Popayán Semana Santa resounds with church bells, bomb blasts in neighbouring towns


Music from nine bell-towers in Popayán´s colonial centre rang through the streets last night as this south Colombian city that likes to promote itself as Bethlehem of the Americas nervously kicked off its biggest event of the year, the Semana Santa celebration that stretches out some 12 days.

Nervously, because despite the optimism of ending Colombia´s half-century of bloody internal conflict in negotiations with guerrillas in Havana, Cuba, the most noteworthy sounds around Popayán in the last two weeks weren´t meant to inspire religious devotion, nor reverence for the death and storied resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The white and green building in the front is the police station in Timbió, just south of Popayán. The screening on the front is popular in rural Colombian police stations. It´s useful in deflecting the crude, often inaccurate missiles constructed out of propane tans loaded with dynamite. All of this can make neighbours rather nervous.

Deafening bomb blasts have rocked Popayán´s nearest neighbours – in Piendamó to the north, and in Timbió to the south – both former locations of recent blockades of the Pan American Highway during the sometimes violent confrontation between coffee workers and the national government that isolated this city from the rest of Colombia for 11 days.

First, someone left a bomb behind at the coffee producers´ blockade. Two police officers were injured and two youths deafened by the explosion.

Then last week in Timbio, a motorcycle loaded with explosives was detonated outside the fortified police station as two officers were exposed outside. A captain and a sergeant – the apparent objectives – were hospitalized and more than a dozen unlucky civilians suffered injuries including loss of hearing.

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As is often the case, the FARC – Colombia´s largest guerrilla group – were blamed for the explosions.

A few hours drive north along the Pan American Highway another bomb, this time in a car, injured a woman and a taxi driver in a south Cali neighbourhood.

But bombs ripping through southern Colombia aren´t the only threats to the religious celebration that is also the biggest annual boost to the economy in this severely depressed part of the country.

Just a week ago one of Colombia´s paramilitary organizations used a Facebook account for a little social-media terrorism. Los Rastrojos sent the message to Marcha Patriótica, a leftish group working to protect human rights and promote social policies.

Persons identified in the memo were told they had a week to get out of town or face the obvious and grim consequences where murders of human rights workers of leftists rarely result in criminal charges.

All of this has Semana Santa organizers and residents somewhat concerned. During the recent blockades, hotel occupancy levels were below one per cent.

This has attracted the attention of the Colombia Defence Ministry. It released a video this week assuring Colombians and foreigners, it´s a great time to take in the celebrations. The local paper Diario del Cauca reported the assurances under the headline: “Gobierno garantiza seguridad” (“Government guarantees security”).

Last night, thousands accepted the guarantee, or at least the risk. Whether joyous sounds of religious celebration are ripped away by explosions will soon be learned. It´s all kind of like another religious centre and spectacle: Bethlehem at Christmas.

For some downright religious photographs:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Popayan+semana+santa&hl=en&sa=N&gl=ca&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ei=iTlKUYqYMYbH0QGmv4GgDQ&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1195&bih=527

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About Connecting Colombias

Recently retired newspaper reporter with one foot in British Columbia, Canada, the other in Colombia, South America. Fascinated with Colombian culture, Canadian connections, and heroic efforts to return millions of displaced Colombians to lands stolen by paramilitaries, guerrillas and organized crime.

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