Piranhas in Colombia
Abstract: The approach to violence as an illness may not be new. In countries such as Colombia, violence has existed with chronic endemicity. Individual concern must be awakened in response to international cooperation so that peace and order will blossom.
Violence is the same in any place or human epoch. However, if we look at it like a disease we will need a state of the art to treat it successfully. Is armed rebellion justified when it is believed that there is social injustice, and the spirit of liberty and equality has been repressed?
Picasso, the Spanish painter, chose the bull as a symbol of violence, and the Colombian painter Obregón, possibly painted piranhas with the same intention. This small fish is incredibly voracious, lives particularly in the Amazon and attacks when it senses blood in the water. This makes us think that, just like piranhas, men do not attack when the water is not tainted with blood, and like the fighting bull charge only when provoked.
The same thing happens with human nature. The brain possesses specialized zones for vision, hearing, emotion, sense and thought. Similarly, in the limbic system there are behavioral areas that are intimate areas of primitive animal nature that remain dormant. They awake when there is a spark or a stimulus that unchains their response. These areas have been previously programmed through time according to the genetic makeup of the person. They can be modified only by education and the environment in which the person was born and raised. This determines his personality and the way society will judge him.
This fact does not imply that we are programmed for good or for evil, which would absolve us of social responsibility and create legal problems. It only allows us to acknowledge all that contributed to the development of the species, recognize, which will eventually help us determine means to mold flawed genetic tendencies and make people who can live together with greater case.
Let us examine some determining factors and how the evolutionary process is shaped. Atoms form molecules, people form families and these, in turn, form societies, which then integrate into nations and states. The latter create the norms and laws that guide people and societies and regardless of their being good or bad, obeyed or not, these govern them. Such societies have existed since at least 150 million years, before man could use his hands and walk straight. Throughout the centuries, just like other mammals, men have formed groups that agree to delegate functions to natural leaders in order to survive. These groups control individual free will for the welfare of the community. It is generally accepted that once this control is lost social equilibrium breaks and violence erupts.
Violence has been a constant in human history: the violence of the biblical passages, of wars, and of Communism, Nazism and the Inquisition, to name just a few examples. And let us not forget the individual fury to which households are subjected. These are really expressions of primitive animal needs outside the boundaries of what society has determined to be appropriate.
Have the acts of Atila, Napoleon or Elizabeth the Catholic been causal or necessary elements to unleash the violence of conquest? Or were their acts carried out and requested by their peoples as a product of circumstance? Some circumstances mostly economic and social in nature have fuelled the outbursts that we all know. Thus, it logical that piranhas live in the tropics and that there are warrior men and nations. The reality is that in the evolutionary process of civilised cultures, the approval of violence has been as much a constant as its rejection.
The long lasting violence in Colombia has not been mitigated by the supplications of the white flags adorned with scapulars, nor by the wishes of a few intellectuals who ask for a military solution, which would be the surgical treatment of the disease. This Colombian violence has not been a Spanish Civil War or a Mexican Revolution. It has been an armed conflict, which, like the piranhas in the Amazon, does not extinguish itself but persists like a cancer or like one of those viruses that does not respond to any treatment whatsoever. This violence grew because it was underestimated. It was commonly believed that it was merely part of the fabric of the national folklore or that it was only political frolics.
By the way, let me share two of my own experiences related to the violence in Colombia. During the 1940s, when I was about 10 years old I saw uniformed government agents mounted on horses prevent the arrival of peasants to voting booths. In that same rural town where this happened and around the same time, I was a witness to the payment of a “voluntary donation” by a good man who sold school supplies. Mobs organized by the local politicians were in charge of collecting the donations. With time I’d came to understand that many times the political adversary is persecuted to force him to sell his land at a deflated price or to leave his public post so that it can then become part of the political loot.
Among the many elements that unchain violence there are environmental, economic and genetic elements. Half a century ago, Doctor Luis López Mesa in his book Of how the Colombian Nation Was Formed, looked at the abandoned rich lands of the Amazon and predicted the emergence of “an independent and adventurous state” in the Amazon River basin, which consisted of five thousand kilometers of tributaries that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. This is an agricultural and cattle-raising territory and it is made up of high areas, among them the area of the Caguán River and the Sierra de la Macarena. Approximately twenty thousand guerrillas control this area and do not seem to be preoccupied with ending the conflict. The crops, from which the prime materials for the so-called recreational drugs are extracted, abound in this area. These drugs generate a lot of money and this compels the inhabitants of this region, who lack resources, to live off of these crops.
The hereditary factor also counts. Colombians are principally mestizos (58%), which results from the mix of Indians and Spaniards, and mulattos (14%) which results from the mix of Spaniards and Blacks. The Black population constitutes 4% of the total. This means that the migratory and hereditary influence of other cultures and races has been missing. We were left with the defects of our conquistadors, the independent spirit that emerged among their mixed Spanish and Indian descendants, and very important, the resentment towards the injustices of the conquest, that did not exterminate them but that took away their gold, their land and their gods. Had Spanish women accompanied their warriors they would have humanized this epic and would have built the type of model homes that those who arrived later built.
Finally we were left with the desire to be whiter. Over people frustrated by the discrimination faced when dealing with superior social groups. When this clash acquires a collective character, the cultural problem emerges. This factor was skillfully used by the liberator, Simon Bolivar whose followers fought more for social equality and independence than for liberty, because slavery only existed among the Africans who were brought to work in the mines.
The other twenty percent of this ethnic formation is Caucasian and mixed. These are the common men and women, the leaders, the professionals, the intellectuals, the clergy, the military, the artists, the industrialists, the merchants who have contributed to construe a beautiful independent country and a sovereign state within the norms of international solidarity.
My proposal includes two types of medicines. If they do not cure the disease, they will at least improve the pitiful state of the victim. The first one is a migratory therapy and the other is social demand.
Migratory therapy: The progressive advance of civilization and the modern means of transportation are a consequence of the human desire for expansion in search of better sources of food and spaces to live. The migratory instinct creates the need for racial exchange and the need to travel to other lands and other planets.
This migratory instinct would benefit Colombia, which has two oceans, the Andes mountain range that multiplies its privileged geographic extension and many natural resources. This can be attractive to other countries, other races and cultures and can bring technology, order, creativity, progress and different changes in habits and ways of thinking.
Colombia needs a cultural immigration of science and technology that would neutralize violence. The country would have to offer the goodness of its resources and of its people who would have to see immigration in a positive light. They would have to forget previous attempts that left the impression that immigration is not convenient because many of those who have come, become wealthy, isolate themselves and leave.
If we look at the other side of the coin, because of the reigning insecurity there has been a massive internal displacement which has increased at all levels and in all places, turning Colombians into migrants. This creates a curious paradox. It is now necessary that brains and capital arrive into the country.
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Article was commented with Political Analyst Roberto Franco Garcia.
Julio Manrique, M.D.
Dermatologist in private practice. Associated to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens and Manhattan, New York.