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A MASSACRE OF CONVENIENCE: Democracy, progress, and the disappearance of a People in the Ecuadorian Amazon

in Guerilla Journalism by

The families sang in their shelter in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, unaware of their attackers closing in around them.

Those who would kill them would later say their naked victims had “sung like the monkeys sing… The song seems like it’s calling the jungle… It was like the voices of the animals; they sung strong, strong…”

The singers were from the Taromenane tribe, an indigenous group who avoid contact with the outside world. Despite being protected by the Ecuadorian Constitution as an “uncontacted people” decades of attacks against them had reduced their numbers to between less than 150 up to 300 people, who live in small groups in the Yasuni National Park above the few untapped oil reserves left in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The heavily armed Waorani warriors implicated in the massacre
The heavily armed Waorani warriors implicated in the massacre of up to 30 unarmed men, women, and children
Their attackers were from the Waorani tribe, another indigenous people who were “contacted” during the initial colonization of the vast Ecuadorian jungle and who often live in roadside communities integrated into the petroleum economy of the Amazonian frontier.

These 15 Waorani warriors carried pistols, shotguns, and ammunition newly purchased from the petroleum boomtowns of Coca and Lago Agrio and possessed smartphones to photograph the aftermath of the massacre.

These men were on a mission to revenge the death of the Waorani elder Ompure Omewey and his wife Buganey, who were assassinated by the Taromenane tribe three weeks earlier on the 5th of March, inside Spanish oil giant RepSol’s Petroleum Block 16.

The Taromenane are known to kill all “cowori” or outsiders who enter their territory and over the decades the bodies of illegal-loggers and hunters impaled by spears have been found around the border of their nomadic hunting grounds. The targeted assassination against the Waorani elder Ompure however was remarkable not only because the killing occurred in the heart of RepSol controlled Block 16 but because Ompure was known to them.

Ompure Omewey’s “first contact” with the Taromenane tribe

Ompure was a bridge between the worlds of the contacted and uncontacted; the only person to survive multiple peaceful interactions with the Taromenane. The elder described his first contact with the Taromenane in this video almost a year to the day before his death:

The Taromenane had asked him to keep the encroaching outsiders away from their lands. The Taromenane also said they were too terrified to leave their cover to cross the Via Maxus, an “oil highway” cut through the jungle by the Maxus Oil Company, who along with Texaco and state-run PetroEcuador have led the opening of the Amazonian frontier.

The final frontier for petrol companies in the Ecuadorian Amazon is the Yasuni National Park, which consists of Taromenane territory known as the “Intangible Zone” because in 1991 a presidential decree declared it untouchable due to its: “great cultural and biological importance in which no type of extractive activity can be carried out due to the high value they have for the Amazon region, Ecuador, the world, and present and future generations.”

Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution went one step further to protect its uncontacted peoples stating:

“The territories of the peoples living in voluntary isolation are an irreducible and intangible ancestral possession and all forms of extractive activities shall be forbidden there. The State shall adopt measures to guarantee their lives, enforce respect for self-determination and the will to remain in isolation and to ensure observance of their rights. The violation of these rights shall constitute a crime of ethnocide, which shall be classified as such by law.”

Ecuador’s greatest oil reserve is the Yasuní-ITT field, inside the Yasuni National Park overlapping the Intangible Zone, and Rafael Correa’s government initially pledged to seek international donations to leave the oil underground as part of its ‘Yasuní Initiative’.

ecuador-amazonThe initiative was first promoted at the governmental level by the Ministry of Energy and Mines, but opposed by the powerful chief executive of Petroecuador, who was determined to extract the reserve’s estimated 900 million barrels of heavy crude.

President Correa told the board of Petroecuador on 31 March 2007 that the government would consider extracting Yasuni’s oil as “Option B” if international funds were not forthcoming to keep the oil underground.

According to former Minister of Energy and Mines Alberto Acosta, “those mandated with the project did not tire of threatening the imminent exploitation of the ITT field in Yasuni, in fact [it was] more than a threat, it was a demonstrated certainty with the advancement of extractive activities in Block 31, adjacent to ITT”.

While the Government referred to the plight of the uncontacted tribes in the Yasuni to boost international donations, the full extent of the Taromenane’s land was, at the time, still not immune from exploration.

ecuadpr-yasuniBoth Block 31 and the oil concession of the Yasuní-ITT oil reserve (‘Block 43’) overlap the Taromenane tribe’s Intangible Zone.

Petroleum Block 16 that borders Block 31 overlaps a 10 km deep buffer zone surrounding the land of these uncontacted peoples, in which forestry and mining is legally prohibited.

As the years past and the petrol companies closed in on the Intangible Zone, the Taromenane made their complaints known to Ompure. The tribe also requested the Waorani elder supply them with cooking pots, machetes, and modern tools. Ompure reportedly petitioned RepSol, who operates Block 16, to supply the Taromenane with tools but the Spanish company refused him. Repsol denied to confirm this citing on-going court processes, but following Ompure’s murder the Spanish company’s staff were evacuated from the area.

Waorani hunt Taromenane while Government hunts oil

In the 19 days following the assassination the 15 Waorani warriors had not kept their intentions for revenge secret. They purchased weapons and ammunition to kill the Taromenane while the very government officials responsible for a Precautionary Measures Plan for the Protection of the Tagaeri Taromenane People were in Quito taking workshops with consultants on the issue of the sale of weapons and ammunition in the Amazon.

The world’s leading authority on Ecuador’s uncontacted tribes, Spanish Capuchin priest Miguel Cabodevilla, repeatedly petitioned the Ministry of the Interior to intervene in the impending massacre. The government-owned newspaper El Telegrafo condemned such requests as blackmail.

[quote]Then while the heavily-armed Waorani scoured the jungle to exterminate the Taromenane, leading Ecuadorian officials were in Beijing soliciting bids for new petrol concessions in its Amazon.[/quote]The government’s boosting of public spending to unprecedented levels is largely financed by Chinese loans exchanged for oil concessions – Quito now exports around 90% of its petrol to China and owes the Asian superpower US$4.71 billion (as of April 2014).

On the morning of the 30th of March the Waorani warriors found a deserted Taromenane house, and the multitude of photographs taken testifies to their mounting excitement after days searching in the jungle. Later that day they found the skulls of wild pigs eaten by the uncontacted tribe, and by mid-afternoon they heard the Taromenane singing. Stealthily they approached the thatched hut, anxious not to alert the two guards stationed at the doorway.

As a Taromenane boy and girl walked out of the hut they discovered the ambush the boy fled indoors, the song abruptly stopped and spears rattled inside the hut. The men of the uncontacted tribe burst out to fight and defend their women and children so they could flee “But bullets are faster than spears” recalled one of the Waorani attackers.

