Unlike the floods that I’ve heard so much (perhaps too much) about in the UK, the weather in Bogota has been gorgeous over February.  Sadly the sunny patch is coming to an end as the rainy season gets back into swing.  Bogota is really beautiful in the sun and really horrible in the rain!  Probably like most places!

February has been a hectic month and, as seems to be a common theme in my life at the moment, pretty eclectic!  I’ve been doing a lot more with CPDH which has been brilliant.  I’m starting to get a better picture of human rights work in this country and have been pretty shocked by what I’ve experienced over the past month.  At the beginning of February a right-wing paramilitary group, Aguilas Negras put out a public threat with bounties on the head of about 20 people.  The people belonged to communist and socialist parties and NGOs, two of them from CPDH.  As you can imagine this was pretty shocking and quite hard to stomach, however the people working in CPDH are used to this sort of thing and assured me nothing would come of it as long as protection mechanisms were instated etc. 

I am constantly amazed at how brave the people who carry on working in these fields are despite constant threats to their lives and often the lives of their families.  I wrote an article yesterday on the attempted assassination of Aida Avella, the presidential candidate for the left-wing Patriotic Union.  It is scary to think that even as Colombia moves forward from its violent past, there are still people in the country who maintain stoic Cold War mentalities and refuse to acknowledge the presence of a range of political opinions so essential for the flourishing of true democracy.  Here’s the article if you’re interested.  http://thecitypaperbogota.com/news/ups-aida-avella-narrowly-escapes-attack/

Last week I visited Sumapaz in the Paramo region near Bogota with CPDH.  It is the biggest moorland in the world and plays host to 3,000 inhabitants and over 5,000 soldiers.  In the 80s the area had a large guerrilla presence but in recent years guerrillas have moved elsewhere.  This huge military presence presents difficult challenges for local inhabitants, all of which are farmers living in small, peaceful villages; a vivid reminder that the victims of the Colombian conflict are overwhelmingly concentrated in the countryside, where their peaceful lives become caught in the ideological cross fire that has increasingly lost credibility and logic.  We went to document violations of International Humanitarian Law and collect statements from the people who live there to begin legal procedures against the military. 

We tried to take photos of the environmental degradation and water contamination so many of the inhabitants complained about but the army wouldn’t let us through.  The ‘army’ in this instance were two clueless 20 year old boys with massive guns.  It was shocking to see how much power they wielded over us, a collection of human rights experts, member of the mayor’s office and a large number of members of the local community.  It reminded me that this level of violence has become normal in Colombia and those wielding weapons are those with power.  The experience was intense but definitely something I want to do more of.

This month I’ve been writing a lot for Embrace Bogota and The City Paper which has meant I’ve met lots of really interesting people and heard about some great projects.  I’ve written a few articles about conservation in Colombia which is a new hot topic as people are realising the importance of protecting the world’s second most bio-diverse country and to educate future generations about the necessity to conserve the immense variety of flora and fauna.  I also wrote about the first art auction house in Bogota and got to go to the opening where I was hobnobbing with Bogota elite amidst lots of free whisky!  Not sure I really fitted in but it was interesting to observe!

http://www.embracebogota.com/#!blog/clcx/Tag/hannahmatthews/

I also wrote an article on William Hague’s visit to Colombia, emphasising the UK’s commitment to reduce sexual violence in conflicts which I find pretty interesting.  It was the first visit from a British foreign minister in years. http://thecitypaperbogota.com/news/hague-and/

In other news, it was great to show some more visitors round Bogota last weekend, although I’m hugely jealous that they are now sunning themselves on the Caribbean coast and I’m shivering in rainy Bogota!  My propaganda campaign seems to be working though, as people keep mentioning tentative plans to come and visit… please do!

I’ve been plodding along with my English lessons, waking up at 5.30am every morning!  Not overly enjoying them but I think my teaching is improving and I can’t complain as it’s a pretty easy way to earn money.  I’ve been doing a conversation club on Saturday mornings this month which included a pronunciation class where everyone came out speaking the Queen’s English!  I found out that Spanish only has 5 vowel sounds whereas English has 13! 

My salsa is definitely improving – a steadfast indication that I’m assimilating into Colombian life! However, given that the other day a man stopped me in the street saying he needed a photo of a gringo for a competition, I can hardly say I’ve blended in!  A Colombian friend assures me he knows a Colombian ginger, but I have yet to meet him and remain to be convinced!

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