In Northern Colombia, LGBT Rights Meet Indigenous Prejudice

'Alternative' sexuality is despised in the traditionalist, native or Afro-Caribbean communities of northern Colombia. The choices for gays and lesbians tend to be harsh: face down your family and neighbors, or leave.

Pride day has never been more important in Colombia
Pride day has never been more important in Colombia
Joseph Casañas

CARTAGENA — Prejudice "is an everyday thing," says Tania Duarte, a gay community leader in Cartagena, the historic port and resort on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

Her gait is firm and determined, as she steps on the hot pavement in Barranquilla, a nearby city where we spoke. She takes short steps as if preparing to march in protest, and live. It is Gay Pride day here, and she ditched her fears a long while back. This transgender woman studied philosophy at the University of Cartagena.

She's no victim, and is clear on things. She understands that belonging to the LGBT (gay, lesbian and transsexual) community in Cartagena where she was born 25 years ago, is "all screwed up... though my family doesn't understand much about all this, when they see news and find out they discriminated against or killed someone from the community, they worry because they know perfectly well it could have been me." In 2017, 109 members of the LGBT community were murdered.

The first Meeting of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous LGBT leaders from the regions of La Guajira, Cartagena and Tumaco, organized by the NGO Caribe Afirmativo, identified 10 "invisible barriers' to this community's advancement. The most prevalent were racism and low educational levels.

Tania adjusts her dress and fixes her turban to avoid hair curls dangling over her face. Paradoxically, she says, "the Palenqueros and Raizals are the most racist ethnic groups," referring to local Afro-Caribbean communities. "We treat each other really badly, but that too is because of a lack of effective education models and of rigor in recognizing ourselves ethnically."

For the way she speaks and her clarity of expression, Tania has gradually become a spokeswoman for the LGBT population in Cartagena, capital of the Bolívar department, and that has its risks. Colombia is seeing a significant rise in homicides, threats and forced displacements, among other rights violations, directed at defenders of LGBT rights. In 2017, 60 threats were registered against LGBT persons, while Caribe Afirmativo counted a unprecedented increase over 2016-2017 from six to 26, of threats against LGBT rights defenders and their organizations. "I am not breaking any paradigms with my leadership," Tania says. "There are many trans women who have taken their path and thanks to them, regardless of what they did, whether they were hairdressers or sex workers, it is now easier for me to go out the house."

Within the Afro-Caribbean context, the LGBT identity is made invisible as many in black communities think "this' came from the white man and thus, does not happen among black people or if it does, it is due to interaction with whites who have sought to export their "deviations' to other communities.

Things have gradually improved, though Tania has a practical guide today for anyone wanting to approach the gay community. "When you're going to meet someone, don't ask tired old questions like "do you like men or women, do you do upstairs or downstairs?". We're more than that, more than just the kinky stuff. We have a life and want to talk about it. About our favorite food, cinema, books. Make an effort, we're more than a sexual orientation," she says.

The belief that homosexuality is a kind of curse.

David Rodríguez is a gay man born in Uribia, called the indigenous capital of Colombia. Many of the Wayuu, the native people of the Guajira peninsula and kinsmen of Rodríguez, live in this district, and it was not easy for him to live out his sexual orientation. He says "for indigenous people the homosexual or LGBT person generally does not exist. He is considered an aberration."

The belief locally is that homosexuality is a kind of punishment or curse. A demon is thought to live in a gay man and "must be driven out," says one Wayuu leader from Riohacha.

To "exorcize it," a potion is prepared from a local nettle (pringamoza) as prescribed by a spiritualist or medium. "They peal it, heat it in water and the person is bathed in it or given it to drink," says the Wayuu leader. "This helps the hormones rise up until the vocal chords are once again those of a man," he says.

David fled before trying the potion, taking refuge in Barranquilla. There, in spite of adversity, he set about studying law. "I began to work and to become independent," he recalled. "I showed my family that being is gay is normal."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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