Señor Don Veneno



Over the winter break, while the networks covered the escaped San Francisco tiger mauling, we spent the better part of our news grazing for updates on the Colombian hostage release situation. It was confusing enough to begin with, then grew incredibly more confusing, with the families being flown to Venezuela, where Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez accused the Colombian government of bad faith. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe accused the FARC of not wanting to release the hostages because they didn't actually have one of the hostages they claimed to have. (Chavez responded by saying that Uribe was lying.) For a few days, in between shots of the prostrate tiger and of people leaving little stuffed tigers & flowers & drawings, we were all trying to sort out what the hell was going on. One hour you heard that a helicopter was on its way, and that the hostages were about to be set free. The next hour Chavez was yelling something and the Colombian spokesperson was responding, the spokesperson looking simultaneously angry and accusative and befuddled. And nothing anybody was saying made sense: because it sounded, almost, like Uribe was saying that the guerrillas were lying about who and how many hostages they had or could release.

It all eventually sorted itself out: Uribe was in fact right. The guerrillas had lost the youngest, a child born to one of the hostages, Clara Rojas, while in captivity. The kid, Emmanuel, had been left in the care of an abusive idiot, and when said idiot eventually took the kid to a hospital (broken arm) and came up with a not-terribly-persuasive story of how this kid happened to be in his possession, Colombia's child protective care services took over, cared for him, and found him a foster home. The government didn't know who the kid was at the time, but they were able to track him down when the abusive idiot came back around, a couple of years later, looking for the kid once more--because the FARC wanted him back. So they could, you know, release him. To his family.

The situation's grown a little less convoluted, and this article provides both a decent overview and a fair gloss over the weirder, soap operaish parts of the ordeal--which is not to make light of anything: the reason why Colombians were watching, why everybody was waiting for news, was because these people had been kept in captivity--chained and under the perpetual threat of death--for over five years. All the same, the insane logic, the mindboggling ineptitude of some of the principals--that's all telenovela, and that's the other Colombian thing I ended up tuning into: because mom got me hooked me on Madre Luna.

One of its major plot points is these bandidos de la Sierra--the Sierra bandits--who are never called guerilleros, though they kidnap, blackmail, intimidate, wear military uniforms, all the usual stuff. (Part of why they're not explicitly called guerilleros is that Madre Luna is one of these Mexico-Colombian production efforts where most of what may be too identifiably Colombian is written out of the scripts so they'll play better in Telemundo; part of it may just be that guerillas may be too heavy a thing for soap operas.) And the involutions of the plot are about as plausible as the Emmanuel case, where the bandits are running around behaving like total jackasses, chased out of a house by a ghost at one point, and with the major heavy, Veneno ("Poison") shacking up with a wealthy widow and running his criminal operation in hiding from the comfort of a pool with a gorgeous view of Girardot.

So yes: Colombia, where real awfulness and actual pain can be the result of situations too convoluted for even Colombia's own notoriously free-wheeling (and frequently awesome) telenovelas.