• Red Carnations

    I was having a beer along the highway between Puerto Colombia and Barranquilla one afternoon,  when a drunken man approached and wanted to tell me the following story:

    “In spite of only being a servant on the estate of Don Sebastián, I did have a girlfriend,  Juanita. One day she asked me to bring her a bunch of red carnations. Happily, I sent out to the road to where there had been a red carnations bush. But, to my sorrow, I saw they had cut it down.

    “Being intelligent,  I remembered that there was a bush of white carnations nearby,  where I picked white flowers for the bouquet. As I was returning to the farm, I crossed paths with the son of Don Sebastián.  ‘Where are going with those flowers?’ he demanded of me.  I replied proudly, ‘I am taking them to my girlfriend, Juanita.  He retorted, “I am the only man who brings flowers to Juanita!’ With that he violently pushed me to the ground and walked on.

    “I jumped up and caught up to him. I stuck him between the ribs with a dagger I always carry, and with the blood that gushed from his side I died the white carnations red, and took them to Juanita. Later I learned that this man’s story is based on a 19th century poem from the Antioquia region. I have not found the name of this poet (Red Carnations poem in Spanish).

    I then took this  tale of class domination,, sexual betrayal and artful revenge as a window onto the psychological dimensions of Colombia’s internal armed conflict.  To be sure, gross inequities in land-ownership, epic levels of government corruption and neglect, and profits from cocaine gold, emeralds, oil and cattle all fuel the war.  But there is also a highly personal dimension to this conflict, where social class, social betrayal and revenge mix.