After several years in exile, the well known journalist and Columbian writer, has made the news again and broken his silence. Here he speaks exclusively about what he went through. He tells us a bit about everything: his exile, his “Demonstration for the dignity of Colombia”, his published and unpublished work, the paramilitarism, his pain, his skepticism, his hope.
Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marín
It’s midnight, the seven hour difference that separates New Mexico and England is a minor matter when you are waiting for an interview that has already been postponed many times. The time finally comes, and there is Fernando, wearing an unpretentious suit, smiling when he’s not laughing, expressing opinions with vehemence and radiating affection and witty comments. The last eight years lived in exile are engraved both in his voice and his silence. It is there that one can perceive the difficulties, the nostalgia for his country, the pain for his loss, the unannounced return…
Those that wanted to silence him, those that threatened him because they feared him and forced him out of his country, couldn’t silence his ideas. For Fernando has always spoken without fear, using real names, without ambiguity or insincerity. The territory of fear and liberty, compete with each other for the truth.
Fernando was born in Bogota in 1944. He was a journalist, editor and editor in chief of various types of press in Colombia and a writer of poems and other literary works. He graduated as a lawyer from the University of Javeriana and joined El Espectador (The Spectator) in 1988, inspiring both affection and hate with his opinion column “Álvaro Uribe, El Señor de las Moscas” (Álvaro Uribe, The Lord of the flies). His diverse articles, and fundamentally his book ‘Álvaro Uribe, El señor de las sombras’, (Álvaro Uribe, Lord of the shadows) brought about a predictable ending: calls, trackings, anonymous letters and all in all a set of intimidating elements that forced him to leave one day in March and head for the United States with his wife Priscilla Welton and his children Fernando and Manuela.
He wasn’t prepared (nobody is) for exile, especially when his voice and his conscience demanded him to remain alive in peoples’ minds. He therefore continued writing and The Spectator took him in. However, because of his article “Why do the perpetrators of the embezzlement of a nation, carried out through the bank of the pacific occupy the highest administrative positions in the new government of Presidente Uribe Vélez?”, the newspaper dispensed of his services. It was October. His own memory and the memory of others were being defined at a distance. Each voice brought its own anguish and with time, Fernando faced another drama which couldn’t be remedied by the “Cultural Freedom Award” that was awarded to him by the Lannan Foundation for “his work in favor of the democracy and of the liberty, and of respect to human rights”, nor the fame gained from his books, “ja”, “Juan Mosca’s reports” “Country that hurts”, “the heart of gold, nor the prestige of the journalistic prize Simón Bolivar, received for his investigation into the tragedy of the Palace of Justice.
Plunged into sadness after the death of Priscilla, his companion and wife of more than 30 years, Fernando battled with his torn soul and concentrated on giving classes at the University of the United States, and on advancing his literary work and spending as much time as possible with his children.
It was then that he was called and asked to be a candidate for the Chamber of Representatives for Colombians abroad. He accepted and he lost.
However, winning the candidacy had never meant a lot to him – “What matters to me is to always move forward”. He also affirmed that if he lost he would continue with what he had started – “There is no way back. This is the virtue of the group that made this proposal”.
For someone that doesn’t know how to ‘do politics’, things turned out very well, without deceit.
What was curious was that from the moment they called him in December last year, things began to gain a different texture as ‘Juan Mosca’ attracted a growing following and inspired new and ever increasing praise. Reviving and multiplying him didn’t take much time because Garavito isn’t ephemeral– and it is for this reason that he is here now.
‘Juan Mosca’ has returned and as always, he speaks without euphemisms and a high dose of humour.
At any point in your life, have you ever thought about, wanted to or participated in politics?
In politics yes but, but I have never been one for political maneuvering, which is a monster that sits on top of poor politics, squashing it with its large buttocks full of images, of twisted facts and empty words.
Why become a political journalist, especially one who is so critical of it?
Maybe it’s because journalists, through our work, acquire a sufficient enough understanding to realise that in Colombia there are neither politicians nor politics.
If politics don’t exist in Colombia then what does?
Politicians that play political games.
If you don’t believe in politics, why do you think other people will believe in yours?
Because I’m a marginalized figure; a lone wolf.
What is a good politician?
Someone that tells the truth. In Colombia we only have people that tell the truth. And this is very different.
Have there been good presidents in Colombia?
Quite a few. Bolívar was the best but there was a group of masters that tried to teach us about power. I am talking about the second half of the XIX century. Amongst them Aquileo Parra, Santiago Pérez and Manuel Murillo Toro. Obviously no one remembers them. They were masters.
Which world leaders do you think are doing a good job?
Personally I like cats.
What does it take to be a good president?
The same as what it takes to be a good politician: to speak the truth.
What have been the worst atrocities in Colombia?
I think that there are two: the ethical crisis, provoked by dogma; and the economic crisis provoked by capitalism.
Why does Uribe remain untouched despite do much scandal? Is there no proof, no accusers, no justice….?
There is proof but there is no justice.
How would you describe Álvaro Uribe’s leadership skills?
Excellent. Organized crime needed to come to power, so that the country could open its eyes.
Do you think there is anything good about your leader?
That we haven’t taken a step backwards. Uribe is the last of the corrupt.
What do you think of democratic security?
That it isn’t security or democracy.
Do you believe in Uribe’s popularity?
I believe in Uribe’s popularity as much as I believe in selling candyfloss to children on Sundays in the park to give them indigestion and torment their parents throughout the night.
Why does the media insist on his popularity?
Because the media is the propaganda instrument of the regime. Not just of this regime but of all regimes.
Do you think there was a paramilitary demobilization?
Of course, today they are all in public office.
Why do the majority of people think that there was one?
