Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Language of the Conflict

The many decades of conflict in Colombia have produced a whole set of vocabulary to describe the many strange and terrifying things that go on here.
Protection money is called la vacuna (the vaccination). The people collecting it might be the guerrilla, or the paramilitares, who have now morphed into the paracos, a contraction of paramilitares and narcotraficantes. When they are captured they might become canjeable, which means they could be exchanged for the many hostages held by the FARC, unless they decide to take up the offer of a place back in society by renouncing violence and coming clean about their crimes, in which case they become reinsertados, (the reinserted). Their victims are the desplazados (the internally displaced), or street people, drug dealers and prostitutes who die in the chillingly euphemistic limpieza social (social cleansing). If crimes are committed by people who are ‘just’ criminals without any political motivation, that’s called delincuencia común, and if the conflict impinges on your daily life, you talk about being affected by orden público (public order), a phrase which means exactly the opposite of what the words mean. To talk about a particularly difficult time in Colombian history (the 1950s), people say La Violencia, which is neither euphemistic nor ironic.
First I misunderstood what this language meant, and then I deciphered it. Then I used it in a straightforward way and now I’ve started to use it to make jokes, so it’s probably time to go home.
(The poster in the picture says In my family there are 3 million displaced people and was part of a newspaper campaign in solidarity with the displaced).

No comments: