Some readers may know, but most won’t because I’ve never mentioned on this blog the Colombia Reports story about me being called into the DAS. DAS was the Colombian equivalent of the American FBI before being dissolved last year due to various corruption scandals.
I never wrote about it because I didn’t want to provoke Colombian authorities. I’m a writer, nothing more. I don’t sell drugs. I don’t coerce women or deal with underage girls. I write what I see in the streets of Bogota, nothing more. I don’t want problems with authorities. I’m just a writer.
After being called into DAS, I called my personal friend, who happens to be the managing editor of Colombia Reports. I called Adriaan to vent and to ask his opinion. He’s a more experienced gringo publisher in Colombia, with a lot of government contacts and experience. It was a friendly conversation. He told me not to worry and to keep him updated.
Just a few weeks later, reporter Brian Andrews wrote to CR why he left the country in fear of a FARC kidnapping. Adriaan was compelled to write about Andrews and my DAS incident in the context of censorship in Colombia. I did NOT want him to write about my ordeal. He asked my permission before publishing. I stalled, but it was true and Adriaan’s a buddy so I agreed. He also convinced me by saying the authorities don’t want to give me any extra readers / press. So if I write about every time they call me in, they’ll surely stop bothering me. It made sense when he said it, but I don’t believe it anymore 🙂
So the story’s been told, but here are the details plus the other incidents.
In June 2011 (almost a year ago) I received a phone call. Leonardo claimed to be with DAS, and he wanted to know why I wasn’t at our meeting the day prior. What meeting? He asked me to come into the office so we could clarify my visa situation. I had lived in Bogota over two years by then, and they’d never called me in before. I’d never even heard of a gringo being called in.
I wouldn’t have been nervous, but my first Colombian Reports controversy had just happened. This site had just gotten a lot of new attention in Colombia. So I was nervous. I told Leonardo that I didn’t have time for this. He replied that he worked for DAS, and that if he told me I had to come in, then by law I had to come in. Although nervous, I did have a visa issue. I’d recently been fired and entered the country on a tourist visa after attending a wedding in the US.
After the phone call, I went home and found a letter from DAS asking me to see “Detective” Leonardo. It arrived at my house the day after the date of the appointment. See that letter.
For the appointment I wore a shirt and tie. I arrived ten minutes early. Going through security, they told me my guy was on an upper floor (I’d previously only known the first and second floors). On that floor there were no waiting room or other foreigners. Agents walked around with guns on their hips. I found a receptionist and mentioned the Detective I was to meet with. She told me he’d just stepped out.
I waited for twenty minutes or so. I told the receptionist I had an appointment, which I did. I left my phone number and split. I headed south on Carrera 11, stressed that I hadn’t finished this. A few blocks down, I received a phone call from the receptionist. My detective had just arrived and wanted me to come back. I turned around.
Detective Leonardo was clean-cut, young, and most importantly, friendly. He told me he had some questions about my visa and employment in Colombia. I sat down at his desk and the questioning started. I was doing my best to look like a straight-laced professional.
When he asked why I wasn’t with the English institute, I told him they fired me because I wouldn’t work full time. This was a lie. I didn’t want to tell him I was fired because of this site. He asked if I had the institute director’s number. He dialed it up, walking away from the desk and out of earshot for the conversation, which did nothing to calm my nerves. He came back and said the director mentioned some website. I played dumb and we moved on.
After asking all the possible questions he could about the institute – what I’m doing now, my visa – Detective Leonardo threw a packet of papers, at least 50 deep, in front of me. The first page was a printout of Gringos Who Don’t Know How to Act in Colombia, my most recent story at the time and the cause of the first CR controversy. He told me to translate it to him. Imagine my discomfort translating the first paragraphs of that article to an officer of the law…
Fortunately he took mercy and quickly cut me off. He said the website is why he called me in. What’s the deal with this?
I told him I’m a writer. I write about what I see in the street. I told him that while all the stories on the front page at this moment are bad, that’s not all I write about. I told him I’ve written about fruit in Colombia, chiguiro, social issues like limpiezas, tourist dangers like scopolamine, and economics. I don’t only write sleaze.
Detective Leonardo noted all my comments, in addition to my answers to the visa and employment questions, on an official statement. I signed the statement and it was placed in my file. In the statement I was identified as “Colin Post, Interpol # xxxxx …” I don’t know if everybody has an Interpol number, but I know I do.
