Last year I mentioned I was working on a contributing role at Colombia’s English newspaper, Colombia Reports. Here’s that idea explained.
If you browse English-language newspapers in Latin America, Colombia Reports stands out. Its quality content, design, and professionalism are the best in the region, including Brazil. I’m a big fan of the paper and wanted to be a part. So the last time I was in Medellin, I pitched Adriaan Alsema on my idea how I could contribute.
In Colombia and greater Latin America, tabloid newspapers are rife with blood-and-guts stories. This is how tabloids started in America. One day getting my shoes shined in Plaza Lourdes, I read an issue of Q’hubo – a prominent Colombian tabloid. I was captivated reading the articles – about husbands killing their wives’ lovers, drunken taxi drivers killed by wild horses while on vacation at the finca, gangs robbing busetas. Say what you want about these tabloids, but it provides compelling stories in a culture where reading needs improvement.
All gringos interested in Colombia read Colombia Reports. However, CR stories are very “ivory tower.” The FARC, the drug war, the politics, the paramilitaries, the celebrities. For most people in Colombia, life doesn’t include any of that. You can read Colombia Reports every day and not really know how things are on the ground. Getting an idea of Colombia from CR would be like understanding America from USA Today. Reading Q’hubo, however, would be like watching the local news in St. Louis. You get a feel for everyday people. So my way to contribute to CR would be to highlight and translate the most provocative stories from daily tabloids like Q’hubo.
What was my angle? I looked at it as Spanish classes. If you’re translating Spanish news articles every week, you’re going to improve. There’s always room for improvement.
Adriaan jumped at the idea. He understood exactly what CR is and how gringos abroad miss a certain part of life here, and those tabloids would provide it. We agreed to start work immediately. Colombia Reports was going to have a “Bogota Grit” section – or something like that.
Why Did My Participation Fail?
To understand why I didn’t follow through, you have to understand the business model of Colombia Reports. The contributors aren’t paid. They’re volunteers. It’s a great opportunity for J-school grads fresh out of school with no experience who want to travel – write for a national newspaper in Latin America, learn Spanish, party in Colombia. They’d need a bit of savings to get down here and survive for a while, but given the state of the journalism industry it’s not like they’re sacrificing big-time gigs at gringo newspapers clamoring for new staff.
Adriaan had problems with my first article. Some stories had already been covered in CR. Second, he wanted them shorter. He wanted an entire week’s worth of Q’hubo in a bite-size article. I worked on the Q’hubo articles for a week or two. But when it came down to it, I’m not fresh out of school. I need money. I work for money (aside from this blog). I couldn’t continue putting in the time needed.
If anybody wants journalism experience and Spanish practice, here’s a killer opportunity. Pick up the Bogota crime papers and summarize the best stories for Colombia Reports. Here’s the article I wrote.
Q’HUBO HIGHLIGHTS, JUNE 26 2011
KILLED BY COUSIN AT FAMILY REUNION
Juan Arnobi Cárdenas, 38, died after being stabbed in the neck at a Father’s Day party. Family members ate, drank, and danced at a home in the Santa Lucía neighborhood when a fierce argument started between Mr. Cárdenas and his cousin Luis*.
Diana Barrera, Cárdenas’ wife, says nobody knows why they argued. She only knows the argument grew heated and they started punching. After fighting it seemed the two had gotten over their differences. Just when the family had turned the music back on, Luis pulled a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Cárdenas in the neck.
“I’ll never forget the blood and my husband’s screaming,” Mrs. Barrera stated. In the confusion the family called an ambulance to try to save Cárdenas, but he died a few hours later. Mrs. Barrera said her husband gave his life to his family, and he worked hard every day managing his own business.
Luis is still free.
*Luis is an assumed name.
THE LEGACY OF ‘EL CANTANTE’
Bogotá police have captured infamous sicario Carlos Humberto Valencia. Known as ‘El Cantante’ or ‘The Singer’, Valencia was a demobilized FARC guerrilla. While locally known as a neighborhood singer, he was also one of the most dangerous assassins in Bogota, implicated in over thirty homicides.
Valencia lived in Ciudad Bolivar. He was apprehended after the murder of a sixteen year-old boy in the Lucero Bajo neighborhood, at a store where Valencia both sang and planned his murders. The boy went to drink a few beers at the store located at Carrera 17D bis # 64A. At 1:20 in the morning, two shots rang out. One hit the boy in the head, killing him instantly.
The boy’s stepfather said that store has always had problems, and people are afraid to speak out. Neighbors confirmed the store owners had packed up to move.
NACIONAL FAN KILLED AFTER SOCCER MATCH
Saturday June 18, several groups of young men gathered to watch an important soccer game between Medellin’s Nacional and Bogota’s Millonarios at a Santa Isabel liquor store. Nacional won the match on penalty kicks, and Jhon Dairo Gómez was among a jubilant group of Nacional fans.
At 3 a.m. the liquor store owner closed and the young men poured into the street. A fight broke out between the Nacional and Millonarios fans, and Gómez was stabbed twice. An ambulance was called, but he died at the hospital.
22 year old Cristian Castro was arrested for murder while wearing a blood-soaked Millonarios shirt. He and his father claim the blood was not from Gómez. They say it’s Castro’s own blood, caused by a punch to his nose.
