A Healthy Reason Not to Score Home Goals; Ross Reyburn Examines the Country Whose Football Stars Enjoy a Do-or-Di E Incentive Scheme for World Cup Success

By Reyburn, Ross | The Birmingham Post (England), June 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

A Healthy Reason Not to Score Home Goals; Ross Reyburn Examines the Country Whose Football Stars Enjoy a Do-or-Di E Incentive Scheme for World Cup Success


Reyburn, Ross, The Birmingham Post (England)


Should England defeat Columbia this evening, who would want to return to the South American country where a World Cup star was murdered for letting in an own goal?

As well as being the legendary location of the fabled city of gold - El Dorado, Columbia is one of the most violent countries in the world. Its motto may be "loyalty and order" but the former Spanish colony has a long history of civil wars. And its role as the world's major cocaine exporter has inspired an era of drugs wars.

When Colombia humiliatingly lost 2-1 to the USA in the 1994 World Cup, defender Andres Escobar paid a terrible price for his own goal - he was gunned down at 3am in a dust-blown restaurant car park.

If Colombia lose to England, team manager Hernan Gomez might well need police protection - his decision to send home controversial former Newcastle striker Tino Asprilla has already brought street protests in Bogota.

It can be a crazy world but you don't get people much more crazy than the Colombians.

Last November, General Manuel Bonnet, Colombia's army chie armed with a copy of Aristophanes's Lysistrata , made a national television appeal calling for women to stage a sex strike until their men ceased fighting.

"The sex strike worked well in the time of the Ancient Greeks," said the general.

The Clinton administration has consistently argued that President Ernesto Samper of Colombia accepted election campaign funds from the country's top drugs cartel.

But by 1995, Samper claimed the surrender of the senior figure in the Cali drug cartel showed the Government's efforts to end the world's biggest cocaine ring were working.

Senor Henry Loaiza Ceballos, otherwise known as The Scorpion, surrendered as the authorities closed in on him. He was accused of the bombing that killed 29 in the city of Medelin as well as the chainsaw massacre of 107 peasants who refused to co-operate with drug barons.

As well as drugs-inspired violence, Colombia is a country where guerrillas continue to be a feature of political life where Liberals traditionally battle against Conservatives.

It is a visually awesome as well as violent country. As well as its vast variety of wildlife and fauna, it has the attractions of Colombian Amazonia, the lost Indian city of Ciudad Perida with its several hundred interlinked stone terraces spectacularly sited in a tropical rainforest and the hundreds of monolithic statues at San Agustin, one of South America's most extraordinary ceremonial centres.

Despite its major role as a drugs exporter, tourists should not be misled into regarding Colombia as a haven where drug users can let it all hang out.

The invaluable travel guide South America On A Shoestring (Lonely Planet books, pounds 17.99) advises: "Be exceptionally careful about drugs - never carry them.

"The police and the army can be extremely thorough in searching travellers, often looking for a nice fat bribe. Don't buy dope on the street; the vendors may well be setting you up for the police."

The other bad news is the drug Burundanga (from a Colombian tree species) is used by thieves to knock people out. It can cause sleepiness lasting for hours or even days and an overdose can be fatal.

It isn't that easy to spot either.

"It can be put into sweets, cigarettes, chewing gum, spirits, beer - virtually any food or drink - and it doesn't have any particular taste or smell," warns the guide. …

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