Bogotá Theater Groups Threatened with Exile or Death

by Steve Cosson

in Global Citizenship

(This post was originally written for The Civilians blog by Steve Cosson. With their permission, we are reposting this here on the Circle to raise as much awareness as possible of the threat facing theatres in Bogotá. – August Schulenburg)

by Steve Cosson, The Civilians

The right is eager to consolidate power and re-take political control. And apparently, that requires threatening teenagers, stilt walkers, mimes and musicians.

Shortly after arriving here in Bogotá I learned of a crisis here in the city that seems perfectly surreal but is in fact very real and worthy of some international attention. (I find myself in Bogotá in order to lead the research of a new Civilians project about a beauty pageant that will take place in a few weeks at El Buen Pastor, the national women’s prison. More on that to come in future blog postings here.)

Here’s what’s going down. On August 23, a group of twelve theater and arts groups were threatened by the very sinister-sounding “Bloque Capital D. C. de las Águilas Negras” (The Capita District Sector of the Black Eagles). The groups received a note saying such things as: “Today we begin the social cleansing of all the dirty organizations that stand in our way… we are not playing around you motherfucking disgusting sons of bitches. Don’t make us finish you off one by one.” In short, the groups were ordered to leave Bogotá or be killed. The full text in Spanish and English follows. 

The Aguilas Negras are essentially a right-wing paramilitary group. Under former president Uribe the paramilitaries were officially disbanded. However, many of these groups have reformed and are sometimes described as “neo paramilitaries” or “emergent criminal groups.” In this instance however, the origin of the threat from the Aguilas Negras is likely not criminal but political which has everything to do with upcoming elections this fall.

WHO IS THREATENED:

The groups primarily work in the working class/poor south of Bogotá, often with a focus on social service, providing activities for youth, etc. The work is populist, often street theater: parades, dance, masks, stilt walking—a kind of spectacular visual theater that’s a tradition in the area. The key factor in this is most likely the youth. While not necessarily political companies, the groups tend to be left-leaning and the right-wing perceives them as competition in the effort to gain recruits among the young.

THE RESPONSE

In response to the threat, the threatened groups and other cultural organizations of Bogotá have convened several large meetings. At a recent convening one of the threatened teatreros commented that while all the groups felt very concerned they could not imagine who would want to kill them. In referring to the text of the death threats, part of which stated the the Aguilas Negras will attack “these motherfucking organizations of shit who pretend to be defenders of the human rights through artistic expressions that are against the policies of our government.” The teatrero commented that the threatened groups could not understand how the defense of human rights could inspire a death threat, nor did they understand what the Aguilas meant as “our government.”

On August 30th, the day that the groups were supposed to leave Bogotá, the groups instead organized a festive parade through the streets of downtown Bogotá calling on fellow citizens and cultural groups to come out in support. Here are some photos and a  short video I took of the march.

You can see a bit more of the march in this video, created by others attending:

The march was followed by another large convening. The Police have opened an investigation into the threat and have offered protection to the threatened groups. Part of the investigation’s purpose is to determine who exactly is making the threats as there is a history of various groups using the name “Aguilas Negras” to intimidate their enemies. In this case, whoever might be using the name, it seems to many here in Bogotá that this crisis is happening as part of the lead-up to the fall elections which will elect a new Mayor of Bogotá, state governors and numerous city councils. After the failure of a left-leaning mayor here in Bogotá, the right is eager to consolidate power and re-take control. And apparently, that requires threatening teenagers, stilt walkers, mimes and musicians. Recent newspaper articles here have argued that the threats may be coming from “delinquent groups” comprised of former guerrilla, narcos and paramilitaries who wish to continue control of the local drug trade and that the artistic groups may “present an obstacle.” Just my opinion here, but I can’t see how dancing teenagers pose a threat to the drug trade. The political theory carries more weight.

In the meantime, the artistic groups argue that they do not feel sufficiently protected. And while the police continue their investigation of the threats, it’s vitally important that the international community work to shine a light on this situation and remind the police and the government of Colombia that the world is watching.

Please consider writing or sending an email to the entities listed below.Many national and international human rights groups are already aware of the issue. However, the more international attention we can garner, the greater chance that these threatened groups will be safe. Letters and emails sent directly to officials here in Bogotá truly make a difference. Through The Civilians and other US organizations, I will also be organizing a letter for publication. If you would like to help in that effort please feel free to contact info@thecivilians.org.

Here is a scan of the death threat(click to enlarge):

English translation:

Today we begin a social cleansing of all the dirty organizations that stand in our way.

3.1 To formalize a release in the south-center and south- western areas of the city to the motherfucking organizations of shit that pretend to be defenders of the human rights through artistic expressions that are against the policies of our government.

[List of the the threatened organizations]

We don’t care whether you’re protected sons of bitches, it won’t do you any good. You have 8 days to leave the city, motherfuckers.We are not playing around motherfuckers, disgusting bitches don’t make us finish you off one by one. The Capital Section of the Aguilas Negras.

Please help by writing any or all of the contacts below to let them know that you are concerned for the safety of the theater and artistic groups in Bogotá and that you urge the Colombian government and police to do everything it can to protect the  groups and to investigate the threat. 

Volmar Antonio Perez
Defensoria del pueblo
Calle 55 No 10- 32
Bogota, Colombia
Email: http://www.defensoria.org.co/red/?_item=0008&_secc=00&ts=1

Hernan Jaime Ulloa
Programa presidencial de derechos humanos
presidencia de la república
carrera 7 No 6 – 54
Bogota, Colombia
Email: ppdh@presidencia.gov.co

Mariella Barragán
Secretaria de Gobierno Bogota

And here are some links to recent articles about the threats:
And an overview of the heirs to the paramilitaries: