Colombian Men Undergo Vasectomies for Land
Mon Jun 30, 8:31 AM ET
By Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Worried sick but too late to call off the operation, Colombian peasant Marquelis had a panic attack and passed out at the clinic.
Fainting won him only a brief reprieve, and the father of three was soon under the knife. After a few delicate snips, Marquelis became the proud -- if sterile -- owner of acres of land under a private Colombian program that gives plots to men in two Caribbean coast towns who undergo vasectomy operations.
"When the moment of truth came, I almost called the whole thing off. But then I decided: I have to do it," he said.
Marquelis is one of 40 men who in the last year and a half have had vasectomies in the humble towns of El Tigre and Rio Cedro on Colombia's Caribbean coast.
In return for undergoing the operations, the men receive plots of land from a 54-year-old movie producer who sees sterilization as a way to reduce poverty. The man, who declined to be identified, pays for the operations.
While female sterilization campaigns in Latin America have met with outrage in the past, Colombia's vasectomy-for-land scheme is cheered by locals.
The program's sponsor, who himself has two daughters and has had a vasectomy, speaks about the procedure with passion.
"The tyranny which I am fighting is irresponsible procreation, unsettling the life of all Colombians and everyone in the Third World," the producer, who lives in Bogota but vacations in the area, told Reuters.
He declined to use his real name for fear of being kidnapped by Colombian leftist rebels, who use ransom money to fund their four-decade-old guerrilla war. Instead, he asked to be identified as William Tell after the Swiss patriot who was ordered to shoot a small apple off his young son's head.
Explaining his choice of name, he said his parents were Swiss. While the historic Tell fought against the tyranny of the occupying Austrians, he said he does battle with the tyranny of fertility.
The man acquired a substantial amount of land in the 1980s in Cordoba province with the intention of creating a forest reserve. He said he changed his mind in December 2001 when he saw the abject poverty of the people living there.
According to Colombia's government, every year 250,000 children are born and abandoned by their parents here. Many are left to die.
"How to help them get out of the vicious circle of entanglement? By giving them land. But not to those that would fill it with children and start the cycle again. Give them land, but on the condition that they don't have more children," Tell said, riding on horseback around his farm.
Tell said the land he made available for the program has run out after 40 vasectomies. So he is now offering money which could be used to buy land and hopes that all of the 250 fathers living in El Tigre and Rio Cedro have the operation.
The more children that the fathers have, the less money they receive. "It's a reward for sensibility, not a subsidy for offspring," said Tell.
For a father with two children who gets a vasectomy, Tell will offer enough cash to buy 3.8 acres of land, or about $640. A father of three children, like Marquelis, will receive about $425. A father of four children will receive about $215.
A vasectomy, or the surgical excision of the thin duct that carries sperm cells from the testicles to the prostate, is a common method of sterilization across the globe.
In a controversial program in India in the 1970s, the government also paid or duped men to undergo the procedure.
But Tell's mission in Colombia has been particularly difficult, partly because of the macho attitude and lack of education in this Andean nation of 40 million people. Instead of a family planning tool, a vasectomy here is often seen as more akin to castration.
"They told me that I would turn into a homosexual, that in five years my thing would shrivel and die," said Jose, 28. He was operated on two weeks ago and says he is still heterosexual and his penis is fine.
Tell tells his potential beneficiaries that he has already undergone the operation himself, and that, he said, inspires trust. But the big lesson from Tell's vasectomy experiment, it appears, is that everything has a price.
"What convinced them was their trust in me and their need for land. That's what got them into the operating room," he said.