Gota de Leche.

The Manizales BNC became a center where local organizations could meet and discuss common issues they faced in attempting to provide social services to populations in need in the community. On occasion, when a particular social problem faced a wide portion of the community the Centro Colombo-Americano was where the meetings would be held so the public and relevant service agencies could come together to discuss the issue and decide on a collective course of action. On occasion, this got the BNC into trouble with local authorities.

Such was the case when the milk that was being brought to Manizales for CARE was impounded by the railroad because the governor of the State of Caldas had not paid the shipping bills for many months. Given this action on the part of the railroads, the local administrator of CARE decided to close their operations in the state and move elsewhere. I saw this as a real loss to the community and, with the agreement of the Director of the CARE office in the city, called a meeting of the representatives of some of the major social service organizations in the city. When this group was told of the situation and the imminent loss of the milk that CARE was providing to orphanages, ‘gota de leche’ programs, food programs for the poor, etc, they decided to seek an appointment with the governor to protest his failure to abide by the state agreement to pay for the shipment of the milk from the port to the city of Manizales. The governor was furious that this had been made a “public issue” and demanded to know why the citizens were meddling in the affairs of the “government.” The citizens’ committee stated that this was the affair of the people of the state and not a private affair of the governor. With the public ‘eye’ on him (the newspaper had a reporter at the meeting) the governor agreed to sign a new contract with CARE and to pay the outstanding bill owed the railroad so the impounded milk could be released.

Reaction to the role the BNC played in this affair varied. Local citizens commented that the BNC was perhaps the only place in the city where such a meeting could have been held served as a demonstration of the role and responsibilities of citizens of a democratic society. The U.S. Consul in Cali, in whose district the BNC was located, was not too pleased with the involvement of the BNC in this issue as he felt it was getting involved in political action which could threaten the BNC standing as a ‘non-political’ organization, (Duh!) He felt this notwithstanding the philosophical basis for the action but accepted it as “well done” since there were no repercussions. I felt that the BNC was merely offering a channel of communication between the interested parties so that civic responsibility could be accepted by the persons affected by this situation.