“The rifles didn’t sound loud” one said Waorani, “lots of blood came out, lots of blood, blood dripping like water… We killed each one with a gunshot, we shot them without stopping”.

massacre yasuni uncontacted
photographic evidence of the massacre that the Ecuadorian government downplayed and publicly doubted

In the jungle, the Waorani warriors impaled the heads of two men onto stakes and then when they had “finished with killing”, they entered the hut and consumed the food and fermented drink called chicha that the Taromenane had been preparing. Inside the thatched building they found some of Ompure’s possessions which justified in their minds the massacre.

A bewildered Taromenane mother came to the hut after seeing the carnage and begged the warriors for mercy pledging herself to become the wife of the warrior who spared their lives. The raiders impaled her on a spear in front of her daughters then debated what to do with the 6 and 4 year old girls.

As the debate heated up and as one Waorani took trophy photographs of the bodies of men, women, and children riddled with bullets and impaled by spears. A body moved startling the warriors and they fled with the two Taromenane girls.

Even though members of the revenge mission began selling the photographs on the streets of Coca and one even appeared on the program Day to Day on TeleAmazonas confessing killing 5 people with spears. “I killed!” he said, “because i’m a warrior”. Government officials however outwardly seemed surprised about the ‘alleged’ massacre expressing doubt as to whether it actually happened citing a lack of ‘tangible evidence’ and the ‘unattributed’ nature of the photographs.

Two parliamentarians wrote to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights informing them of the attack and reminding them of Ecuador’s obligations under the Precautionary Measures imposed by the Commission to protect the Taromenane against attacks by Waorani and loggers. [quote]The parliamentarians said that by allowing oil extraction, the government was creating the conditions for the physical and cultural extinction of the uncontacted indigenous.
[/quote]

The circles of uncontacted tribes in 2003
The circles of uncontacted tribes in 2003 (click to expand)

In response Quito filed a report on the state’s compliance with the Inter-American Commission’s Precautionary Measures in April 2013. It depicted the uncontacted peoples via circles on a map, the four groups inhabiting areas in or bordering the ‘intangible area’ and extending into the adjoining oil blocks 16, 31, and ITT.

One of the circles represented the ‘Grupo Via Maxus’, centred around the Waorani community of Yarentaro, spreading into Blocks 14 and 16 and the area of the Via Maxus.

The public prosecutor’s office however would not visit the site of the massacre, where at least 20 – 30 men, women, and children were slaughtered for another 9 months. The investigation went dormant and after the initial flurry of news articles in the aftermath the Ecuadorian press were also silent.

Meanwhile Milagros Aguirre and Miguel Cabodevilla initiated their own investigation and documented their findings in the book ‘Una Tragedia Ocultada’ (we have translation large section of the book here). The book meticulously details government incompetence with their obligations under the Precautionary Measures to protect uncontacted peoples. The Waorani expedition into the jungle was related through first person testimonies and photos taken on the raid as well as reports off airdrops of poisoned food were also documented.

Rewriting the Constitution to Change Definition of Genocide

The members of the 2007 ‘Constitutional Assembly of Montecristi’ convened again to rewrite a new Constitution that suspended the sitting Congress for representing what they believed were the corrupt, elitist old order. In drafting the new Constitution they promoted it as a “Citizens Revolution” where the citizens themselves would now govern Ecuador, by being able to overturn unpopular decisions by the government if the citizens collected enough signatures to force a national referendum.

While the extraction of resources were still banned on lands inhabited by uncontacted tribes, President Correa emphasized the need to reinterpret the new constitution ‘in good faith’ stressing the importance of securing mineral and petrol wealth and to modernize the economy. Correa’s supporters claim that using Chinese loans to boost spending in return for oil is a revolutionary form of ‘south-south’ cooperation that will wean Ecuador from colonial patterns of trade.

In August 2013 another map was sent by President Correa to the National Assembly as he sought their approval to open the Yasuní-ITT field to exploration. Now they declared that there were only three uncontacted tribes in the region: the Via Maxus group had disappeared. The three other groups including the Taromenane were now located outside the Blocks Yasuní-ITT and 31.

The government was faced with the constitutional injunction of exploration in areas inhabited by uncontacted tribes, and selectively quoted elements of the UN’s Draft Guidelines on the Protection of Indigenous People Living in Voluntary Isolation and in Danger of Extinction to argue that oil exploration would not equate to ethnocide.

Basque lawyer Mikel Berraondo, who drafted these UN guidelines that the Ecuadorian executive had selectively quoted, said everything in his work that opposed the exploitation of Yasuní-ITT was ignored. He described the government’s actions ‘Machiavellian’: “It is an insult to the intelligence of the people that someone can place a report before a congress of such importance as a national parliamentary assembly, and believe that no one in this country will realize the deceit in this report.”[pullquote]“It is an insult to the intelligence of the people that someone can place a report before a congress of such importance as a national parliamentary assembly, and believe that no one in this country will realize the deceit in this report.”
– Mikel Berraondo[/pullquote]

The government also submitted maps to Congress created by the Ministry of Justice, which sought to argue that uncontacted tribes were neither living in, nor passing through Blocks 31 and 43. They argued that altitude and geography made the area an unlikely home for the Taromenane, and cited the lack of sightings of uncontacted peoples by camera traps.

“The Ministry can say what they want; I say what I think as a scientist.” says Italian geographer Massimo Marchi, an expert on the Ecuadorian Amazon, “I’m a university professor; if the Ministry’s briefing was submitted there it would not have passed the exam, because there was no scientific consistency.”

map of oil yasuni
Map of Yasuni overlapping oil concessions (click to expand)

The altitudes cited in the document were one of many errors, he said; such altitudes would have resulted in the blocks being underneath a subterranean lagoon stretching to Peru.

On the 24th of September, 17 minutes before Milagros Aguirre and Cabodevilla’s book A Hidden Tragedy was due to be released, it was prohibited to circulate over any medium. The censorship backfired and the book was shared far and wide for free over social media which consequently transformed the public profile of the massacre, ensuring a widespread distrust of the government’s stewardship of oil exploration. On 3 October 2013 the National Assembly voted to allow oil exploration in Blocks 31 and the Yasuní-ITT field (Block 43).

[quote]Eight weeks later, the government adjusted the laws on genocide and ethnocide, changing the definition of the crimes. The crimes now needed to involve the intention to destroy a people or a way of life. The extinction of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s last uncontacted peoples due to the collateral damage of oil extraction was no longer considered a crime.[/quote]

These changes were presented to the National Assembly by the ruling party’s Mauro Andino, who said their authorship ‘corresponded to a great visionary, revolutionary and patriot’ (President Rafael Correa). Seven of the Waorani warriors responsible for the massacre were then arrested under the new legislation for acts of genocide and their cases passed to the Constitutional Court.