I think that it did happen. Today the hired killers are oficial employees. Their trade is to kill. They have just named a battalion of “students” in Medellín, given them a salary paid by the Exchequer, and the (extracurricular?) task of searching, listening, accusing and, whenever the case may be, taking proceedings against people. Uribe is the most refined example of the worst of the nazi regimes.
Is there an internal conflict in Colombia?
There isn’t an internal conflict in Colombia. What there is is a war that hasn’t been declared yet. The last incidents were demonstrated by state terrorism.
How much are other countries to blame for what is happening in Colombia?
The United States are enormously responsible. It started five decades ago, when Eisenhower launched his LASO plan. Then somewhere there was the extinct Soviet Union and Cuba. However, the concept of country has dissolved. Now it is the DEA country, the paramilitary country, the Santodomingo country that has taken over….The list is enormous.
How much are the media to blame for what goes on in Colombia?
Enormously to blame, for their compliance in the face of power, corruption and crime.
You thought about making a demonstration. What is it about and who is behind it and leading it?
Yes. A demonstration that departs from Quito and arrives in Bogota on the 20th of July, on the 200 year anniversary of that so-called “independence”. We have called it “Demonstration for the dignity of Colombia”. Behind it are an integrated group of idealists without a penny to their name, (I include myself in that group of course). Ahead is the country. We are going to give back to Colombians their right to belong to a country called Colombia.
Is there any one person or people that can lead Colombia along a different direction?
Many but none of them are leaders. They are the ants and the bees that make the ants nests and the beehives.
Speaking realistically, where can one start with the changes that must be made in Colombia?
It is crucial that the regime’s crimes are denounced and the main perpetrators are put in prison. But the main perpetrators aren’t these poor middle-men that hold public posts. The main perpetrators are what they are. And they are there, ready to put on their striped shirts. Remember the republicans’ warning: “Magnificent” – they told Obama when he arrived to presidency – but don’t be mistaken: you’ve arrived at the presidency, but not to power”. We have to expose this power.
Which journalists deserve credibility and respect?
Personally I like cats.
Have you ever stopped being a journalist at any point?
A journalist never stops being a journalist. What happened is that it abandoned me. I didn’t have the right to work in any type of media for six years. For me the doors were closed.
What happened with your own journalistic work? What was your last journalistic piece?
They withdrew me from my post as editorial commentator of The Spectator because of what I said about their leader. The paramilitaries threatened me and kicked me out of the country. Then the beer businessmen silenced me.
And how’s the literature going?
Well. I write a lot and I don’t publish anything, it’s just for my own happiness and for the joy of literature itself.
In Colombia are you better known as a journalist or as a writer?
Well I am a journalist that writes. What separates me from other journalists is that I read. To write you have to read. My true profession is that of a reader.
Do you feel more comfortable as a literary writer or as a journalist?
As a literary writer, in my texts, that are always brief, is my way of seeing life. I put together the first ones in my book ‘Banquete de Cronos’ (Chronology of a Banquet) of which two copies were sold: mine and my aunty Bertha’s.
Do you write now, more than ever before?
Much more than before. With the enormous advantage of not publishing anything.
What differences are there between the Fernando Garavito that worked as a journalist in Colombia between 20 and 10 years ago and the Fernando Garavito of today, in exile?
None at all. I have always been in exile.
Define a “journalist” in a few words.
A journalist is someone who sees, thinks and speaks.
How do you feel eight years after having had to leave the country?
Eager to go back and full of possibilities.
How has the exile affected you on a personal and professional level?
In many ways. I think about the sudden death of my wife, which destroyed me. I think about my silence and the loss of my rights and the displacement of my children, which for them will be something definitive…
Why the United States and not some other country?
Because it was the only country that we had a visa for at the time of the threat. Without a visa we couldn’t have even got to Panama. This is the terrible thing about being a Colombian. To be a Colombian is to be someone that needs a visa.
What is it that makes you want to return to Colombia and what are your reasons for not wanting to return?
I don’t want to return to Uribe’s Colombia. I want to return to Colombia.
What is the worst thing about being in exile?
What is the best thing about being in exile?
Is going into exile voluntarily better or worse than being forced into exile?
It’s the same. I don’t believe in voluntary exile. Deep inside those that have left there is always a reason for their departure.
Doesn’t exile weaken a country? In what way?
The country has lost the best of itself by exiling millions of people. The exiled adults will think about Colombia. However those that left as children won’t go back now. How many possibilities have we lost? No one will ever know.
What do you do now?
I think. To be a thinker is an honorable profession.
What events and people have impacted on your personal and professional life?
I went into journalism because of Luis Carlos Galán. And I felt alive when I met Priscilla Welton.
How much have you distanced yourself from Colombia and how much has Colombia distanced itself from you?
The Colombia that I want comes with me wherever I want it to. And we are very good friends.
What do you like most and least about the United States?
The United States has two sides to it: one is of power; the other of victims. The victims of the United States are identical to the victims of our countries and they suffer as much as them. At the moment there are organizations that are helping them to open their eyes. The collapse of capitalism comes from within.
A cliché: How do you spend your days?
I’m a solitary person. I work, read, think, write and make a coffee in the mornings.
What do you miss the most?
My house and taking the dog out for a walk with my wife. We used to talk nineteen to the dozen and laugh, we were so happy.
What do you enjoy the most?
Until a little while ago, the memories. Right now the possibilities.
(Translated by Kara Cunningham)
Special supplement of ‘Juan Mosca’
Fernando Garavito dies: The departure of ‘Juan Mosca’ (English version)
Letter from ‘Polo Mosca’ to Fernando Garavito (English version)
Who are the ‘Moscas’? (English version)
Fernando Garavito, without euphemisms: The wings of ‘Juan Mosca’ (English version)