Colombia's Deep Divide
Despite the horrors that define so much of Colombian politics, one still finds an almost invincible sense of hope among the popular movements that now form the institutional base of the Polo. Again and again, nonviolent social movements have been forced underground by terror, yet they keep rising up, phoenixlike, as soon as they have any space.
In Bosa, a sprawling, muddy slum on the south edge of Bogotá where both paras and the FARC operate, I find just such a struggle. The Muisca Indians were written off as extinct. But the Muisca are back. Thanks to Colombia's broad indigenous movement, they have won considerable rights that are enshrined in the 1991 Constitution--though, as Muisca leader José Reinel Neuta Tunjo is quick to point out, these rights are frequently violated.
Now the Office of National Planning wants to take Muisca farmland as part of a long-term plan to remake southern Bogotá's rural edges. But the 2,000 members of this community have built a strong organization. The Muisca support the Polo, but the election is not the center of their politics. Most of their work has focused on the project of cultural recovery and survival, dealing with traditional medicine, community education and small-scale economic development.
When I ask about the FARC and paras, Neuta Tunjo requests that we not talk about "this type of politics." It's clear that the looming confrontation with the central government is a terrifying prospect. But even if Uribe wins, which he almost certainly will, the Muisca will mobilize to save their fields: "We will go to the authorities with a strong and clear statement to demand our rights," says Neuta Tunjo. "We have no choice." So too for the other elements of the democratic left--the distant indigenous communities, the bloodied but still struggling unions, the latest crop of students and for the Polo--who are all too aware that, as the Polo activist said, to be active in Colombian politics means you have to be willing to die.