To Milagros Aguirre, when the government avoided their obligations under Precautionary Measures by refusing to pay the Waorani compensation for the assassination of Ompure, their warriors acted according to the traditions of the Amazon, as soldiers in a war. The prosecutions of the Waorani after 10 months of inaction promised only “justice with a greater injustice; the Waorani are prisoners, their families suffer without their suppliers and hunters, hungry and suffering.”

Meanwhile the state “has no protocols in case of sighting human groups in the jungle, it has no mechanism to actually implement the Precautionary Measures, it has not provided education to the Waorani groups and it continues operating on their territory.”

To Carlos Andres Vera, who directed the 2007 documentary Taromenani, the Exterminaton of the Uncontacted Peoples, the culpability for the destruction of the Taromenane is clear: [pullquote]“So, according to the Constitution, the government is committing genocide. That´s why the second fact is important: they changed the definition of genocide in the new law, breaking the meaning and spirit of the Constitution.”
– Carlos Andres Vera[/pullquote] “According to the Constitution, Article 57 says any activity regarding exploitation of natural resources is considered genocide. I agree with that definition. So, according to the Constitution, the government is committing genocide. That´s why the second fact is important: they changed the definition of genocide in the new law, breaking the meaning and spirit of the Constitution.”

The abandonment of the Yasuni initiative was resisted by an alliance of youth volunteers, who came together under the umbrella of Yasunidos.

Electoral Fraud Damages Credibility of Correas’ Citizen Revolution

"Electoral Fraud" in the National Electoral College
“Electoral Fraud” in the National Electoral College

They put to test President Correa’s flagship tool for direct democracy in his so-called Citizens Revolution by criss-crossing the country collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures to force a Popular Vote on whether to drill in the Yasuni.

On 12 April the Waorani leader Alicia Cahuilla presented the first box of 757,623 signatures against oil drilling to the National Electoral College (NCE) and force a national referendum.

The president of the National Electoral College (NCE) had previously spoken out in favour of oil exploration in Yasuní, and there was alarm when it was discovered that the boxes of signatures were being tampered with. The NCE subsequently invalidated 66% of the signatures under incredibly dubious circumstances and halted the referendum.

A subsequent investigation by Quito’s Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar studied 20,064 of the signatures and estimated that 673,863 of the total collected by Yasunidos were valid. The verification study estimated the margin for error at 0.76%.

To Alberto Acosta, who served as President of the Constitutional Assembly, the invalidation of over 650,000 signatures of people around Ecuador was further evidence that the core aim of Correa’s presidency was “the modernization of Ecuadorian capitalism”.

A 60 meter "oil highway" cut through Taromanene territory in the Yasuni that was prohibited by the Ministry of Environment
A 60 meter “oil highway” cut through Taromanene territory in the Yasuni that was prohibited by the Ministry of Environment

The Inter-American Court for Human Rights meanwhile ordered the reuniting of the two Taromenane girls, who remain separated, one in Orellana, the other in Pastaza. Of the two girl’s family little is known.

There are rumours that Taromenane spears have been thrown at oil company cars using a secret 26 metre-wide new highway cut by PetroAmazonas into Block 31, but they now evade contact.

On 22 May 2014 Ecuador approved a license for oil drilling in Block 43 inside the Yasuni National Park to Petroamazonas, with extraction expected to commence as soon as 2016. By then we may have found out that the Taromanene tribe, like the uncontacted via Maxus group before them, will have disappeared from maps of the Ecuadorian Amazon drawn up by the government of Rafael Correa.

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Viva Rocinha and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in Rio de Janeiros Favelas

in Citizen Journalism/Guerilla Journalism/Interviews by

citizen-journalism-favelaIt’s in disenfranchised communities around the world where citizen journalism over social media is empowering everyday people to write the news and nowhere is this more evident than in Rio de Janeiro.

Here the Favelas have historically struggled against the Brazilian government for the right to receive even basic civic services like sanitation and trash collection and are often victims of innaccurate or misleading reporting by Brazil’s mainstream media.

This I witnessed with my own eyes on the 15th of March, 2010 when 80 heavily-armed and violent military police called the BOPE invaded the Favela Rocinha, home to over 100,000 people, as a test run for its military pacification program during the lead up to the world cup.

What happened on the ground was not what was broadcast on TV.

rocinha favelaA large crowd of Rocinha locals gathered at the bottom of Cachopa Street and chanted: “Policía Roba!” Police Steal!

They were ignored by the embedded Brazilian media, being escorted by the BOPE, whose report that night on TV featured only residents who welcomed military pacification with open arms.

The BOPE however did not ignore the zoom-lense camera I carried and approached me to ask my name and nationality, my reason for being in Rocinha, what Visa I used to enter Brazil, and whether I was a journalist (I told them I wasn’t) and wrote it all down in a little black book before ordering me back to my apartment.

Until that day I had always felt safe as a foreigner living in Rocinha which was then controlled by the bandido drug gang Amigos dos Amigos. I almost always left my apartment in the sector of Paulo Brito unlocked because common crime was extremely rare and I was unaware it’s illegal for BOPE to enter a home without a warrant except in the Favela.

citizen-journalism-favela2As I loaded the photos of the BOPE onto my laptop I wondered what makes someone a “journalist” and if I could honestly call myself one having studied Network Engineering over a more relevent field.

It was then that two BOPE in black flak jackets and balaclavas silently entered my apartment then screamed at me to hold my hands in the air while pointing their machine guns at my head.

They were only there to scare.

Interview with Michel Silva of Viva Rocinha

A year and a half later a citizen journalism platform called Viva Rocinha was founded during the November 2011 military occupation of Rocinha which paved the way for pacification.

Fast forward another three years, a month before the World Cup kickoff, and Viva Rocinha has over 14,800 active members all sharing and commenting on community news as diverse as politics and protests, live updates on traffic congestion, missing persons reports, as well as cautious updates on the conduct of the “UPP” – Pacifying Police Units – who enforce the law in the Favela once the BOPE flush out the bandidos.

Viva Rocinha was founded by Michel Silva when he was 18 years old and like myself Silva has no formal background in journalism. What he has learnt however in three years running this remarkable community media platform with his sister Michele is much more than what the best universities in the world could ever hope to teach in a journalism degree. I had to reach out and ask a few questions…

Favela Backalley
Rocinha Backalley
Chekhov: Is Rocinha safer since the UPP pacified the Favela?

