He's one of those people you pass every day. Or maybe you've even given him a couple thousand pesos for a pirated movie, without thinking twice about it.
Rene Aragon has been selling pirated movies on Ave. Septima, near the Centro Internacional, for about four years. He's become something of a landmark, with his grin, loquaciosness, bad teeth, bad Spanish, ebullient personality and shabby clothes, which make him resemble something of a movie character himself. He's 43, but looks a decade older, for which you can blame the sun, pollution and perhaps certain substances consumed along the way.
A native of Spain's Basque Country, Aragon hawked candies and cigarretes and taught languages before selling movies on compact discs: besides Spanish, he speaks English, French, German and Basque, his native tongue.
He recently told an interviewer with a Bogotá cultural magazine that he didn't like racism, 'bad police' and pollution - which is certainly understandable considering his location on Ave. Septima, one of Bogotá's smoggiest spots.
He also surprised the interviewer by saying that his expensive
pleasure was not going out to the movies, dining or even traveling home for vacations, but paying for his wife's rehabilitation for her addiction to basuco, a cheap form of crack.
But movies are his pleasure and his passion. He sells dozens on a day when the weather's good. His secret of success, he says, is the breadth and sophistication of his cinematic knowledge, particular arts films. He also sells documentaries, war films and even new releases.
One thing which surprises you talking to Aragon is the roughness of his Spanish. But that's deliberate, he says, because of his distaste for the language of the occupiers of his native Basque Country. Leaving Spain, he says, was his gesture of protest in favor of Basque independence. A strange way to rebel, it seems to me.
Before Colombia, he'd lived in Ecuador, where he taught English. But he got bored and came to Bogotá, where he met his girlfriend.
Pirated movies have done well for him. He can sell as many as 80 per day. At 2,000 each, you can do the math yourself. I always suspected that he secretly sold a less legal product as well, but he told me gave up selling that years ago.
"It's not like I give them money or anything," he explains. "But we're friends. We talk. They want to know what Europe's like. Sometimes, I give them a few movies."
His strategy's worked. Not long ago, Ave. Septima's sidewalk was almost too crowded with vendors to walk down. Today it was actually passable. And Aragon is one of the survivors.
Aragon feels no guilt about selling tax-free and rent-free on the street. Once, he said, he went down to City Hall and offered to pay taxes - but was refused. He'd tried, at least.
"If you pay taxes, you're legitimate," Aragon observes, pointing out that many Bogotá stores, such as internet cafes, sell pirated CDs. "But you only get hassled if you're on the sidewalk."
Neither does he feel any guilt about profiting from the labor of the movie industry. After all, he points out, the movie houses make millions. Rather, he considers himself a sort of revolutionary, putting movies within reach of the common person.
But how about those small-time movie studios who make the artsy movies he likes so much? Well, he's doing them a favor too, Aragon explains, by helping spread their message.
"Is it fair that they charge 30,000 pesos for a CD which costs 600 pesos to make?" he asks. "To me, it's elitist."
Want a movie? Call René at 301-528-1153
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours