I N T R O D U C T I o n

     "On July 18th 2006, at six o’clock in the morning, three bullet-proof SUVs with fourteen men carrying machine guns arrive at my mother’s apartment in Bogotá, where I have lived for the past six years. They have been sent by the American ambassador and are there to protect me on my way to the airport, where an airplane belonging to the Drug Enforcement Administration is loading fuel and getting ready to take off to an undisclosed location in the United States. The previous night, the chief of the group—a high-ranking security officer with a strong accent, possibly from Israel—had come to examine my passport and the boxes and items that I wanted to take with me. Before leaving, he had warned me to stay away from the windows because a group of suspicious people were gathering on the other side of the small park in front of the building. Now, while the city awakens to another ordinary Tuesday, we literally fly through half-deserted streets and avenues, taking shortcuts here and there, a vehicle with five men in front of us and another one following. As he scrutinizes my face, the officer explains that we must make a stop at the embassy because before my departure the Department of Justice wants to have a word with me.


      The headquarters of the diplomatic mission in Bogotá - a compound of concrete standing on acres of grass surrounded by miles of barbed wire, fences and walls - are a true modern fortress with several entrance gates. They are the exact opposite of the American ambassador’s residence where, a long time ago, I attended garden and cocktail parties with his colleagues and diplomatic wives that had been my friends. The house, not particularly grand or large but gracious and elegant, is surrounded by manicured lawns, the sight of which I enjoyed every afternoon from the window of my studio during thirteen years. In the offices, a substantial part of the staff of thousands is composed of military, intelligence, enforcement and security officers trained to combat communists, drug traffickers and terrorists, and every Colombian who is allowed inside feels like a bit of a suspect and is supposed to act in consequence. At seven in the morning the place is almost deserted, but half an hour later five diplomatic officers make their entrance. They examine my tourist visa B2, photocopy my passport and birth certificate, and present me with two documents: the first one reads that all information that I disclose to the authorities in the United States will be considered under oath, which means that in case of perjury I will be prosecuted under their federal laws; the second, that if the Colombian Attorney General requests my cooperation in any criminal case I will present myself to testify on the spot.


      Contrary to the Colombian legal lingo—a tricky maze inherited from Napoleon and polished during two hundred years by cunning lawyers—the language in these two paragraphs is simple, straightforward and easy to understand. I raise my hand, take my oath in front of two attorneys and two special agents acting as witnesses, and sign. When Jerry McMillan, Attaché of the Department of Justice, stretches out his hand and says that I am now under the protection of the federal government of the United States of America, I say a silent prayer for him, Ambassador William Wood and every single one of their children. Unbeknownst to them, the USA has just saved me from death under torture at the hands of one dozen butchers; unbeknownst to me, I am their secret weapon in a 2.1 billion dollar criminal case."



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