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Letter To The Pope: Why You Shouldn't Visit Colombia

You might as well turn around and walk away
You might as well turn around and walk away
Sergio Ocampo Madrid

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ Father Jorge, dear Pope Francis, less than a month remains before your visit to Colombia. Before Sept. 6, you still have time to make your excuses and cancel. Believe me, you really needn't expose yourself to a trip that wil inevitably be both a failure and a risk. Colombia is irredeemable. We are condemned to a 1000, not 100 years of solitude. Leave us be and let us wallow in our rottenness and idiocy.

I am a Colombian who stopped being a Catholic a good while back but I believe you to be a good man. I became certain of it when you visited Mexico last year, and markedly showed your contempt for its Primate, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who had been covering up for pedophiles for a good 21 years, hobnobbing with the rich and powerful and cloaking the murky Legionaries of Christ in a veil of respectability. Although I am broadly indifferent to the person who sits on Saint Peter's throne, I was still glad to see it occupied by a man from this great homeland of ours, Latin America, and by someone who speaks Spanish. They say you prefer your little Fiat to limousines and that you do not live in the pomp and luxury of your predecessors. Good for you. You inspire trust.

Which is why I would ask you, Jorge Bergoglio, not to come to Colombia. Save yourself the disappointment of witnessing the Church's resounding failure here and its inability, in spite of the hegemonic powers it wielded until 1991, to forge us into a kinder, less barbaric and deceitful nation. As it declined and gradually lost credibility in recent decades, your Church has been ceding ground to horrible Protestant options like those shameless faith peddlers Miguel Arrázola or María Luisa Piraquive.

Leave us be and let us wallow in our rottenness and idiocy.

In our country, Holy Father, the Medellín gunmen hired to kill have faith in Mary Help of Christians. And she seems to listen, since most of the time they hit their targets. And nothing happens to them afterward. In the northern city of Barranquilla, the day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an orgy of drinking and disorders that ends in scuffles and stabbings. We had priests here who would preach from their altars that there was no sin in killing liberals. They put presidents into office and blessed weapons at the Military School, not to mention the vaults of the central bank.

Less than a year ago, a plebiscite was held to ask people whether or not they wanted peace. Your Church went against your declarations of enthusiasm, from Rome, and your dignitaries thought it better to wash their hands off of the affair — hypocritically, like Pontius Pilate — and issue a statement counseling people to vote according to their conscience. It was an insidious way of urging people to vote No. And sure enough, rancor won that day. War won.

You will have to try hard to avoid greeting such shady personalities as the presidential aspirant Alejandro Ordóñez, an arch-reactionary who burned books and, as head of the public prosecutor's office, had opposed anti-discrimination legislation for gays. He was also against the law to return to peasants the land that had been stolen from them in the war years. He prays to the rosary every day.

Another crazy old man with a rosary here considers you a false pope and a hidden antichrist. The thing is, he is a teacher and runs one of the capital's universities.

We have created such monsters as the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, the now-deceased guerrilla supremo Manuel Marulanda, our former president Álvaro Uribe, and the Castaño boys who were paramilitary gunmen — and baptized Catholics. The worst of it, Father Jorge, is that many of these men think they were decent and respectable. They think they did the right thing. There's one they call Popeye who killed more than 3,000 people. Those victims were slaughtered by his own hand and doesn't include the 3,000 others whose deaths he's conspired in. When you go to Medellín, should you visit at all, he may be in the crowd. Yes, Holiness, he has been free for a while now and may even be called an "influencer" as he has 34,000 followers on Twitter. He is a devout Catholic.

We were bad from the start, Holiness. About a month ago, the anti-corruption prosecutor, Luis Moreno, was detained for corruption. Yes sir, the same one meant to investigate and charge the country's crooks. Six years ago, his now wife was held at the airport before she was to board a flight to Paris. She had been found with drugs but he got her off the hook arguing that her "grandmother had packed her suitcase." Regarding the grandmother: she died before this lady was tried in court. Yes Father, you can't even trust your grandma in Colombia!

There is no need to come and see for yourself ... the antechamber of hell.

Moreno may well be freed or placed under house arrest due to the statute of limitations. In our country, Holiness, it is not unusual for people to illicitly acquire millions of dollars — like the Nule cousins who handled illegal sales of public contracts in Bogotá — and only be placed under house arrest. One of the Nule convicts, Miguel, was given the light punishment because, according to court documents, he was "intolerant to carbohydrates' and could therefore not digest prison food.

If you ignore me and decide to visit Colombia, do ask for Marbelly Sofia Jiménez in Villavicencio. She's the woman who was dealt a 39-year prison term for murdering her stepson, among other crimes. She was not immediately jailed after her conviction, which allowed her to throw house parties so loud nobody could sleep nearby. She visited bars and apparently even traveled to the Caribbean. She is confined now but I would not be surprised to see her sentence reduced so she, too, can return home because of an ingrown toenail.

That is how we are, dear Pope Francis. There is no need to come and see for yourself how a country of 50 million souls is the antechamber of hell. And without redemption in our case, for we barely deserve it.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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