I have a problem; I tend to only see the good in people. I believe that people want to and strive to be good. Now you might not see that as a problem and no, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that I put a lot of trust and faith in a person to act for the good of others (especially when they are in uniform, but that might be a larger societal issue). Thus, when a person does not use the power given to them to act justly, I get confused. And frustrated. And irritated. And angry.
This week I had to deal with the police. So, quick summary, Colombian police are corrupt. Done. Okay. Well, wait. No. Not okay. Trigger Hannah’s ‘people are inherently good’ problem. Exception #1: Not when it comes to money. Or stupidity, but let’s stick with money.
I know little about law enforcement, and even less about the Colombian National Police, but my basic understanding is that when a crime is committed the offender is to reconcile their offense, and in today’s world that usually involves a punishment such as prison. Simple right? Great.
On Wednesday I witnessed a crime. Members of the community of Las Pavas were bringing palm branches to their farm so that they could build a communal ranch to protect themselves from the elements while they work. Noteworthy is the fact that they were bringing newly cut palm branches because upon arriving to where they had previously cut palm they found the piles in ashes, evidence of another crime. Also of importance is that the tractor loaded with palm had to enter by a secondary route since the palm oil company, Aportes San Isidro, is currently controlling traffic along the public road which services the main entrance to the farm, another illegal act.
So when the community entered the vicinity of the farm, about five armed security guards approached the tractor on horseback and by foot, shooting out the tire with a shotgun.
An hour later the police arrive. Three officers come to take a look at the tractor. I asked them for their names, and one introduced himself as Jairo Hernandez while I caught the last part of his name – rrera – on his uniform before he pulled his shoulder strap to cover it up. When I asked to see his name badge he refused to show me. When they wondered why I needed their names I told them that I wanted to keep them accountable so that the person who committed the crime would also be held accountable. I mentioned that although I have a limited understanding of the law I assume that if we can agree that there has been a crime committed, which we did agree upon, the police do not rest until that person is caught. And while these officers stood studying the bullet hole in the tractor tire, the man we all saw shoot out the tire was wandering around his house 100m away. Well, they informed me that they have no authority to act and are waiting to hear orders from their superior. Awesome.
After a couple hours, and at least 20 officers perched on the gate smoking cigarettes and sharing youtube videos on their phones, a decision has been made that the tractor will not be used to transport building materials to the farm until the inspector can come the following day to sort out the problem. So the community is left with their hands tied while the company continues to control the main road and carry on with their palm harvest. I noted to the officers that despite a crime having been committed today by the palm company, it is apparent that all that has been done is punish the victims by further restricting their movement. They had no comment.
On Thursday morning the inspector arrived, and after carrying out his impartial duties of speaking with both parties he declared that the man had shot the tire of the tractor out of self-defense for fear of his co-worker being run over, and that the tractor may be used only up until the fence until further decisions could be made about the land dispute. The inspector did not view any of the pictures and videos, which clearly show that all men are armed and one jumped in front of the tractor running along with it until the other fired his shotgun into the tire.
The sergeant of the region had also arrived on Thursday and after bragging about his extensive involvement with the situation in Las Pavas and how well he is dealing with it he decided to try to woo me with pictures of his dog and stories of his own farm where he fishes and where I am always welcome to come visit. When I refused to make nice and pressured him on the officer from the previous day who refused me his name, an officer who is apparently under his jurisdiction, he offered no response.
By Thursday afternoon the inspector had left and the officers were still perched on the fence killing time. All security guards were free to carry on with their daily tasks of controlling the main road and threatening the community members with rape and death.
In all of our conversations with the legal authority when we questioned their integrity or drew light on the impunity that they afford the palm company, they cowered away with no answer. The injustice here is so obvious and their reaction to our questions shows that they are well aware. But they refuse to make it right. Sometimes, for reasons of money, pride, or a need to protect and feed your family, the good doesn’t win out.
Meanwhile, I’m going to have to be more skeptical about the intentions of people; I cannot blindly trust that people will see the black and white injustices that I see. But at the same time I refuse to believe that we do not have a conscience. People are good. And even if we make mistakes, there is a way to be good again.