Day 213: Bogotá
The centre of town, around the Plaza Bolivar, is full of gorgeous interiors reflecting the panache of a city whose full name - Santa Fe de Bogotá del Nuevo Reino de Granada de las Indias del Mar Oceano - shows the seriousness with which the Spanish regarded this part of their Empire. But as my companion, a Colombian lawyer, points out less than ten years ago, on this historic square, the army blasted a guerrilla group out of the Palace of Justice with the loss of one hundred lives, 'decimating the legal profession', as she puts it, and reducing the standards of law, if not order, at a stroke.
There is a strong middle class in Colombia. The economy is in better shape than in much of the rest of South America and yet the newspapers carry the news this morning that Samper, the Colombian President, has been refused a visa to visit the US because of his alleged associations with drug barons. Central Bogotá has fine museums and galleries and old houses restored with a striking sense of style, while a few blocks away everyone turns a blind eye as 'los limpiadores' - vigilante death squads - go about their business 'cleansing' the capital of undesirables at the rate of a dozen a week. There are the most up to date gyms and health clubs and yet only in Bogotá would you hear of a jogger being mugged, and his blood taken. I don't understand it, and I need someone to help me.
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