In leaving, I asked the detective if there was a problem with my writing. I certainly don’t want any problems. He was clear in emphasizing it’s legal, “Es su derecho.” But he said I should be careful with some of these subjects, especially when writing in the first person. We shook hands and said a friendly goodbye.
The Other DAS Incidents
A couple weeks later, Detective Leonardo called me in again. This time, I told Adriaan Alsema I was going in and that if I didn’t call him within two hours, then I was in jail. I wanted somebody to know where I was. I took all my documents with me.
My paranoia was unnecessary. Detective Leonardo wanted to know what I was going to do. He called me in to ask what my plans were. I told him I was going to continue looking for work, and if I didn’t find any by the time my tourist visa expired, then I’d leave. I was out in just a few minutes that time, and I called Adriaan to confirm I wasn’t in jail. A week later Adriaan asked permission to write about my DAS incident.
I have a gringo buddy who plays golf with a DAS guy and some other funcionarios. The gringo told me my name and website came up in conversation one day. They don’t know the gringo and I are friends. The DAS guy in particular hates my site, and me. My buddy acted like he didn’t know me.
Since meeting Detective Leonardo the first time, I’ve been nervous and paranoid every time at the DAS building. Every time is a shirt-and-tie affair, and an air of straight-laced professional. When walking Calle 100, I cut down Cl 99 out of my way so I don’t have to pass the front of the building.
My next DAS trip came just before my tourist visa needed renewing because I didn’t have a job. I used to bring a book and read while waiting. After all this I’m too paranoid to read. Instead I constantly scan all the DAS agents’ faces, trying to see if they give away something in their expression. Do they recognize me? Are they talking about me? I never had any indication that they knew who I was. Then my turn came up at the information desk to see what I need to renew a tourist visa. The guy who works this line is a little older, quite friendly, and speaks English. We spoke Spanish as he gave me the requirements. Then he switched to English: “Don’t worry, you’re home now … You’re well known here.” I thanked him and darted out. I wanted to chuckle because he was so friendly, and it was a friendly thing to say. A gringo told me that may be Colombian sarcasm: “You’re well known here.”
Adriaan’s op-ed got a lot of comments from people who hate me and this site. They argued DAS was right to call me in. Adriaan said governments shouldn’t persecute bloggers. What do I think?
I think both are right. Colombia has a hard past and it’s trying to become a beacon of safety and stability. If there’s a gringo writing what I write with questionable visa status, interviewing him is completely acceptable in my opinion. Adriaan’s also right in his point:
Colin, intimidated by this state interference, got the message. Since his visits to the DAS, Expat Chronicles has been about reggaeton, traffic jams, mullets and, surprise surprise, Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero.
Adriaan’s absolutely right that my content changed because of the DAS incident. However, I wouldn’t use the word “intimidated.” I would say that I wanted to DEMONSTRATE to the authorities that I can write about sterile subjects too. I don’t have to write about sex, drugs, and violence. I’m not a one-trick pony.
So both my critics and Adriaan are right in different ways, but they were both wrong too. Critics suggested there was something illegal in what I do. There isn’t, and Detective Leonardo confirmed that. Adriaan’s article suggests that my sensational content would disappear, but it hasn’t. While I do G-rated articles, this will never be a G-rated blog. See some articles I’ve published since the DAS incidents:
- Deported Colombians from America
- Economics of a Bogota Drug Dealer
- Los Hermanos Angelito in Bogota, Colombia
- An American Prison Rape (my nastiest article ever comes from America, NOT Colombia)
Then again, I certainly toned down Economics of a Bogota Drug Dealer. I was originally going to call it “How to Sell Cocaine in Colombia,” and I delayed it almost a year till things cooled down. Dopeman was willing to pose in a ski mask holding a pistol over his inventory. In light of all that’s happened, not so much …
I started meeting with lawyers as my case in obtaining visas may now need help. One guy was hell-bent on going after the DAS because I didn’t have a lawyer present, I wasn’t given a copy of my statement, etc. I said NO, NO, NO, I do NOT want to start trouble with the government, but thanks for your time!
I went to Peru when my tourist visa ran out, and returned to Bogota in January. As usual now, I was nervous seeing DAS at the airport. Although it technically wasn’t DAS anymore, but I was still nervous. The new signs read “Migración Colombia” – nothing else. A young, handsome guy examined my passport. I tried to charm him. We shared a laugh. He was friendlier than I could’ve ever imagined, even calling me “parce” as we said goodbye. Nice fella.
I’m very interested in Colombian opinions. Please let me know what you think in the comments.
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