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Reporter’s Log: The road of terror

Trucks side by side with other trucksThe road from Santa Marta winds along Colombia’s Pacific coast to Bogotá. It’s one-lane traffic and the path is dotted with potholes. Massive trucks idle in impossibly long lines: tankers, timber trucks and hazardous material transporters all share the same road because it is the only one that takes them to their destination. The landscape along the ride, though, is beautiful: lush, green mountains line the road, carpeted with palm and banana trees as well as ferns. But the idyllic scenery has a darker side, too: here, FARC guerrilla fighters used the thick green canopy to hide kidnapping victims and hold them until they received ransom money in return. ‘’Everyone here knows someone who was kidnapped or whose family disappeared – sometimes for days, sometimes weeks. Nobody knows how much money was paid out, but everyone was afraid of using this road,’’ says our driver. In those days, people who could afford to do so would leave the country and head to Los Angeles or Miami. But farmers had no choice. They had to live in constant fear, and some didn’t even send their children to school. Today, you see heavily-armed policemen or military every few kilometers, but they look relaxed, with their machine guns slung casually over their shoulders. Most cars drive along, uninterrupted. Small shops have popped up along the road, selling tropical fruits or colourful towels. The terror that once ruled this region seems, at least, to be long forgotten.


April 11, 2012