House Cleaning in Colombia

Today I swept and mopped the floor. I used scouring powder to clean the bathroom sink, toilet and shower. I did what is called in Spanish “limpieza” or “cleaning.”
But when I heard the word “limpieza” yesterday I shuddered. The person saying the word was coming from Colombia and was speaking about what he felt was necessary to bring peace to the country.
He said that it wouldn’t have mattered to him if Ingrid Betancourt had been among those who died in Colombia’s recent attack on a FARC-EP encampment in Ecuador. There were now twenty less people who could cause problems in Colombia. It would not have mattered if all the FARC’s hostages were there. If they had died, their deaths would have been worth getting rid of the guerillas.
He said that a “limpieza” of Colombia was what the country needed.
It was not the first time I had heard the word “limpieza” from a Colombian. On another occasion I was told that the paramilitaries, whom the Colombian government has supported through the years, were good. “Oh,” the person said, “they have their programs of ‘limpieza’ but those are necessary.”
While speaking to a person who grew up on the Colombia-Venezuela border, he changed the word to “exterminio,” extermination. That brings to my mind rodents: mice and rats and other such pests. If you can see your enemy in that light, it is easy to see why they must be eliminated from your home(land).
I find such talk frightening, but I think it is a reality that has to be dealt with in discussing Colombia. The first person I mentioned above spoke about the excellent news coverage in Colombia, overlooking totally that the press is controlled by the oligarchy there. A Venezuelan with Direct-TV who watches Colombian television gave me a totally different perspective on what he was seeing. Another Venezuela said that the people in Colombia had not reached the awareness of Venezuelans who have become very critical of what the mass media is presenting.
I am no expert on the FARC-EP. I am not in agreement with holding civilians hostages. But I have followed the mass media for years and everything, absolutely everything, I have read about the FARC-EP is bad. I am therefore reminded of an octogenarian woman visiting Venezuela from the United States. She said to a young farmer in the coffee growing hills, “I have heard so much bad about Venezuela that I knew something good must be happening here.” I have the same feeling about the FARC-EP.
The Colombian government is not known for its respect for human rights. The United States no longer has that reputation either. (Whether it ever had the right to that reputation is another question, but it did have that fame.) It is incredible that these governments continue to call others “terrorists.” The childhood refrain of “it takes one to know one” comes to mind.
But what scares me is that the government of President Alvaro Uribe seems to be very popular in Colombia. He did no wrong in bombing in a foreign country. The whole of Latin America can condemn the action; it doesn’t matter. We are right seems to be the attitude in Colombia, an opinion reinforced by the government of the United States and echoed in the mass media in both countries. Additionally, it should be noted that in Venezuela leaders of the opposition came to the support of Uribe also.
Last week I was speaking to a refugee from Colombia. I asked her why she had fled to Venezuela. She said that her father was a defender of human rights. One day the Colombian police raided their house. A few days later someone entered the house, went right to where her father was, and assassinated him. I guess they were “cleaning.”
All I can say is that this frightens me. I wish house cleaning could simply be about removing dust and dirt; and, extermination could be only about rodents. There is something very sick about what is happening and has been happening in Colombia. I am not sure that the illness is the FARC-EP.
(Charles Hardy writes from Venezuela. He is author of Cowboy in Caracas: A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution, published by Curbstone Press. Other essays by Hardy can be found on his personal blog . You may write him at

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