The Colombian Pyramids were made of Paper
November 14, 2008
Antonio Morales Riveira
More than an economic calamity, the financial tragedy of tens of thousands of Colombians who during the last few years handed their savings over to openly illegal money taking companies is a metaphor and a clear example of the general decomposition of Colombian society after 25 years of narco-traffic and the installation of a mafia culture at every level of social life.
The tip of the iceberg that has cropped up in recent days allows us to sense the dimension of the crookedness. The crisis broke out on November 12 when one of the many companies that takes in the monies refused to deliver to thousands of Colombians not only the dividends, but even the capital they had invested.
From north to south in the country went to the phantasmagorical company and found either closed offices or employees that could only argue that there was no money. Everything was in ruins! Crowds invaded the offices and sacked them. Some were burned. They confronted the anti-riot police. They created all kinds of disruptions, demanding the money that had been swindled from them. An innocent municipal people’s representative was murdered.
The reaction of the authorities was moderate and except for some cases of curfew in cities in the south of the country, at least public order seems to be under control. But not either the origins or the consequences of this enormous problem for society and the government.
It’s enough just to know the name of the “bankrupt” company that started the storm to understand the depth of the economic and social problem. The initials seem innocuous, D.R.F.E. But behind these letters is the synthesis of this very serious problem of social ethics (of the bandits who started up the business and of those who came into it), of anxiety, of necessity and of loss of the moral north star of broad sectors of the population.
Dinero Rápido Fácil y Efectivo [Easy Cash– Quick Money]. Thus the initials come apart. And such is the design and the destiny of a society well imbued with the necessity of getting rich or of an immediate profit that would assure subsistence, in a country with out of control unemployment and a social crisis that is ignored by a state that is only interested in war against the FARC.
Money: such is the symbol of the present, future and Mafioso past times of Colombia. Since the eighties, when narco-traffic broke out as a social sector of change in the face of a selfish—and in not a few cases equally criminal—traditional bourgeoisie, Colombian society traded its traditional values of effort, its work culture, for the sole determinant of money. The necessity for coin, powered by the advance of consumerism and in a third-world post-modernity but equally anxious about production and objects, Colombia went down the road of loss of values and saw the installation of a dynamic of necessities, often false or simply expanded by the media and advertising. Thus arose the assassins of Medellín, the paramilitaries, and narco-traffic was consolidated as the epitome of the nation. And headed by money, dollars, pesos or euros, as a collective obsession, as a social paradigm, and as a replacement for the cultural expressions that belong to a society that would be productive. And money, seen in this way, precisely could not be an element connected to productivity, but rather the acquisition of goods without effort, of luxuries and false idols of progress.
Easy: Within the dynamic of the accumulation of personal wealth in the general run of people, or of great capital among those who played at enriching themselves, easiness was the altar where the ritual of wealth was to be celebrated. That’s why the narcos were consecrated, those who obtained fortunes of hundreds of millions of dollars in three or four years, or the paramilitaries who robbed 50% of the productive lands, or the great octopus of the corrupt who repeatedly sacked the vaults of the nation.
For the general run of people, then the reading was conclusive: if they do it, if the leaders, the politicians, the industrial and commercial leaders (the accomplices of the narco-traffic, not a few money launderers) do it, Why not us? For two decades Colombian society has experienced the rhythm of this ease, which necessarily borders the criminal or at least the illegal. Swindle has been the order of the day, and it was in this conte3xt that the so-called “pyramids” arose that like in Egypt do not only have a structure of growth from the base, but that contain a supposed treasure.
So it was enough to foolishly believe in this myth of easiness and believe that it was possible, without there being anything fishy about it, that they would get as much as 75% interest on large or small investments. Easy: And of course, it wouldn’t be easy if there weren’t added to it the volatile particle of quickness. The Mafioso culture expresses it like that. Not only do you have to do easy business, but quick. The necessities of consumption, of power, have no room for waiting. And it was this that guaranteed the pyramids, an investment with immediate yields, held together with spit, impossible to sustain, the receivers of savings even wanted it like that.
Cash: in-kind, liquid, bills. Without the red tape of the banking system, of capitalism that entangles, that exercises usury. The people handed over their piles of bills that accumulated in the pyramidal vaults. Money, pure money, ready money like that of the mafiosos, like the piles of dollars of the FARC or the paras, of the capos and the warlords. A primary and volcanic vision of wealth, physical possession of paper money, the exaltation of having your pocket swollen. Colombian savers were directed by this mafia “culture” and that’s what they wanted.
Of course, behind this generalized moral perversion of swindlers and swindled there are objective reasons and not just subjective ones, like the influence of the mafia in the heart of the people. Tired of confronting a future without their necessities, tired of going along with a banking system of which they were not customers, but rather the banking system were customers of the exploited people, they opted for easiness, for quickness, and not for security in their investments. With usurious systems of interest and other harsh impositions, financial institutions were not depositories of faith, which was transferred directly to the gangsters of the pyramids. And of course we must not forget that the general conditions of the people with some ability to save are not better that those of the people who live in need.
Although the common denominator of the swindled was immediate enrichment, we must not ignore the fact that thousands of those persons were not even the owners of the invested money. The banks themselves or their friends had lent it to them. Many wanted security for their old age, university for their children, their health. And now, as the only recourse in thousands of cases, they can only approach the prosecutors to denounce the swindle and wait to see what happens.
The national government, headed by President Uribe, did nothing. They only allowed the pyramidal business grow within the greatest apathy. And now, incredibly shamelessly, they accept that preventive measures were not taken, and in a demagogic manner the create a list of the poorest in order to try to indemnify them. We must not forget that Uribe is not only at war and he dedicates the great part of the national budget to that, but that he is also in a campaign to be reelected a second time. There did not exist, nor does their exist, legislation to control the pyramids and Uribe is inventing warm water compresses to mitigate his enormous mediocrity.
The cases are not only individual. Some enterprises also got into the dance, such as the case of a club of the professional soccer league, Pasto, whose owners saw a billion pesos (500,000 dollars) go up in smoke in the pyramid.
So the robbery is pharaonic, monumental. The government will try to control the phenomenon, but still hundreds of pirate firms, money trappers, continue functioning and what is worse, the Colombians who go to them in many cases have not lost confidence. Because this confidence is a utopia, a dream, the delirium of becoming rich—or less poor—within a few days.
With the case of D.R.F.E. (600 billion pesos [300 million dollars] up in smoke), the problem has barely begun. New denunciations will come, new disturbances. And surely the faith in legal activities that has been lost will give an impulse to other forms of illegality. In two decades Colombian society built mafioso collective options. The current government is the clearest example of our moral dissolution. If it took us this long to deconstruct morality and assume the mafia credo, how long will it take to rebuild the fabric of ethics?
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621