By the time I started investigating the Unión Patriótica, the party was on the endangered species list. There was virtually no formal political component left. The UP had about thirty municipal council reps, a couple of mayors, and a half-dozen provincial assemblymen. The rest were dead or hiding or, if they were smart, had taken refuge from politics altogether. The last UP senator fled the country in 1997, shortly after armed men entered his house while he was having lunch with his wife and daughters and told him he would leave the country or die. Other lesser-known party members went into exile as well, one of them after paramilitaries shot a rocket at her car as she drove down one of Bogotá's main thoroughfares toward the city council building where she was a councilmember. She survived. A man in another vehicle was injured.
Meanwhile, the death toll kept rising. The paramilitaries never forgot who was with the UP. Their goal was the complete extermination of the political party, and they were well on their way to achieving it. "With this dirty war, it's impossible to draw people to the UP," the chain-smoking party president Mario Upegui told me when I visited him in his Bogotá office. "No one wants to join a party whose leaders are still getting assassinated."
It was the first time I spoke to Upegui. The gray-haired and wrinkled UP president looked as if the war and the cigarettes were sucking the life from him. He had a pack of Marlboro Lights tucked away in his gray suit and another lying on his disorderly desk. He only seemed to take in fresh air for about two seconds at a time between puffs. His small work space in Bogotá's city council building filled quickly with smoke, as did the slim passageway lined with aides and supporters.
Upegui had seen it all from beginning to end. Like so many others, he had started with hope, with the belief that the UP could put a dent into the