which buses race each other to pick up passengers.

But the Caso Colmenares will continue monopolizing the public's attention, while little anonymous Isaac seems to have already been forgotten by all but his family - and traffic goes on as deadly as usual.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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