Michel Silva: I’d rather not answer.

Chekhov Does Brazil’s mainstream media accurately report on the issues facing people living in Rio de Janeiro’s many Favelas?

Michel Silva: I’d rather not answer.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about the “Big Brother Rocinha” ?

Michel Silva: “Big Brother Rocinha” emerged with the entrance of the UPP in Rocinha. There are 80 cameras scattered at strategic points in the community that monitor the streets and entrances to alleyways. They are used to reduce crime or monitor the movement of the police and residents.

Chekhov: How have smartphones changed independent and citizen journalism inside Rocinha?

Michel Silva: A citizen journalist can get lots of content using a smartphone. The new phones have changed our way of action in community journalism and now information arrives faster throughout the community. When I bought my first smartphone it was great because I could provide more info with speed and reliability.

Chekhov: When you started Viva Rocinha at 18 years did you have any formal experience in journalism?

colourful Rocinha resident with cat
colourful Rocinha resident with cat
Michel Silva: I’ve never had experience with formal journalism. I like reading the newspaper and admire journalism. I played an online game called Habbo, through this game I created a news site about this game for users.

I created the site in 2008 and closed it in 2010. After that I studied about WordPress and Blogger and then had the idea of ​​creating Viva Rocinha in early 2011. Viva Rocinha became active in late 2011 with the military intervention in Rocinha.

Chekhov: Why is community important? How does a community media page like Viva Rocinha empower a community?

Michel Silva: I created Viva Rocinha in order to democratize access to information in the community. An efficient vehicle for communication didn’t exist in our community but with the popularization of the Internet in the Favela alternative journalism has grown significantly. Today Viva Rocinha serves thousands of residents over the internet .

Chekhov: Can you explain your first viral post on the 7th of may of a policeman using pepper spray on a dog and afterwards on a girl? Why is important to hold police accountable with community media?
citizen journalism rio de janeiro

Michel Silva: The photo of police firing pepper spray into a dog was taken by a colleague Dominic Peixoto from newspaper O Globo. I was one of the first people who shared the photo on Viva Rocinha. After a few hours the photo had over 10 thousand likes on Facebook, 15,000 shares and thousands of comments. The repurcussions for this case was that this police officer was removed from the service.

The photo of police firing pepper spray in the face of a girl was in another community. I don’t know who took the photo, but it also resonated. It shows that we have many untrained policemen.

Chekhov: that is the power of citizen journalism. You can follow Viva Rocinha over Facebook and Twitter as well as their website Vivarocinha.org as Michel and Michele provide accurate news from Rocinha during the world cup.

the view from the peak of Rocinha at sunset
the view from the peak of Rocinha at sunset

FALSE POSITIVE: The Punk Rock Musician on Dialysis That Colombian Police Cant Silence

in Citizen Journalism/Corruption & Transparency/Guerilla Journalism by

luis-punk-rocker
This is Luís Alberto Velásquez Molina and he knows something that the Colombian Police do not want you to find out.

medellin-silicon-valley
Luís is from Medellin, a city famous for beautiful women, plastic surgery, and Pablo Escobar.

medellin-punk-rock
It’s also the heartland of Latin American Punk Rock.

medellin-skyriseLuis lives in the hills above Medellin in a comuna called Villatina.
Villatina is no stranger to police violence.

villatina-medellin3
This man lives a few blocks away from Luis. He was 12 when his 17 year old brother was executed by police along with 7 other children in the Villatina Massacre.

villatina-medellin
The police accused of orchestrating the massacre were never sentenced.
The victims families are still seeking justice 21 years later.

villatina-medellin2
Luis is a role model for the youth of Villatina. They remember seeing his band Sonido Libertario or Libertarian Sound play for them in the comuna.

false-positive-luis
Luis wants to teach the youth of Villatina that music, not crime and violence, is the best outlet for anger against an extremely unjust society.

false-positive-medicine
Luis has lived with a terminal illness for 14 years and needs a strict diet and dialysis to stay alive. “When I drink too much water my legs swell up.”

luis-veins-dialysis14 years of dialysis at 3 times a week for 4 hours a session equals 8,736 hours of a metal tube pumping and filtering blood through his arm.

dialysis-false-positive
Luis waited 10 years to receive a kidney transplant in 2009 but his body rejected it a year later. He almost died.

punk-medellinThat’s when 28 punk bands from Medellin organized a concert they called “Punk to help a Friend” and raised enough money to buy Luis a small home in Villatina. He made a slow and painful recovery.

false-positive-colombia
Besides from suffering a terminal illness, “Luchito” or “our Little Fighter” as the Punkeros call him, was in a car accident that permanently damaged his right ankle making movement difficult.

false-positive-luis-camelBut that doesn’t mean Luis can stop being a Camel, or Camellar as they say in Colombia, when you work without food or breaks to scrape enough spare change together to survive.

luis-camellandoLuis created a D.I.Y. mobile shop out of a child’s pram with speakers to blast Punk Rock. After dialysis he wheels his shop carrying sweets and cigarettes to the same park he has worked 6 nights a week for the last 8 years.

sonido-libertario-medellin
At 42 years old Luis is nowhere near as strong as his youth. But that’s not gonna stop him screaming Punk whenever Sonido Libertario gets together.

luis-sonido-libertario
He’s exhausted after the performance but its worth it. Punk fires him up to get out of bed every morning so his 10 year old son wont become an orphan.

false-positive-cart
On the 29th of December 2012, Police discovered a military grenade in a black sealed bag placed on top of the lollypops and bubblegum in Luis’ cart.

false-positive-colombia-luis
The night before last weeks court date Luis got home from work at Park Periodista at midnight, woke up at 3:30am, took 2 buses 1.5 hours to the hospital for his 5am-9am dialysis session, then another bus to court.
He was exhausted.

vendors-crate
A witness sitting in Periodista Park with his grandson the night of the incident swore under oath he saw a third party place a black sealed bag on top of Luis’ cart moments before police arrived.

false-positive-medicine-2
The prosecutor used the cocaine found inside the black sealed bag to paint Luis as a user of vicio or vice. The only chemicals Luis can consume without becoming extremely sick are an aggressive dose of medication.

luis-falso-positivo
Neither Luis nor his defense lawyer were permitted access to the evidence being used against him. The evidence had been destroyed on the pretext it was “too dangerous” and Luis was taken away in handcuffs.

punk-rock-medellin
Medellin’s Punk Rockers Are Pissed.

Punk-MedalloThey believe the charges against Luís Velásquez were fabricated in a common practice called “False Positive” when police and military frame innocent civilians to earn commissions.

villatina-favela
Victims of False Positives are primarily poor people because they cannot afford legal defense. They are easily forgotten.

favela-medellin-false-positives
Leaked reports show armed forces can earn up to $3,000,000 COP ($1,565 USD) commissions for weapons they discover when an arrest is made.

palace-of-justice-medellin
If the defense were permitted to examine the evidence against Luis before it was destroyed they may have been able to verify if the grenade was missing from a police warehouse.

medellin-comuna
Medellin’s Punkeros believe everyone, irrespective of where they come from or what level of society they belong, deserve fair trials.

change-org-false-positive
They set up a
petition on CHANGE.ORG and every signature sends an email to the judge they say condemned an innocent man to his death inside a Maximum Security Prison. 1,095 emails and counting…

uniting-forces-against-false-positives
The Punkeros of Medellin saved the life of Luís Alberto Velásquez before. This Sunday they’ll do it again as Medellin’s best punk bands and their fans get together to raise money and awareness for his cause.

false-positive-villatina-massacre
They want to scream a message that False Positives and Police Impunity are not welcome in Periodista Park – home of the memorial statues of 8 children executed by police in the Villatina Massacre.

Johana Mazo Ramírez (8 years),
Johny Alexander Cardona Ramírez (17 years),
Ricardo Alexander Hernández (17 years),
Giovanny Alberto Vallejo Restrepo (15 years),
Oscar Andrés Ortiz Toro (17 years),
Ángel Alberto Barón Miranda (16 years),
Marlon Alberto Álvarez (17 years),
Nelson Duban Flórez Villa (17 years),
Mauricio Antonio Higuita Ramírez (22 years).

You can help Luís Alberto Velásquez Molina too by sharing this page and signing the petition on CHANGE.ORG

Also all money raised from purchases of the “Police Bastard” EP by UK punk band DOOM are being sent to Luis Alberto Velasquez so he can afford to buy healthy food inside the atrocious conditions of Medellin’s Bellavista Prison.

UPDATE

Luis Alberto Velasquez Molina was granted house arrest after seven months in Bellavista Prison. The following photo shows Luis in his house in Villatina, a few hours after being released from prison, writing on the bottom of my article on Colombia Reports the following thanks:

“I am Luis Alberto Velasquez Molina and I am innocent. Thank you to all the people around the world for helping me with your signatures and to DOOM, Jake, the Doctor Marialena, Doctor Muñoz and all the energy of punks of the world.”

luis-velasquez-molina


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How Boyaca’s Farmers Sparked a Movement that Brought the Colombian Government to its Knees

in Citizen Journalism/Food & Water Security/Guerilla Journalism by
Citizen Journalist Aida Castro at Tunja Cathedral in front of the hashtag she coined "Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas"
Citizen Journalist Aida Castro in front of the hashtag she coined “Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas”
Its not every Sunday that the priest of a rural Colombian city called Tunja begins his sermon with a story of an illiterate Indian girl who grew up in the shadow of the British Empire.

The 8th of September was not a normal Sunday.

For the three weeks previous farmers from the province of Boyaca and its capital Tunja had blocked the roads to strangle the food supply en route to Colombia’s biggest city Bogotá.

Boyaca is not only Bogotá’s backyard, its also the breadbasket for this city of 7 million mouths and has fed it since the time of the Spanish.

After decades of having their human rights ignored the National Agrarian Strike with its epicenter in Boyaca was a last resort to get urbanite Colombians to pay attention: the countryside is in crisis so consumers can save a few pesos at the supermarket.

The strike had abated the day before and Tunjas Cathedral was packed with people who came to see three of the movements leaders who fought against forces far greater than themselves: the Colombian government castrated by consecutive Free Trade Agreements with foreign powers, the United States that provides the country with billions of dollars in military aid (and expects its back scratched in return) as well as omnipotent multinationals like Monsanto.

Their names were Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón and they spoke to the gathered mass in front of a banner stating, “Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas”
tunja-cathedral
The name of the Indian woman was Kasturba Mohandas Gandhi and the priest recounted a question once asked to her about the man she married who brought the British Empire to its knees.

Her reply: “I did not marry a man,
I married a cause.”

This is the story of Boyaca’s cause.

 

The Seeds of Discontent

pacho-boyacaBefore dawn 12 hours earlier a man they call Pacho from the nearby town of Paipa rigs his car with a speaker and microphone transforming it into a mobile soapbox.

Mist hangs heavily over the back roads that bend up the mountainside and visibility is limited but Pacho dodges the severed trees that had, up until a few days before, blocked all entries and exits to the town.

With steering wheel in one hand and a microphone in the other Pacho shouts out the first names of those who cut the trees and blocked the roads with aggressive threats of force – they are potato farmers and they are invited to a Town Hall Meeting that morning where farmers get to discuss the strikes resolution with Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón.

Flour & Barley: Because Cocaine is not an Option

Pacho has gained a measure of success in his life and now runs a warehouse full of farming goods from fertilizer to cattle feed and tools both big and small to work the land. But sales have bottomlined, purchases are being made on credit, and customers he counts as friends are struggling to survive.

“This conflict comes from much further back than Santos or Uribe and the TLC” says Pacho referring to Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States in his history lesson of Boyaca.

In the 1970’s the crop of choice for the province was barley until big beer breweries with factories in the province began using imports from the US. The farmers switched to wheat which was used in bakeries across Boyaca but subsidized wheat and flour from the US undercut competition in the 80’s.

boyaca-valleyOver the following decades everything from contraband Ecuadorian potatoes to European imports of powdered milk made it harder for Boyacenses to do business.

In other parts of the country these Fair Trade Agreements that flooded the market with cheap foreign imports forced farmers into growing the one Colombian crop with insatiable international demand:
the Coca leaf.
Boyaca’s too cold for Coca.

“We don’t have politicians that protect the community, they are selling the country and the farmers are fed up.” Pacho says as the car climbs up above the mist for a view of Boyaca’s spectular valleys.

“The same state that forgot about the potato farmers is facilitating the multinationals so that they can sell more at subsidized prices.”

Potato Farmers Do Not Want Monsanto Seeds

 
boyaca-potato-farmersThree paperos or potato farmers come to greet us, “this land makes good potatoes but what kills us are the importations, they don’t let us compete and now we are broke” says community leader Alexander Camargo.

“You dont sell potatoes,” he says, “you give them away.”

Its not a lack of creativity or initiative that bankrupted the potato farmers of Paipa.

For years they have gone to the mayor with plans to help return their industry to profit but the municipal government ignored them. One such plan was a seed bank that Alexander Camargo and Luis Cipaguata dreamt of creating called Crops from a Cold Land.

After Colombia signed the TLC with the United States storing seeds became a criminal offence. Farmers that followed the tradition of their great grandfathers became criminals under new laws enforced with fines or imprisonment. Saving seeds threatened the bottomline of Monsanto.

[quote]”We need to buy foreign seeds but they are too expensive, we want to certify our own seeds” says Camargo, “if we cannot save our own seeds then they have us screwed.”[/quote]

Catastrophic Acts of God vs Government Pacts: MercoSur, TLC

The nearby town of Santa Teresa has felt the destructive nature of these Free Trade Agreements with the US and South American countries under the MercoSur umbrella as hard as 3 floods that devastated the area in 2.5 years.

boyaca-lake“When the government took the barley off us we had to look for a different crop, some went for potatos, others for milk or onions,” says Wilson Pulido a representative for the region.

“After the floods destroyed everything everyone’s in debt and then the government floods us with Peruvian onions, MercoSur, the TLC.” he says.

“Now it costs 55,000 pesos to get a load of onions but we have to sell that load at 20,000 pesos, we are losing 70 percent on every load”

Back in Paipa Pacho drives down the valley to ready himself for the Town Hall Meeting and tells me, “What other choice do the people here have? They are honest, they don’t know how to steal, they aren’t guerrillas, they only want to work with dignity to get a better quality of life for their families”

You can only step over peoples human rights for so long until they have nothing left to lose and the stoic Boyacenses had nothing left to lose. They took the roads.

How The Movement Spread

1. The Watercooler of Dissent: Fruit & Vegetable Markets

corn-field
Colombia’s National Agrarian Strike started as grassroots as it gets: in fruit and veg markets across Boyaca where farmers and sellers had been swapping stories of dwindling profits and soaring losses for years.

It was here Pacho says: “farmers communicated and organized every single wednesday”
 

2. Protest Leaders Organize While President Santos Laughs

"Wearing the ruana gives me pride but it also makes me easily identifiable and I have made many enemies" César Pachon
“Wearing the Ruana gives me pride but it also makes me easily identifiable and I have made many enemies” says César Pachon
On May 7th 2013 representatives for farmers convened in Bogotá to alert the the government about the crisis in its agricultural sector. Speeches on Youtube by César Pachon and Florentino Borda show how their microphones are cut which was considered incredibly condescending by farmers.

The government gave them empty promises but the congregation served an important purpose to Pachón and Borda because they were able to network with other sidelined farmers from provinces across the country to coordinate the next strike.

In August 2013 when the National Agrarian Strike began comments by President Santos deliberately belittling the size of the protests infuriated Boyacenses long fed up with their rights being ignored.

“There were only 20 or 30 people blocking the roads” says Pacho, “but when Santos said ‘this so called national strike doesn’t exist‘ overnight we trippled in size.”

The Boyacenses wanted to send a message: YES WE EXIST.

3. Citizen Journalists Shoot Police Human Rights Abuses

ESMAD-Colombia
“Read and Study or Look at the Consequences –>”
To beat Boyaca’s farmers into submission the Colombian government sent a largely undisciplined, downright violent, and universally feared force of ESMAD Riot Police to stop the protests.

What happened next would shock the western world but comes as no surprise to your average Colombian: these trigger-happy storm troopers dressed like Darth Vader vigilantes began looting and pillaging the countryside.

In the village of Barranco 10 minutes outside of Tunja a potato farmer named Ernesto Torres was selling black coffee to protestors blocking the via Bogotá a mere 100 meters from his home. When the ESMAD arrived protestors panicked and ran up past Torres’ house and into the hills but the police gave up chase and looted the potato farmers’ home instead.

That night the ESMAD broke Torres’ two motorbikes, tipped over a gallon bucket of honey, stole 3,000,000 pesos he had set aside to buy pesticide, smashed the windows and left spent teargass grenades on his childrens bunkbeds.

[quote]”We left the door unlocked because its safe in the countryside, we never thought something like this could happen in Boyaca,” says Ernesto Torres, “Thank god the children were with my father.”[/quote]

“I believe the ESMAD made us stronger” César Pachón told me explaining how the deluge of videos by Citizen Journalists documenting human rights abuses by the ESMAD caused public outrage and garnered the sympathy of Colombian’s from the city.

4. The Town Hall of the Future: Red Boyaca

aida-castro-citizen-journalist
Citizen Journalist Aida Castro filming César Pachon in Paipas Town Hall
In Paipa’s Town Hall the mood is a mix of elation and tense relief amongst the farmers gathered. Here Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón give speeches about what Boyaca gained now the strike against the government had been resolved while citizen journalist Aida Castro films and tweets their points.

The sleepy town of Paipa, like many others in the province, have risen up in protest only once before in history: during the Battle of Boyacá in August 1819 that gained Colombia its independence from the Spanish.

This August 193 years later the Colombian elite are again facilitating foreign states as well as multinationals to plunder the countryside at the expense of the human rights of farmers and their families.

What has changed however is a phenomena mushrooming across South American cyberspace called the Town Hall of the Future – online meeting places like this brick and mortar Town Hall in Paipa were concerned citizens come to discuss important topics online.

Online Town Halls like Red Boyaca are the future in bringing people together to fight for their communities by holding human rights abuses accountable thanks to the courageous grassroots reporting by citizen journalists.

There is an old saying in this cold Colombian province: “Boyacenses don’t pray to God for good crops, they pray the neighbors crops will fail.” Now however for the second time in history the stoic Boyacenses are united but this time they are hyper-connected to each other and the rest of Colombia thanks to Citizen Journalism and the Town Halls of the Future.
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Media Manipulation 102: The Viral Images That Shook Colombia’s Social Networks

in Guerilla Journalism by

On Colombia’s largest TV news source Caracol there is a segment called ASI SE MUEVE LOS REDES or THIS IS HOW NETWORKS MOVE which parades tweets that are trending and memes making rounds around social networks.

In the midst of the nation wide protests that gripped the country for three weeks this segment became a tool to whitewash what was really moving on social networks and manufacture consent to conform with claims deliberately belittling the size of the protests.

The most famous claim was when President Santos stated “this national strike does not exist.” which set off a tidal wave of memes and even youtube videos that rippled around social networks.

Despite getting thousands of shares none of them made the cut for Caracol TVs social media show so we decided to compare some with those that did.

Caracol News vs Chekhovs Kalashnikov

 
The following memes, tweets, and Facebook images were selected on September 2nd and compared with Caracol TVs selection for the same day. A more scientific comparative analysis would compare tweets with tweets and Facebook with Facebook but we believe the programs unprecedented focus on just twitter was because this network took second place to Facebook during the strikes.

CARACOLS CHOICE: The first pick on Caracols THIS IS HOW NETWORKS MOVE is a North American businessman who paid to promote various irate tweets in English against British Airways when they lost his fathers luggage.

CHEKHOVS CHOICE: With over a thousand more shares and likes that same day we have picked an image and quote of Cesar Pachon, a potato farmer from Boyaca who led the protests in the province and states: “We are capable of making a house, we dont need them to give us one, with our own work we are capable of buying it. Dont worry about food because we are capable of feeding this country”translation: we dont need welfare, we need just policies that don’t bankrupt farmers.
cesar-pachon

CARACOLS CHOICE: Next up on the program was a cameo from Caracols favorite post-Chavez-punching-bag, Nicolas Maduro, showcasing the Venezuelan Presidents announcement over twitter who is now tweeting English, French, and Portuguese to accompany his mother tongue.

Caracols social media team then scoured twitter to find a mildly popular meme taking the piss out of Maduro the Polyglot´s letter to Obama:
“TUBAZOOOOO OBAMA RECEIVES THE LETTER FROM THE POLYGLOT @NicolasMaduro”
https://twitter.com/THELAWYER41/status/374925770054852609

president-santos
    
CHEKHOVS CHOICE: The same day an image with 1,266 likes 786 shares of President Santos looking like the psychopathic clown from Stephen Kings IT appeared.

Two days after September 2nd a Gallup poll put the approval rating of President Santos at 21 percent down 27 percentage points from the previous poll.

The Wall Street Journal called it “the lowest level recorded for a Colombian president for more than a decade” which may be worrying news for the editors at Caracol as Juan Manuel Santos enters an election year.

Kalashnikov Analysis: HOW NETWORKS REALLY MOVE


Analysing social networks inside Colombia during these strikes and its obvious that much of the citizen journalism documenting the police and ESMAD brutality originates on Facebook.

These photographs and videos are uploaded by individuals (students, youths, professionals) and make ripples around their respective social networks until they are picked up by larger Facebook groups like Young Revolutionaries in Action.

These larger Facebook groups are also becoming the first point of contact for many citizen journalists seeking a wider reach for their photos and videos of the protests.

That means Facebook groups like Soy Estudiante, Jovenes Revolucionarios, and Red Boyaca are becoming the primary source for unfiltered news for many Colombians irrespective of their demographic and location.

Given that the size of each of these platforms grew exponentially during the three week protests the Colombian government may already see them as a threat to controlling the narrative over the mainstream communication mediums.
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Media Manipulation 101: The Injured Youth and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in Colombia

in Citizen Journalism/Guerilla Journalism by

injured-youth2 On the 29th of August hours after the protests in the Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota a video of a seriously injured youth known only as the “Joven Herido” started making waves around social networks.

The protests had turned violent and depending on which side of the barricade you stood the blame laid at the feet of either the disproportional force of the ESMED Riot Police or a “cartel of vandals” that had infiltrated the protests and caused the militarization of Bogota.

From that protest the story of the Injured Youth became one of the most viewed, commented, and shared videos to come out of the two week nation wide strikes that had engulfed the country. A closer look at the coverage of the Joven Herido is essential to understand the media war underway between the mainstream broadcast media and Colombia’s citizen journalists.

How to Direct the Narrative in News

As the video of the Injured Youth went viral concerned citizens across Colombia began asking who he was, what happened to him, and if he was okay.

El Espectador, the oldest newspaper in Colombia as well as one of its biggest and most influential, was the only big mainstream communication medium to publish the video. Here is a comparative analysis between the coverage between El Espectador and a small citizen media outlet called Reporteros24 which bills itself as “the social network of citizen journalism from latinos for latinos”

El Espectador published the video on the 29th at 6:55 pm and later tweeted it at 9:15 and 11:53. Reporteros24 on the other hand published the video on the 30th at 6:06pm and tweeted it at 7:13.

The difference between the language they used:


“Youth Injured During Bogota Protests”


“In Video: Youth Injured During Bogota Protests”


“Shocking images of a seriously injured youth during the Agrarian Protests in Bogotá”

If you add 27 + 19 + 23 for the amount of retweets each got above and divide by 3 you get number 23. This makes Reporteros24 tweet the mean. Now note that the twitter account of El Espectador has 1,220,417 followers while Reporteros24 has 1,803 and do the maths – In statistics tweets like El Espectadors are called Outliers.

[pullquote]out·li·er [out-lahy-er] noun:
an observation that is well outside of the expected range of values in a study or experiment, and which is often discarded from the data set.”
[/pullquote]  

This is the power of using vague and ambigious language on twitter over its descriptive and contextual opposite – its designed to be discarded.

Now lets compare the landing pages for the Youtube video on both El Espectador and Reporteros24:
[quote]”El Espectador was unable to confirm this information independently, but decided to publish it for its news value. The content below may find upsetting.” El Espectador[/quote] [quote]This video circulating on social networks, shows the severity of injuries sustained while this young man participated in marches in support of agricultural strike in Bogota. Apparently tear gas exploded near the boy’s face. The images can hurt your sensitivity. Reporteros24 can not independently confirm the veracity, date or place of this material. Reporteros24[/quote]

Here we can give El Espectador the benefit of the doubt in that they published the video the night of the protests (a day before Reporteros24) and legitimately had no information about the boy. However for the most viewed, shared, and commented video that the newspaper published one might think its “news value” meant it deserved a follow up to find out what happened to the boy.

Colombia’s oldest newspaper however was too busy publishing article after article about the colourfully dubbed a “cartel of vandals” guilty of throwing rocks and wrecking public property and even included the video apology of a 15 year old boy whose “reprehensible action” was to graffiti “long live the strike” on a wall which was news worthy enough to get its own article.

Network Anomalies on El Espectador

Four days later and the view-count of the Injured Youth video was rapidly climbing everywhere except newspaper El Espectador where various network anomalies saw the piece fluctuate between 27,000 and 11,000 shares. A few days later still the view count started to fluctuate between 11,000 and 4,000 shares and now sits steady on 12,000.

Is this a glitch? Or is it part of a larger plan to censor and obfuscate all news related to violations of human rights perpetuated by the country’s feared ESMAD riot police? Lets look a little deeper.

SEX SELLS vs IF IT BLEEDS IT LEADS

Sex and Gore are the media industry’s two holy cash cows and “The nymphomaniac that proposes to have sex with 100,000 men” was El Espectadors best bet in making the masses forget the previous weeks protests and the Injured Youth. The piece became number 1 in the newspapers TOP 10 for the week of 2nd to 8th of September.

“Up this this moment Ania Lisewska has 284 men in her ´collection´”

Sex sells and the picture of the 21 year old Polish sex junky with her legs seductively bared on her bed no doubt helped the article skyrocket to number 1 for the week. Now lets look at the Injured Youth in the previous week:

Instead of showing the Injured Youths mutilated face haemorrhaging blood we get an image of a different youth, without a cut on him, seemingly antagonizing the ESMAD riot police that cower against the wall. El Espectador have an original photo of the youth but they decided to go against the cardinal rule in news media “if it bleeds it leads” which makes us wonder why don’t they want this story to lead?

Media Manipulation is everywhere and if citizen journalists do not hold news organizations accountable their flagrant abuse of the truth it will only become more outrageous.

To prove this point the day after the National Agrarian Strike ended, with hundreds of outstanding human rights violations by the ESMAD and half the countryside on the brink of bankruptcy, the front page of El Espectador has 12 articles about sport and one article hidden at the bottom from the “chief of state” Juan Manuel Santos acknowledging there’s a problem.

Casualty of a Media War: Photographer Federico Lennis

With 10,000 shares more than the consecutive weeks article (or 24,443 shares less depending on which view-count you believe) it is hard to fathom why the journalists at El Espectador haven’t looked further into the case of the Injured Youth.

The following message is part of news that has been spreading since the 30th of August, about the young Federico Lennis, who on the 29th of August was injured in the face by the ESMAD (original Post)
While the mainstream media was silent citizen journalists and Facebook groups were busy scouring the web for more information about the boy and posting pleas via leveraging the power of social networks.

In the image to the left the cousin of the injured youth, named Federico Lennis, states: [quote]Hello everybody, i am the cousin of Federico and I am infinitely grateful to you all for the great support you have given us over this Facebook page. I inform you that fortunately he is good in health and talking in general….

We are working on gathering information as a family, friends, and relatives, contacts of any kind to help improve his quality of life, its to say…. we want a smile on him like before…for that we need a dentist or various im not sure, those who are interested in the case he has already lost various teeth and we need someone urgently…[/quote]

On the citizen journalist site aptly named Mentiras Medios or “Lying Media” we get an even better idea who Federico Lennis is in their two articles that reconstruct the steps leading up to his injury.

They also found a quote on a Youtube video on Noticias Capital that devotes most of the time investigating the Cartel of Vandals but interviews a man at the end who tells us what happened to Federico Lennis: [quote]Yesterday we were first hand witnesses, of the police brutality that the ESMAD introduced and the force available from the National Police in Bogota, on the road 19 with avenue 7a a youth of approximately 18 years was hit by a tear gas grenade. This completely destroyed his lips, the police did nothing to help him.[/quote]

We also see that certain elements are attempting to defame Federico Lennis by claiming he was a “masked vandal” or Capucho. Fortunately we can thank the coming of age of Colombia’s citizen journalists for not settling for censorship and revealing the truth about this 18 year old photographer who may never smile again. But hell always be remembered as the martyr who fought for a cause he believed in.

"Here we have the youth that the ESMAD destroyed the Face...Federico Lennis. Here is the proof that he was not a "masked vandal" he was a photographer. That those responsible appear, the true vandals, the ESMAD that shot him."
“Here we have the youth that the ESMAD destroyed the Face…Federico Lennis.
Here is the proof that he was not a “masked vandal” he was a photographer.
That those responsible appear, the true vandals, the ESMAD that shot him.
SHARE THIS SO THAT THERE IS JUSTICE”
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The Modern Black Market for Antiques

in Guerilla Journalism by

antique By the look of the place you’d never guess half a million dollars of pre-Colombian art was buried beneath the mess. Stored on the bottom floor of a nondescript apartment, beneath uncurled moldy mattresses and boxes of broken electronics, are artifacts spanning the rise and fall of civilizations.

“These pieces have a power not for normal people to see,” the Archaeologist nicknamed Indiana announced.  He unwraps the newspaper covering a vase sized cup, a wooden chalice called a Queeo, used by the Incas in human sacrificial ceremonies.

“It was used to drink the blood of a virgin but only once.” Indiana says running his finger over the hieroglyphs surrounding the four hundred year old cups circumference.  The engraved images show the virgin being bound and held by one priest as the second raises his sword, the virgin’s head is severed then held by the hair to drain the blood from her brain into the chalice.

[quote]Value on the international black market: $10,000 – $15,000 USD[/quote]

To my inexperienced eye I note the apartment’s dust riddled condition is far from ideal for museum quality artifacts but Indiana assures me the pieces are protected.  He points to a paper mache mold mounted on the wall of the blue elephantine head of Ganesh and later places a cigarette in the gaping pottery mouth of Ekeko, the Peruvian God of good luck.

If that’s not enough to protect the place from intruders or the encroaching mold, the bones of Indianas’ dead uncle are hidden in the apartment.

“I donated $30,000 worth of pieces to a government museum but they disappeared,” he says trying to persuade me to take photos of several hundred ancient Valdivias, ceramics found on Ecuador’s coast from one of the first peoples to settle in the Americas between 3500 BC and 1800 BC.

“People overseas appreciate and take care of this art more than people here.” he says.   I agree with him.

The Plaza de los Ponchos in Otovalo, Ecuador is an indigenous market with everything from alpaca socks and sweaters to authentic or fake antiques for collectors with an eye to spot the difference.

Here Indiana meets a Swiss expat that trades in rocks: from shards of quartz, fools gold, and fossilized wood from Madagasca, to heavy Mexican masks made of Bromite.

Indiana tells him about his collection.  The Swiss man makes a passing comment, nonchalant and easy to miss, about a contact back home with a penchant for the phallic ceramics that bestowed fertility on ancient Valdivia.  A casual meetup come private showing is organized the next day.

If the Swiss agrees to do business what happens next is the Valdivias will be taken by courier to the coastal town of La Pila.

Like its more famous neighbor Monticristi, which specializes in Ecuadorian Panama Hats, La Pila is a place where ceramics fresh from the kiln can be manufactured en masse for cheap. Here the priceless Valdivias will be packed with spin-off trinkets to camouflage the art en route to Zurich.

The ceramics of varying vintages will then be taken to the port city of Manta where one of Indianas’ guys will sign and send them overseas for a small three figure cut.

[quote]Because its more dangerous to get artifacts out of Ecuador than into Switzerland, Indiana himself can pick them up in the Alps.[/quote]

Once Indiana has the goods in Zurich he will make contact with the mark. “A personal introduction is worth much more than passing on a contact,” he says looking at his watch, “and of course an all expenses return trip from Quito to Zurich is included if he comes.”

But the Swiss doesn’t show and the Valdivias are left to collect dust with the bones of the archeologist’s crusty uncle a little while longer.
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