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Watch out for the worm in "Farclandia. A Ferris wheel spun at dangerous speed above a merry-go-round, while a long, glowing worm on wheels carried people around the town, blaring its police siren as it bumped past machete and saddle shops and a lane of candy-colored brothels.
It may sound like a bizarre theme park, but Farclandia is no fun for many Colombians. The government surrendered it to the guerrillas in in an effort to start peace talks, but that simply legitimized a safe haven in which the FARC could hide the thousands of kidnap victims it holds at any one time, as well as rustle cattle, collect hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes from the cocaine mafias it allows to operate freely in the territory and launch vicious attacks on army and police outposts across its "borders.
Everyone is so scared of them, anyway, that they don't need to bully the townsfolk. Last January, FARC guerrillas waited until an anti-Marxist priest finished saying mass in the Putumayo district, then walked up to the pulpit and shot him dead in front of his congregation.
Local justice is meted out by guerrilla "people's courts" whose judges seldom have a high school diploma. And while the FARC may earn most of its revenue from taxing the cocaine trade, any guerrilla caught sampling the product is executed by his comrades. The sinister funhouse ambience extends to FARC headquarters, some eight miles up a dirt road in Los Pozos, where I found jungle-hardened guerrillas hunched over computers, rifles hanging off the backs of chairs as they answered their e-mail.
FARC's commanders maintain their own Hotmail accounts. I was introduced to several FARC commanders, but none was as colorful as Julian Conrado, a balladeer with a goofy mustache who manages to rhyme "Americano" with "imperio romano. They control some 40 percent of the country, and are engaged in turf wars with a smaller rival leftist group, the ELN, as well as with right-wing paramilitaries accused by human rights organizations of committing some of the worst massacres of the long-running civil war.