Thousands of Colombians rioted
around the country on Wednesday, demanding their money back
after being defrauded in a series of pyramid schemes and then
mocked in some cases by those who took their cash.
In some of the nine cities where the protests erupted,
police used batons and tear gas to subdue angry mobs.
In recent months, a number of phony loan companies have
vanished along with millions of dollars in deposits after
promising interest rates of up to 150 percent. Regular savings
accounts are unpopular in Colombia due to high banking fees.
“Dear investors, thanks for trusting us and depositing your
money,” read a note posted on the door of a company in the
southwestern province of Cauca after its owners disappeared.
“Now, for being stupid and believing in financial
witchcraft, you will have to work for your money,” it said,
prompting depositors to storm the building, wreck the company’s
offices and loot its computer equipment and furniture.
Some left the scene bloodied after confronting the police.
President Alvaro Uribe called on Congress to pass a law
that would penalize the swindlers and Vice President Francisco
Santos warned people to avoid the schemes, which have
mushroomed on promises of easy money.
“When someone promises to double your money in six months
they are trying to trick you,” Santos said. “Nothing is free in
this world and that is not going to change.”
Police arrested a group of loan managers as they tried to
flee the central city of Pereira with four suitcases stuffed
with cash. They were charged with bribery after offering money
to the officers in exchange for their freedom.
Pyramid scams are common in the developing world where many
people have little financial sophistication.
The collapse in 1997 of pyramid investment schemes in
Albania produced losses of $2 billion and led to anarchy until
an Italian-led European force restored order.
Many Colombians are feeling squeezed as the world financial
crisis weighs on the Andean country’s economy, which the
central bank says may grow by only 1 percent next year after a
boom driven by record foreign direct investment.
Uribe remains popular for driving leftist rebels back into
the jungles after decades of fighting that once encroached on
the country’s urban industrial areas. (Reuters)