What exactly constitutes an emergency in Colombia?

It is 4:30AM on Friday December 7, 2012 here in Medellin, Colombia and I am putting these words to paper even if I am presently unsure if they will ever meet the light of anyone else’s day, or even if I am wise to express these thoughts? But to hell with it, I am awake since 3:30 struggling with this problem, so let me explain.

It’s the fireworks; not the pretty rockets that light up the sky, but the explosive devices that have no other reason for existence than to make an aggressive noise. My problem is when do these devices constitute a reportable public nuisance? No, stop; my real problem is that I have not had a decent night’s sleep since October and I am fearful for the health of my beloved dog!

Having lived in Medellin for several years now I cannot say I have been unaware of this problem before; any reason for a festive outburst has long since been a popular motive to let off fireworks and damnation to any law that holds otherwise. However up until recently I have never been exposed to the close proximity of these devices as they were sufficiently distant to only be received as dull thuds, or mildly annoying for a limited and irregular period. But all of this has changed since I moved a couple of months ago.

I now have a noisy neighbor only 100 to 200 meters away.

This new neighbor has a regular habit of letting off “bangers” at weekends, every Friday, Saturday and some Sundays, starting from around 11PM and continuing throughout the night, sometimes until the early morning. This was aggravating enough but at least I had the weekday nights to recuperate. This was the honeymoon period; since November 1st we have hit the “anything goes” Xmas season.

Now our noisy neighbor has no limits; he starts with a mild aperitif around 11h00, returns with an early reveille at 01h00 and a final fanfare from 03h30 for anything from a few minutes to several hours. To give him (her?) credit these are not a continual bombast but rather delicately contrived interludes timed to provide some hope of respite and calm, only for rude awakenings minutes later.

In short this neighbor seems to seek provocation. At this time of night all the other festivities have usually ceased and he has the stage to himself, you can hear a pin drop…..until he arrives on scene.

So what does everyone else think? Am I alone in lying in bed or calming my dog whilst wondering how his mind must work? What type of person does this? Can you reason with such a person? Is he dangerous? Surely everyone on this side of Medellin must be cursing him as well?

But “Yes” and “No.” In short I would describe my fellow sufferers’ reaction as apathetic, even fearful. The public authorities view is much clearer….”They do not want to know.” Bear in mind I am really raising the problem about 1 solitary individual.

A few facts:

I live in a residence together with over 100 other tenants.

Other residences/hotels close by also experience the same problem.

In my residence only 3 other tenants have complained to our building’s administrator.

Everyone complains but nobody does anything.

Our administrator fears retaliation, “You do not know who you are dealing with.”

Rumors abound. Our Administrator suspects our noisy neighbor is an ex-policeman who now has an illegal “fabrica” manufacturing fireworks. As a consequence he is “untouchable,” worse still complainants take a risk in exposing themselves. Others maintain our noisy neighbor must be very rich and powerful to be able to afford such a lifestyle…and similarly “untouchable.” What is sure is that the vast majority of those similarly affected prefer to live with the problem rather than take a risk, either from the perpetrator himself, or from the wrath of the authorities who insist they have more important matters to deal with.

Nevertheless, I have taken to phoning Medellin Emergency Services (123) in the hope repetition will encourage them to do something. Regrettably their only reply is to ask I notify them “Who” is the noisy neighbor and where does he live? The overall tone is “don’t bother us.”

Am I wrong in thinking they wish me to do their job? This would involve me in getting up in the dead of night and prowling around on foot to find the precise source (Our vicinity already has a reputation for night time muggings). Is it really appropriate for Medellin Police Services to ask the public to take risks? Could Medellin Police not place 1 officer in place for 1 night to locate the perpetrator themselves?

In fact all of this really boils down to what level of civic responsibility should one expect of the general public and when can one expect assistance from the police? I believe a mature, democratic society needs foundations based on a collective community spirit which encourages expression without fear of repression. In this respect I fear Colombia has some journey to fulfill.

Colombia and Medellin have an impressive array of laws; but honestly, how many of them are enforced, let alone respected? The law concerning noise control is but one of them.

I now need to get some sleep in readiness for my noisy neighbor to reappear tonight. I have tried to make my point (very lengthily I am afraid) but I fear it has deteriorated to a simple rant. So “rant” it shall be, but if these words ever do see the light of day, I would appreciate your reactions/comments. Should I expect more of my neighbors/the police? Or is it me that is expecting too much?

The author of this article requested to remain anonymous

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