The Lonesome Death Of A Gay Former FARC Guerilla

After serving Communist rebel group FARC, Arturo Zapata was brutally and publicly slain in a village near Medellín, and neither neighbors nor police intervened.

A Colombian grave
Christian Rodríguez

*Warning: This story contains details of a sensitive and graphic nature.

BOGOTÁ — I never found out if Arturo Zapata was killed for his past as a communist guerrilla, for being black or for being gay. His half-crushed body was left on the road, like a rodent run over by a car.

"It is horrible what they did to that kid," neighbors murmured in this God-fearing village. Its Christian residents must have been deaf, as none heard him scream for help in the night. Couldn't they recognize the voice of Raquel Zapata's son? Or were the prayer-mongers muttering "no f**ng way," as people do around Medellín? "Who is going to stick their neck out for one of those?"

Everyone knew "little darky" Zapata liked money even as a child, but not easy money. He didn't like the narco world and showing off with a fast car and a flashy girlfriend beside him. He was an introvert and a bit like a prayboy, rather like his mother who had aged badly but was reputedly once the prettiest whore in town.

The priest declared in his Sunday sermon that Arturo's death (not murder) hid a Divine message. It was a call to rectify our ways. He said it without hesitation. How else should his congregation interpret the massacre of a self-confessed homosexual who adhered to Che Guevara"s ideas and was the son of a woman of ill repute and to cap it all, a mulatto and an atheist?

"Come on," says one of Arturo's aunts when I ask her, "the boy was looking for it. Why the hell did he come back?"

He hadn't fared much better as a guerrilla and was poorly treated because he was a marica, a faggot. He liked all those ideas about changing the world for the better, by force if need be, though they say he didn't even kill a fly. He was a coward, or at least not a warrior. Yet they killed him like the worst gangster around, cutting him into pieces like some gruesome dish for a horror Christmas. His mother came alone to pick them up, in a scene reminding one of a Stendhal novel.

He fled his unit and returned to his own reality.

Arturo Zapata was the first, truly demobilized guerrilla fighter. He fled his unit and returned to his own reality, without security arrangements, trying to restart a life. On the night of his death, he had just put away a food cart when he ran into a gang of paramilitaries of the Cacique Pipintá block. They were God's envoys to put this world right.

A machete first struck his legs, with its hideous thud — that'll make a man of him! They did not kill him right away, preferring to circle around like a cat playing with its prey. A few more stabs and blows, in and out, in his hands and chest, for good measure — this time for being a guerrilla and believing in what the devil and communists and atheists say. There was time for a few kicks to break his ribs and bones. There were more than 20 against one disarmed man, but "that's the way of the Lord," as more than one observed in the village. And then came what has become a veritable fashion in Colombia — they cut off his head.

Not a shot from the police bunkered up in the station a block away. They must have heard the torture. Not a single "damn it" from the priest at the pulpit days later, nor a call to mercy by the mayor. None of those in charge locally moved a finger or uttered a word of criticism. All you could hear was Raquel weeping alone in the village, as she placed her son's head beside his body.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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