Sunday, 18 March 2018

Religion in Colombia

Firstly I must confess that I am in no way religious myself, I would class myself as an atheist, why?  well I used to be Church of England (Protestant), but I went through a phase of losing close members of my family, and really didn't see the point in believing in something, or someone who took away those who only did good with their lives, whilst leaving life's scum to continue their deeds, that view was backed up by the number of incidents I dealt with during my time as a Police Officer. That may seem extreme to some, in which case I apologise, but I make no apology for how I feel.

So I look on Religion in Colombia from the outside looking in, rather than being part of it. Colombia is considered a Catholic Country, as is all of South America, but is it really committed to the Catholic faith?

If you look at reports on Catholicism in Colombia, you will see that since it was removed as the State Religion in 1991, the numbers are gradually slipping in favour of other faiths. It is believed that now about 70% of the population is Catholic, and only 25% of those are practising Catholics, which is a play on numbers, lets put that in perspective, that equates to only 17.5% of the population being practising Catholics, hardly an advertisment for the Church. Whilst Protestantism has reached 13% of the populace, and is growing faster than the population.

So why is Catholicism waning? there are many reasons, not least because of the abuse within the Church, but also because the Catholic Church refuses to believe that people would have the audacity to turn their backs on the Vatican, they don't reform, they don't want to change any of their ways to fit in with the modern life, they continue to be dictatorial.

An example of this close to home, the people in my local area are staunch Catholic outwardly, they raised the cash, and built the local school, the Catholic church alongside, with a house for the Catholic Minister, fine...recently the Catholic Church, has been putting pressure on the locals to donate the buildings and land to the Church, to add to their property portfolio, not very christian like if you ask me, I haven't heard if a decision has been taken, but I sincerely hope that the Locals resist.

Likewise you will see people walking to their local Churches, and then during the week, they are propping up Bars, being unfaithful to their partners,etc. This doesn't only apply to Catholics, but it does make a mockery of the description, 'a Religious Country'!

Protestantism in Colombia is a growing business, and I say that on purpose, anyone can start up a Church, many start up in an old warehouse, or even part of a house, people start coming to the services, and the emphasis is put on donating to the Church, unfortunately people here believe that by doing this, it brings them closer to 'God', and we are not just talking about passing around the collection plate like in the UK, we are talking serious money, and that can be seen in the standard of life these 'Pastors' adopt, swish cars, nice houses etc. These people are good actors, and receive a salary commiserate with their performance, in fact many then move on to more affluent Countries, because their income will be even greater.

Is 'Religion' therefore as predominant in Colombia as it was in the past? the answer to that has to be no, like in many countries, people are seeing it for what it is, a self serving institution, with little interest in the benefits of it's congregation, likewise the 'congregation' are seeing that their money is better spent on themselves.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Rendering Finished

This morning I was just returning from walking the dogs, when I saw one of my neighbours from down the lane, both their cars were on the road, which was ideal, so I asked if it would be OK to finish the pointing and rendering, once I fed the dogs, he said it was fine, so that was my morning planned.

Three and a half barrow loads of cement render later, the job was done!

Not a lot more to say really, it's not pretty, but it is what I wanted, the wall is now secure, and the neighbours have made favourable comments, well it does look better than before, there is no longer access for wasps and rats, which has to be a bonus.

I used the other half barrow load of cement to do some running repairs, then cleaned up, had my shower, and another day done!

Now to see if we have to suffer with music from the surrounding Fincas de Recreo, I have seen a few Tourist Buses heading up the mountain, so someone is going to get the noise.

The Colombian Justice System or Lack of it!

There are times when I really despair, I have now lived under three justice systems, obviously the UK, where I worked in it for thirty years, Spain, where I had property for many years, and Colombia.
Yes, all the systems have their faults.

The UK was suffering from cost cutting, and fast track policing, which in my view helps no one, Police Officers need to gain experience on the streets, and to create systems where people jump the Rank queue, just creates resentment, and blocks those with experience from advancing, giving them little option, either stick with it for the pension, or bail out.

Likewise Government cost cutting, ends up taking the Police Force back years, and in my view, is a short sighted method of reining in the Governments budget. It will now take many years to bring the UK Police back to a standard fit for purpose, through no fault of the rank and file Officers trying to stop the place falling apart.

