Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
PEDRO GONZALES (# 06)
Some changes have been made to protect the sitter’s identity.
Born in Cartagena, Colombia
Father & Mother both born in Colombia
Ethnic heritage / Father: Mixed: Spanish & Black / Mother: Spanish
Born and raised in Cartagena, Colombia, Pedro attended local primary and secondary schools, following which, he went on to the University of Bogotá, studying public administration.
After this region of Latin America gained independence from Spain in 1819, the country went through some turbulent, formative years, with the Republic of Colombia being finally declared in 1886 (though Panama was still to secede, in 1903). The new Republic was turbulent from the very outset: clashes between the two main political parties - the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party - often engendered violent divisions in the state, culminating in a period of intense conflict in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, known as La Violencia. From 1953 to 1964, the worst levels of violence declined and just before Pedro’s birth, in 1968, the two main parties formed the National Front, a coalition through which they governed the country jointly. However, despite far-reaching and often desirable social and economic reforms, a number of anti-government guerrilla groups began to coalesce, including the notorious FARC and the National Liberation Army (ENL).
As a young professional, Pedro witnessed the introduction of the new Colombian Constitution of 1991 which guaranteed freedom of religious worship, gender equality, freedom of expression, and many other fundamental human rights. Having joined the public service in 1988, it was in this positive climate that Pedro was able to prove himself a talented young man whose professional reputation as a promising strategist grew amongst the political elite. This is not to say that, in the interim, the belligertent guerrilla groups had gone away; indeed, the conflicts they created periodically claimed many lives.
New paramilitary forces and ‘social cleansing groups’ continued to grow, often with links to local and national security forces, not to mention some local officials and politicians. Widespread atrocities were committed against trade unionists, political activists, potential local civilian leaders, and indeed anyone who got in the way. The narcotics trade was also exerting influence over a number of politicians and the effects of this infiltration of government stretched further and wider, exacerbating the social conflict in the country.
Even though he was a public official and not a politician, Pedro was not immune: because of his involvement in the development of social strategies, he was targeted by the opposition and survived two murder attempts. While the wealthy, the powerful and the leading politicians surrounded themselves with cordons of personal security, this luxury was not available to Pedro. Following the third attempt on his life, he knew that he had no choice other than to leave Colombia and to become an expatriate.
After a joyful childhood and some productive and constructive years as a young professional, life in Colombia had turned nasty for Pedro, forcing him to leave his homeland and to start a new life in a foreign country, to master a new language, and to adjust to a rather different way of life. This was a major trauma.
Having successfully sought asylum in Britain, Pedro has now lived here in peace for over 14 years, but because his family have remained behind, he only undertook to take part in this project on the condition that his face should be rendered unidentifiable and with the critical details of his biography disguised.
In Britain, Pedro feels free and unthreatened. He loves life in London and he loves the amazing diversity here, of people and of traditions. London has become his new home and while Colombia will always be a part of him, it is now very much a part of something from the past.
Pedro has obtained further university qualifications here in London and he now works within the field of social services, providing professional, legal and social assistance to those in need.
No-one wants to experience a threat upon his or her life and Pedro regrets how the attempts on his own life turned him into an outsider, an émigré. However, after 14 years in London, this country has become home to him; he is very happy here, now a British Citizen, and has become reconciled to what life has brought him.
Interview Date: 18th May 2013
Updated: 4th June 2013
Though a Colombian public official and not a politician, Pedro was not immune from the widespread atrocities committed against trade unionists, political activists, potential local civilian leaders, and anyone who got in the way of the guerrilla groups: because of his involvement in the development of social strategies, he was targeted by the opposition and survived two murder attempts. While the wealthy and the leading politicians had cordons of personal security, this luxury was not available to Pedro and, following the third attempt on his life, he knew that he had no choice other than to become an expatriate, to flee the political turmoil of Colombia, his motherland, and to seek asylum in the UK. Now he devotes his life to helping others in need, here in London.
Photography: London 18th May 2013