TWO HUSBANDS KILLED FOR LIFE INSURANCE
A body found floating in the reservoir of Guatapé, Antioquia, led to the capture of a murderous gang earning money from life insurance policies. The gang of three included 24 year-old woman known as “Chuqui,” a 24 year-old male known as “Mauricio” and 49 year-old “Román.” Authorities linked the gang to two murders, one in January 2010 and the other in August. The victims were Julián Muñoz Romero and Jairo de Jesús Ochoa Castrillón.
The investigations started in January 2010. Muñoz and Chuqui went camping in El Peñol to celebrate her pregnancy. Chuqui told authorities that Muñoz went fishing at 2 am. She went looking for him at 4 am and found only his fishing rod. Police later found his dead body in the reservoir. They initially believed he drowned, but an autopsy determined he’d died of asphyxiation.
As the investigation continued, authorities found that Chuqui had filed a claim on Muñoz’s life insurance policy worth 585 million pesos. Then police found in Chuqui’s civil register that she’d been married before to Jairo Ochoa Castrillón, who’d been killed August 26 in Bello. His case was similar to that of Muñoz.
Before the honeymoon Ochoa took out a life insurance policy necessary for him to accept a job in Spain. Once it was completed he and Chuqui went to Santa Marta, followed by Chuqui’s two accomplices. In Santa Marta, the gang threw Ochoa off a cliff. He survived however, and hid for six months in Bello. When he believed things had calmed down, he began to live his life again. The gang found him and shot him dead.
Chuqui and one of the men were apprehended in Medellin, the other in Bello.
Chuqui convinced her husbands to take out life insurance policies by claiming to have job opportunities in Spain and Mexico. However, a requirement before accepting the job was to have a life insurance policy. Once the husband secured a policy, the gang killed him.
TWO YOUNG SISTERS KILLED IN KENNEDY
Just outside their Bellavista neighborhood home in Kennedy, two sisters aged 15 and 8 were killed by unknown suspects. Police have offered a reward for information leading to the killers’ arrests.
The girls left their home to make a phone call just after 7 pm when they were shot in the street. The girls’ mother came outside when she heard the shots, found her daughters dead, and called the police.
Police initially believe the hooded killers didn’t know the girls, approached them and, without saying a word, shot them both. Then the investigators believed the gunmen came to kill one of the girls’ parents. The family’s domestic servant was under investigation. But now the strongest theory focuses on an older boy from Hobo, Huila, who had a romantic obsession with the 15 year-old victim.
Bogota police general Francisco Patiño has offered 20 million pesos to anyone with information leading to the arrest of the shooters.
COMMUNITY LEADER KILLED IN FRONT OF HER SON
Saturday June 18, around 10 pm, Yolima Teram was cleaning up her bakery when a mysterious man came in and approached her. Afraid of the strange man, Yolima picked up a broom to defend herself.
The man pointed a revolver at Teram’s head, in full view of her 8 year-old son. Yolima tried to cover her face and the man shot her in the right arm. Then he shot her in the mouth and fled.
“My son was with her at the time. He told me everything he saw. I don’t understand what could’ve happened. She was a woman who just worked and spent time with her family. The news of her death has destroyed us and everyone who knew her,” said Yolima’s husband Jaime Bohórquez.
For over ten years Yolima “Yoli” Teram helped people in need from the Danubio Azul neighborhood of Usme where she lived and worked.
17 YEAR-OLD KILLED BY BROTHER OVER UNDERWEAR
After two full days of heavy drinking, V.G. Muñoz Alzate returned to his home in Suba Rincón to rest. He’d planned to recover from his binge in the warmth of his home when he saw his younger brother emerge from the shower. V.G. was infuriated his younger brother was wearing his favorite underwear, and he attacked him with a knife. He stabbed him five times. The boys’ mother witnessed the attack and called the police.
The younger boy was pronounced dead at the hospital. As he was being arrested, Muñoz yelled “that’s what happens to people who wear my clothes.” He’s been sent to la Modelo prison to await sentencing. He could face thirteen years in prison.
WOMAN MISTAKENLY CREDITED MILLIONS OF PESOS MAY FACE JAIL
On July 16, 2007, Esther Agudelo Sanjuán entered a Davivienda office to reclaim 300,000 pesos an ATM had “eaten.” When a bank representative credited the money back into her account, he accidentally added three extra zeroes. The next time Agudelo checked her account balance, she had over 300 million pesos.
Thirty minutes after seeing the bank’s mistake, Agudelo took 500,000 pesos from an ATM. Five minutes later she withdrew another 500,000, and did so again after fifteen minutes. The next day, Agudelo made several more withdrawals and transfers.
First, a 100 million peso transfer, and next she withdrew 10 million pesos in cash. Minutes later she transferred 50 million pesos to a checking account in her name with another bank. Then she repeated this same transfer for 100 million pesos. In total, she moved or withdrew 260 million pesos.
Davivienda internal controls monitor extreme account transactions and caught the mistake. Since that time in 2007, Davivienda has been locked in a legal battle with Esther Agudelo Sanjuán over the money. Agudelo initially insisted the money was hers. But in the face of mounting evidence, she’s admitted her account was credited by error.
Davivienda and a judge are attempting to recover the money, but most of it was moved to other institutions and accounts in the name of Agudelo’s husband, Juan de Dios Perdomo. Of the 300 million pesos, the bank has only recovered 78,400,000.
If Agudelo is found guilty of the charges she faces, she could receive three years in prison.
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