FLORENCIA, Colombia – The clown takes off his mask in front of the audience and under his colorful costume can be glimpsed a camouflage uniform; he then changes his big flappy shoes for military boots and bids farewell to the crowd at the circus staged by the Colombian army in what for years has been the southern war zone.
The show, which also includes trapeze artists, jugglers and other performers, all of them soldiers, is part of the Amazonas Circus, an initiative of the Jupiter Task Force – a unit of the 6th Army Division – whose purpose is to build a closer relationship with people living in the areas where it operates.
“The motivation is tremendous when you’re in front of the audience and even more when there are children present – seeing them laugh makes me happy,” a soldier who goes by the clown name of “Zapatico” told EFE – his real name is Luis Arbey Lopez and he has been toughened by 16 years in the military.
Together with his fellow soldiers Carlos Augusto “Cuqui” Lasso, Alvaro “Pinito” Prado and Corporal Jose “Lagrimitas” Salamanca, Lopez clowns around in funny shows under the blue tent that the Amazonas Circus takes to municipalities in the jungle province of Caqueta, which together with Putumayo and Amazonas make up the 6th Division’s theater of operations.
The whole circus cast is made up of soldiers like Lopez, who for the last 3½ years has combined his military tasks with entertainment in local communities, and who, like his colleagues the clowns, jugglers and trapeze artists, has trained in this art so different from waging war.
All kinds of people attend the circus, from students at Juan Bautista La Salle School in Florencia, capital of Caqueta, who laugh out loud at everything the clowns say or do, to housewives and army veterans getting ready to lay down their arms after 20 years of service, and who during their final months on duty take part in a program called “Aided Retirement.”