Spain on the other hand came  on in leaps an bounds as far as the Police were concerned, the Guardia Civil during my time in Spain, went from being an oppressive Force, that was as far from the people as it could get, to making a conscious effort to close that gap, which was hard considering there military type make up, but I found them to be really approachable by the time I left Spain in 2012, and they were all having to learn English as a second language, and doing well at that as well.

Now we come to the Policía Nacional de Colombia, to call them a Police Force is pretty much a joke, many of them are no better than the criminals they are supposed to catch. Don't get me wrong, there are good guys, but from my experience, they are few and far between.

Unfortunately the Policía are built on a Military basis, much like the Guardia Civil in Spain, but they also have conscription, which is no motivation for any organisation, lads that just want to do their time and get out. Corruption and abuse is rife, and little is done to try and stop it.

Colombia has a huge Police Force when you look at it's population a ratio of 360 Officers per 100,000 of population, compare that with the UK which has 210 Officers per 100,000 of population, and yet which would I rather put my trust in? the UK Police every time.

Early last year, whilst we were having problems (which are still ongoing) with the Authorities controlling the Fincas de Recreo, these are farms or large houses altered to accommodate large groups of people of families for a few days at a time, these people bring their own sound systems, and have little or no regard for the people who live permanently in the areas, there have been times when we have gone five days with little or no sleep.

Some Municipalities control these places, but others including mine, Copacabana, Antioquia, fail to do so, and in fact refuse to do so, making out that they have the problem in hand, but doing nothing.

So as I was saying, last year, I was out walking the dogs, at 6am one morning, when I saw our local Police Patrol at one of these Fincas, having a jolly time with the inhabitants, instead of controlling them, so I took video footage of them, unfortunately I was seen, I walked off, knowing full well what would happen next, and sure enough, a couple of minutes later, the double manned motorcycle patrol pulled up alongside me,, and immediately got in my face, demanding to know what I was doing.

They asked to see my Cedula, which bearing in mind the time in the morning, and the fact I was in the middle of nowhere, I didn't have with me, and at that time, there was no obligation for me to carry it, especially as I was in the vicinity of my home. They threatened to call for the van to take me to the Police Station, until my identity was confirmed, at which I pointed out that they knew where I lived as they had come to an accident immediately outside my property shortly before, I faced them out, and said that if they wanted to take me, then do so, but be prepared for the consequences, at which they made off, knowing that intimidation had not worked. As a result my Wife rang the police station, and within 24 hours spoke with the Officers, where she received an apology. They were totally out of order.

Again, early in the New Year, I was going from home to Copacabana, with my Father-in-law, when I saw two suspicious looking lads trying to stop cars, I tried to phone the police station, but no answer, I tried again once I had parked in Copacabana, and they said they could not hear me, and to call in to the Police Station, which I did, but they showed no interest whatsoever, so on my return home, Marcela rang the station to find out what action if any they had taken...reply, "we were on our lunch", absolutely useless!

Two weeks ago, a report was made to the Copacabana Police, regarding a burglary in the area, the Police arrested two suspects,took them to the Police Station, and when they were released, it is alleged that the Officers gave the suspects details of the informant, word of this spread across the district like wildfire, people were not happy, and were frightened at the same time, we all know how easy it is to get hold of firearms and knives here, it is easy to be murdered by thieves and burglars.

As a result, last week, there were a number of street robberies on our mountain road, between 4am and 7am, the times people walk down the mountain to catch the bus on the Autopista (laughingly called a Motorway), they were detained at knife point and robbed. As a result the local Police Commander, had patrols in the area, and one of the victims pointed out two of the suspects, who were from Medellin,  they were detained and taken before the Judge, a second victim was found, and both were asked to go before the Judge and identify the offenders, but they failed to turn up, and the Suspects were released.

Do I blame the victims for the suspects being released? no, as much as I would like to, I can't, if the justice system wont protect the victims, and in fact goes as far as to collude with the Offenders, by passing informant information to them, then what hope is there? Yes, ideally the Victims should stand and be counted, but most have families, who can blame them for being frightened of what will happen to them.

Until the Policía Nacional de Colombia sorts out it's own internal mess, and proves that it can be trusted, then nothing is going to change, it is a sad state of affairs.