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essays | places | Colombia

Cartagena / Police Negotiations

haggling over fines for non-existent crimes & how to break the corruption cycle


   „And what about the camera?“ he asked, pointing to it with his glassy, hungry eyes that glowed in the semi-darkness of the dim garage.

“I’m not giving you my camera!!” I answered decidedly. “It’s worth a lot more than the fine.”

That was a lie. With a mix of amusement and outrage pulling my lips into different directions, I lifted my can to them, took another sip of beer, and thought to myself that these police were driving a hard bargain. He persisted along the lines of “if you cannot pay the fine, we’ll have to get your passports and you spend the night in jail and tomorrow we’ll bring you to Bogotá and you’ll be deported.” Now he had taken out the big guns.

An hour earlier:


It was Cartagena’s birthday. I don’t remember which one, just that it was an odd number, something like 457, rendering the big celebration in the streets a little inadequate. The city had made its pretty eyes at me for some days and I was falling for it: Caribbean ocean front, Colombian joie de vivre, yesterday’s old town, tomorrow’s skyline, arepas – nothing was not to like.