Mockery Or Murder: The Horrors Of Being Transgender In Colombia

Chased from their homes and communities, many transgender women in Colombia seek refuge in a four-block area in Santa Fe, in downtown Bogotá.

The LGBT Pride Parade held in Bogotá, Colombia on June 2015
The LGBT Pride Parade held in Bogotá, Colombia on June 2015
William Martínez

BOGOTA â€" Prejudice can kill. A group of seven transsexual friends who moved to Bogotá to start a new life could testify to that, or at least the three who survived the process, albeit just barely.

All are victims of violence and persecution for changing their gender. One of the survivors, Olimpo, was stabbed eight times and is now confined to a wheelchair. She was attacked for calling someone a "cutie" (tan lindo ese pollo!). Another was stabbed by a group of homophobes and will be limping for the rest of her life.

A third woman, Piola, says she had to move when paramilitaries told her she had eight days to leave her house in Chinchiná (Caldas department) for being a "faggot." Early the next day, her mother took her to the bus station to travel to Medellín, the Colombian city with the most murders of transgender women. "They see us as men disguised as women, which is why they are even more violent," says Piola.

From there she fled to Bogotá, where it's said that people are free to be openly gay, or to work in prostitution. Piola is just one of many transgender women who end up in the capital after being harassed, threatened and pushed out of other Colombian cities.

At least 800 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people were murdered in Colombia between 2006 and 2014. Most of these hate crimes targeted transgender women, of whom 30 were killed between 2013-14. Most of them were prostitutes working in the capital, particularly in the Santa Fe area, in the city center.

Because of their presence and persistence, transsexuals have won themselves a space in the city and earned some recognition as women. "What will it be madam?" you might even hear some of the area's shopkeepers ask them quite naturally. The space, though, is a limited one â€" just a four-block area â€" and even there women like Piola sometimes fall victim to violence.

Piola is one of 14 women who participated in a joint project carried out by the University of Los Andes School of Government and Parces, a sex worker watchdog group. The particpants share a common story: after being displaced from various village districts, they all ended up confined to this particular corner of Bogotá,

Many years of their lives have passed in Santa Fe, a downtown area between 19th and 24th streets and 14th (Caracas) and 18th avenues. Here the women are not gawked at or scrutinized as freak characters. But they do have to be wary of police harassment and vigilantes engaged in "social cleansing." Project researchers found that police, simply for the sake of amusement, repeatedly force transgender women to undress and run around the street.

Nearly half of the transgender participants in the project claim that police have on occasion asked for sex in exchange for not arresting them, and 73% say they've been beaten by police at least once. The women also worry about paramilitaries, who are sometimes present on and around 24th street. They say their only defense is to cut themselves and then threaten to give their attackers AIDS.

One of the goals of the project was to make the women â€" some of whom had never stepped outside Santa Fe â€" more visible in other parts of the city. And so at one point, the women travelled to Zona T in northern Bogotá.

They made the trip during rush hour, wearing veils and carrying signs reading "I am more than just Santa Fe." On the bus, passengers shot them disgusted glances. The women got off the bus at 85th street, then walked to the upmarket Andino shopping center. There they took off their veils and raised their signs before deciding to end their visit with a meal in one of the mall's restaurants. As they sat down, the dining area was drained of customers.

That kind of obvious discrimination is why the women prefer sticking to Santa Fe, despite the dangers they face there; and despite the fear, which is constant, they say, coursing through their bodies like blood.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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

CAUCHARI — 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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!