Monday, October 27, 2014

The Bandoleros; History thru Rose-Colored Glasses

Fun-filled bandoleros in the Parque Nacional.
In a time not so long ago, in a place not far away, there were people called bandoleros: Some say they were rag-tag bandits running about the countryside robbing and pillaging; others that they were good-hearted Robin Hoods who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

The truth about these criminal groups from the 1940s, '50s and '60s will probably never be clear, and will always depend on the viewer's political perspective: For the wealthy and conservative they were a threat; for the poor, they were a kind of freedom fighters. But, for a theatre troupe performing in the Parque Nacional the other day, the bandoleros were comical, harmless fellows who did nobody any wrong.

I guess such an evolution is inevitable. After all, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Redbeard the Pirate - all terrors in their own days - are now comic book characters and the laugh-lines on TV sitcoms. Will that happen one day to Colombia's guerrillas and paramilitaries? Perhaps, just as Pablo Escobar, who some say killed as many as 50,000 people, has become a decoration for t-shirts and a TV miniseries character.

Interestingly, the bandoleros have been back in the news recently - even if they haven't been mentioned. In the continuing debate in the Havana peace talks about who is a victim of Colombia's conflict and who isn't, the FARC guerrillas have proposed counting victims all the way to 1930 - decades before the FARC existed and Colombia's current conflict started.

Why do the FARC want to discuss victims who died so long ago? Perhaps to make their own violence appear to be just one more chapter in Colombia's long, violent history; Or, to involve - and blame - the Liberal and Conservative political parties, which carried out the fratricidal La Violencia of the 1940s and '50s. After all, FARC founder Manuel Marulanda was a bandolero before he founded the 'Republic of Marquetalia' which in 1964 gave birth to the FARC guerrillas. Most likely, it satisfies the communist vision that actions (read crimes) are nobody's fault, but inevitable results of historical injustices.

For an organization whose leaders are facing potential prison terms, that's a convenient interpretation.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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