Reclaiming Democracy, The First Step Toward Peace Part 1

Quenby Wilcox Having It All


The murder of Domingo Julio Gómez Franco, in Bogota in 1998 was an event that touched me particularly hard, and brought the realities of the daily life in to the Spanish expat community crashing down on them. Unfortunately, as I was to observe in the ensuing years, the lessons to be learned here were not heeded by many Spanish expats who arrogantly continued to believe they were somehow protected, or above and beyond the violence of Colombia.

Julio was a class-mate of mine at a local jewelry-making academy in Bogota. He was a huge, burly man, who was, as the Spaniards say, mas Bueno del pan. In life, we rarely have the occasion to meet someone as kind-hearted and thoroughly good as was Julio. At the academy, he was always willing to help those with less muscle power, with the metallurgic manipulations of gold and silver. He was just one of those people who would go out of their way to help others and be kind—something so, so rare these days. Several months before his murder I had a conversation with his wife about "security issues" in Bogota, and whether expats really needed body-guards and bullet-proof cars. Most Spanish expats saw this as a status symbol and unnecessary "expat perk," rather than a legitimate security concern. I did not, and do not agree. Security concerns of those working in high-risk countries and/or high risk industries SHOULD NEVER be taken lightly by multinationals.

The point of contention in our conversation was that body-guards, bullet-proof cars, etc. were really only status symbols paid for by large corporations, and not a legitimate security concern for the families involved. The issue of family security in Bogota had been one of great contention between me and my husband, since our arrival in Colombia. We were the only Spanish expat family of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) in Colombia that was not accorded the same security measures as the other BBVA families. We were "sitting ducks" for a kidnapping by delinquents or the guerrilla. I and my children were particularly high on any "hit list," due to the fact my husband was in his ivory tower all days, while we were "out on the street" all day and primary targets for anyone greedy enough to take a chance against an unarmed woman and two toddlers.

In effect, me and my children (non-Spaniards) were used as decoys, by BBVA, and Banco Ganadero; assuring that if any employees were kidnapped, it would be the "foreigner" and the not the Spaniards. The callous disregard for the safety of the life of a woman and her children by BBVA and Banco Ganadero at that time is perhaps the most flagrant example of the coldhearted disdain with which all too many HR department treat trailing-spouses and expat families. For all too many HR professionals, expat families are nothing more than extra baggage; with my case-in-point demonstrating to what extent some multinational are solely, and exclusively driven by corporate greed; willing to put the lives of women and children at risk in order to save a few bucks.

The only reason I did not take my children to live in Miami, until my husband resolved the security issues, was because of serious health issues and the hospitalization of one of my children. The quality of health care I found in Colombia far surpassed anything I would have found in the USA or Europe. My undying gratitude for the excellent medical care that my family received in Colombia is absolute. (Colombia may not provide as much healthcare to the general population that it should, and without a doubt the failure to do so is a serious human rights violations. However, in terms of service and humanity of the doctors and nurses I encountered there, they are hands down to anything I've ever seen in Europe or the USA (my father and two doctors in Brussels the exception).

The lackadaisical attitude of multi-nationals HR departments towards the security of their expatriated families is highlighted not only in my own story, but depicted in Hollywood's Proof of Life starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan. These are serious issues and concerns, and at its extremes cost the lives of all too many expat woman and children; with all too many multi-national HR departments shrugging them off as inconsequential and unimportant. Security issues of expat families is an issue that the global mobility must, without delay, address in any true efforts at compliance with human rights standards in conducting business abroad—something that none of the multi-nationals (or government employers) are doing in a holistic fashion.

The contribution that the corporate greed of multinationals is making to the Failed War on Drugs and Failed War on Terror is further explored in my blog for tomorrow Reclaiming Democracy: The First Step Toward Peace - Part 2