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Bullying: an age-old Problem

Colombian reality has always been kidnapped by the media, and this plague has long since reincarnated itself in the form of soap operas, which show the lives of the country’s greatest criminals, and in more recent times have included the appearance of paramilitary drug traffickers.


Armando Orozco Tovar


But no, the “Matoneo” (harassment), as it is also known, is an age-old custom in Colombia.

In 1954, youths who were then from the Marco Fidel Suarez school, 7, Cali, capital of the Cauca Valley department, thought of it as an innocent game, that they called “a practical joke”.

Nobody thought then that it could cause irreparable mental and emotional damage to those who endured it. But bullying, as it is now known, started in the office of the Sixth Prado rector, who was then between twenty-five and thirty years old, whom the smallest children viewed with extreme fear and, due to his height, as if he were an old man.

Moreover, those who arrived wearing long trousers, (since they had to be shorts due to the uniform), would have them cut by the rector in his office, and would then be sent home at once amidst taunts from their peers. They would also endure taunts from others in the neighbourhood, who as a choir would howl like wolves: “nice legs. The hens will peck you!” when they saw it happen:

The next day when the eight, nine or ten-year-old boy, would be going back to school, he would face harassment from those who had already lost respect for him, deflating, if he had it, his bicycle, or in the worst cases hiding his school things so that he could not hand in his day’s homework until he would get the necessary marks to fail the year.

Bullying was like doing primary or secondary school studies in one of the groups for minors from the age of the Inferno. Since the teacher would not teach, but would torture his lively pupils:  black cassocked priests, who would dictate religion, would do it with a clean punch, especially against the naughtiest, as if they were pronouncing against the devil in boxing classes in any coliseum of the inferno.

This would also happen on trips (that the then headmaster would organise to tourist sites such as the farallones de Cali [mountains], or to Gorgona Island in the Colombian Pacific, that was later converted into a prison to punish the most renowned national bullies).

The teachers would punish those pupils who did not hear the sound of the whistle that would summon them, in other words, as if it were the arbitrator of panic, to get out of the water.

If the boys dithered, punishments would range from tying them to a post so that the mosquitos would make them their own, while the other classmates would enjoy themselves with the games prepared by the headmaster. In other words, he would prepare everything, so that he would leave them all the time in the kitchen or on night duty.

Many boys would return home with malaria as if they were true first hand survivors, and nobody, not God, not paternal indifference, not the Pope, not the religious, civilian, military nor educational authorities would change things in the face of belated tortures from the inquisitor teacher.

However, the most abnormal so-called Colombian bullying happened fifty years ago in Bosque Popular, a district of Bogotá, to where, in 1963 the secondary school affiliated to the Free University, had been re-located.

It was the first co-educational school in Bogotá, which resulted in -such as was obvious in the land of the Troglodytes- a huge scandal, as if they had lost their virginity in heaven to eleven thousand virgins, because the biblical clerical-conservative sermon would impose, that you must only unite: “men with men…and women with women!”

There in El Bosque, those in the fourth year of secondary school decided to fully assault another classmate by bestowing continuous nastiness, disrespect and abuse on him. “I don’t know anything; I’ve only just arrived. If anything happened I wasn’t there”. (Daniel Santos). Because I was still in the third year due to laziness.

They would shout “marica” [sissy] at him to offend him (today it is used as a pejorative of the term ‘Gay’, the same as in English.) And the youth of seventeen or a bit older, decided one day to leave the school, to leave this country of “the horrible night”.

He went to the school chemistry laboratory and took a substance that poisoned him (which he managed without any mistake). But before this he wrote a letter denouncing the continuous “harassment” or bullying exercised against him and which led to his fatal decision.

In his letter posted, after a while, to El Tiempo, he put a long list of names of those responsible for his suicide, that the newspaper published on the front page a day after his death. In the letter the student ended by saying: “If there are as many strong men and heroes as they say there are, why do they not go up to the mountains to organise a guerrilla movement against the government?”

(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email:

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