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Lucas Carvajal is a guerrilla combatant from the Block Alfonso Cano and currently member of the Peace Delegation of the FARC-EP 
Monday, 28 March 2016 15:16

Swallowing Toads

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In Colombia the phrase "politics is the art of swallowing toads" is very common.

Such a phrase aims to demonstrate the difficulties of such an exercise, because you can never do politics on the plan of simple desire, as you are always tied to contingencies and others unpleasantness to the taste of the individual or political group.

Toad, in Colombia, also means 'the informer, informant or who betrays his friends'. 

The above written fits perfectly with regard to a recent article in the website Pacifista, signed by journalist Lina Tono. In it, more or less, she tells the adventures of biologist John Douglas Lynch, a specialist in amphibians, who discovered in 1985 an endemic species of toad he named Atelopus farci. 


The reasons, very personal, which led the biologist to give such scientific name to the species in question, are just that: personal reasons. What is clear in the article by Tono is that the relations Lynch had with the FARC-EP during his prolonged research are something else: from guerrillas who helped him being guides for him in his search for species, to unfortunate and unnecessary retentions, but never had they been marked by sympathy or collaboration. 

Better to make the above clear, for the christening of Atelopus farci wool have meant for the professor bitter controversy. The national zoological community has expressed its disagreement with the name given to the animal, since the name of the toad corresponded to an alleged terrorist group and deeply offended victims of the FARC. 

It is noteworthy that science has established criteria for the "baptism" of animal and plant species, as well as bacteria and viruses.

Taxonomy establishes rules for the names to be given to new discoveries, following the structure of the Linnaean classification. Under this model, the discoverer may propose how to name his discovery. 

In this way, organizations, personalities, localities and even cultural manifestations may be immortalized in new species. Without going any further, the same professor Lynch "named" two amphibians Jorgevelosai Boyacenses  and Carranguerorum, in tribute to Jorge Velosa and to the Andean music of eastern Colombia. Furthermore, recent entomological discoveries pay tribute to outstanding athletes of our country: a beetle living in Meta, has been named Oxyelitrum nairoi, in tribute to cyclist Nairo Quintana; and a jumping spider, has been named Maeota ibargueni, in tribute to athlete Catherine Ibarguen. 

International celebrities have not escaped the world of taxonomy. For example, legendary rock singers like Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones  Queen's Freddie Mercury have already been immortalized - the first in the tribolites Aegrotocatellus jaggeri, the second in the crustacean Cirolana mercuryi. Other cases border on the absurd: the Australian crab Albunea groeningi reminds us of Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, and a mushroom from Oceania - the Spongiforma squarepantsii- derives its name from its resemblance to the child character Sponge Bob. 

The "baptism" of a political nature are obviously the most controversial.Thus, to name a few, we found the Agathidium bushi, a beetle reminding us to the conservative Bush family saga, of bitter memories in the Middle East; and a lichen -the Caloplaca obamae - celebrates the current president of the US. Perhaps the most controversial case turns out to be that of a blind beetle from Eastern Europe, discovered by a German scientist in 1936 and christened Anophtalmus hitleri, a tribute to Adolph Hitler. The insect's physical blindness and the military blindness of the dictator in the fall of the Reich, are a political metaphor without precedents.  

Returning to the issue of the FARC's toad, Atelopus farci, the debate on its name and the role of Professor Lynch, denotes not only the extreme polarization of a country at war, but the immense backwardness we have on scientific and environmental conservation matters. The fact that an investigator with limited resources and difficult conditions, was able to discover an unknown species and emphasised the fact that these species are in danger, should be a source of joy for the nation and not a cause of isolation and stigmatisation. 

In that sense, the fact that the debate on the work of Lynch was over the name he gave to his toads and not about the difficulty of making science in Colombia, is a further sign of our misery as a country. And not only that, but also a clear sign of the lack of sense of humor that prevails: the "little toad of discord" belongs to the genus Atelopus - that is to the harlequins toads - and the Bufonidae family, literally, clown toads. In other words, the toad of the FARC, as well as toad - or informer, according to Colombian jargon - turned out to be a clown.

Therefore to accuse Lynch of being a Communist sympathizer is a considerable nonsense. If anything, he could be prosecuted for his excessive scientific sarcasm. 

Needless to emphasize that the Atelopus family is, like the FARC-EP, very Colombian. Not only because most of its members live in our country, being almost on the verge of physical disappearance, but because the farci is not the only one with a creole name. Cousins ​​of the FARC toad are the Atelopus quimbaya, the Atelopus guitarraensis - from Sumapaz-, the Atelopus monohernandezii - in tribute to Jorge Hernandez Camacho, well known zoologist from Bogota, the pastuso Atelopus, the muisca Atelopus, the Atelopus sonsonensis, the Atelopus chocoensis and, of course, as a tribute to the very Professor Lynch: the Atelopus lynchi.

The "frog of discord" opens the door to further discussion: to what extent is Colombian society ready as a whole to "swallow the toad" of an eventual Final Agreement? An allusion to the FARC can not become angry scientific protests nor can it spread doubts about academics.

At this point we totally agree with columnist Jorge Ivan Cuervo, who perhaps is at our ideological antipodes, when he noted in The Spectator: 

"The polarization of the country is reflected in the climate of opinion. You are "uribista" or "anti-uribista"; or "anti-santista" or "santista fan"; or "petrista" or "anti-petrista" mafious-analyst; fascist or "leftish"; animal lover or animal murderer, or pro egalitarian cause or reactionary. There is no midpoint, there are no ideas or debate outside labels. (...) 

De-escalate, they say, buzzword that does not exist, but that shows the need to turn down the aggressive language, to recognise, in the dialectic contradiction, a legitimate interlocutor, to discuss ideas with respect, not ad hominem accusations suggesting personal issues such as basis of an argument. 

It is not easy to give this cultural leap. Extremism is comfortable because you don't have to argue or prove what you say. Speak loudly and label becomes the preferred method for those who have no good arguments. 

I do not know, the post-conflict would be something like this, been able to debate without insult or attack each other, and of course, without killing each other". 

For now, we, the guerrillas of the FARC-EP, stand in solidarity with Professor John Douglas Lynch and against the stigmatization of his name.

And we hope that our little toad, like all his cousins ​​Atelopus, will be protected and saved of extinction.

Last modified on Sunday, 29 May 2016 00:32