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American Studying Colombian Violence Becomes Its Victim

April 23, 1993

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Margarita Reina of Chicago came to Colombia to study its history of violence, never imagining she would become one of its victims.

The 22-year-old University of Illinois graduate is in a Bogota hospital recovering from gunshot wounds - including one to her head - that she suffered when masked men fired at the car she was in.

Violence in Colombia, by right-wing death squads, leftist guerrillas, drug traffickers and common criminals, kills about 26,000 people a year.

There are about 70 murders daily in the nation of 32 million people. That is a murder rate of 81 per 100,000 inhabitants, making Colombia one of the most dangerous nations in the world.

By comparison, the murder rate in the United States is about 10 per 100,000 people.

Reina has been studying Colombian history at two Bogota universities since graduating from the University of Illinois in 1992. Her parents are Colombian. She is American.

Reina wanted to know why there is so much violence in her parents’ homeland.

She was especially interested in the civil war of the 1940s and 1950s, known as ″The Violence,″ that left more than 200,000 dead.

So she packed a book about that war when she left Bogota April 3 to spend a week at a friend’s country home, about 200 miles north of the capital.

Instead she spent her vacation in the hospital.

Reina, two girlfriends and a brother of one of the girls were in the central Colombian state of Boyaca when their car approached a roadblock manned by 10 to 20 men wearing ski masks and dressed in army-style uniforms.

A girlfriend’s brother was driving. He plowed through the roadblock, and the gunmen opened fire.

″He was with three girls, and he was afraid they would be raped by the men if he stopped,″ said Reina’s mother, Yamile, explaining why the driver ordered his passengers to crouch down then ran the roadblock.

Mrs. Reina, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, flew to Colombia to be with her daughter at the hospital.

The national police said they don’t know who the attackers were. They could have been guerrillas, police, or criminals disguised as security forces to try to trick people into stopping, a common practice in Colombia.

The area of the attack is a guerrilla stronghold. Rebels throughout Colombia set up roadblocks to rob or kidnap people. Major highways are sometimes closed for days as army troops try to force the rebels away.

Reina was wounded in the head, neck, a shoulder and an arm.

A bullet grazed the driver’s head. One of the girls plucked a bullet from the back of her neck where it had punctured the skin. The third girl was not hurt.

Reina is recovering her speech and coordination. During an interview, Reina - who is fluent in three languages - often had to communicate by pen and paper.

She doesn’t remember much about the attack and shakes her head ″no″ when asked if she now wants to leave Colombia.

Through notes and nods she says she wants to study more in Colombia, then eventually go to graduate school in the United States.

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