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Argentina: A grass-roots radio station that keeps the mentally ill in touch with outside world underscores who are the real crazies

By Ana Maria Hanssen

ARGENTINA: These days in Argentina, the news headlines involve the government and the farmers. Since March, all we hear and read about is the taxes that Cristina Kirchner’s government wants to keep applying to the crops and meat producers and their determination to not accept her impositions.

La Colifata.jpg

Protests here, protests there, people shouting on the streets that the president is crazy. Well, I got a little tired of all the madness, so I decided to go to a mental institution to see what the mentally ill are thinking.


Every Saturday at the Borda Psychiatric Hospital, the patients sit in the backyard and wait for what they call “the best moment of the week”. They are here to participate in “La Colifata“, a grass-roots radio station that has been on air for almost 2 decades.

Alfredo Olivera, a psychologist, founded La Colifata with the purpose of developing a different type of therapy that would allow the so-called “Crazies” to be in touch with the outside world. The radio show has different sections and all the interns are allowed to participate and give their opinions about various topics, such us the political situation or the rising cost of food.


“We should regulate the prices everyday directly in the supermarket”, says one of them. “Argentina is a rich country, the president and her cabinet are crazy.” “We should eliminate the borders between countries,” says another one while another man that has been there for 27 years approaches me and asks me “what do you think about psychosis?”

Before I can even try to give him an answer he thanks me for talking to him, because he says, “talking to these crazies all day makes me feel like I am getting crazier.” I was amazed by their ability to give their vision of life in a pure way, without any masks.

When I ask Alfredo about the meaning of the word “Colifata”, he tells me it comes from “lunfardo” a slang that was introduced in the city by the waves of immigrants. “It means crazy and lovable”, he says.

After sharing an afternoon with them, I completely understood why.

I left the Borda feeling that somehow, the world is upside down and all the reasonable people are locked up in that hospital. The crazy ones are the ones protesting, marching and walking up and down the streets of Buenos Aires.

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published Aug. 2, 2008)

Learn more about Ana María

Ana María Hanssen is a 30-year-old Colombian journalist, freelance writer and former resident of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is currently living in Miami, Florida.

She is the author of “Holocausto en el silencio”, a book that details the 1985 siege of the Supreme Court palace in Bogota by the M-19 guerrillas – one of the most painful episodes in Colombian history.

As a result of the Army’s violent reaction to this equally violent act, more than one hundred people died — including the nation’s Supreme Justices — eleven still remain missing.

The book won the Colombian Literature Prize for best non-fiction book in 2006.


Ana María has worked for media in Los Angeles, California; México, Colombia and in her new home, Argentina.

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  • Robert
    September 5, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I’m a psychology student and I agree with your last sentence. 🙂
    I was googling for the music hit list of Peru but somehow I ended up here.
    Anyway, to me mental illness is just a psychologists label for “unlike everyone else”. If everyone were, for example, schizophrenic, you and I would be locked up in a mental institution.
    Psychology is normative. I heard someone say once that psychologists in our time are like priests in the past. I find much truth in that. There are good ones and bad ones, but in the end both tell us what kind of behaviour is “normal”.
    To me, the people I have met that are considered mentally ill are very interesting people. With ideas that are unique. They say genius borders on insanity. Sometimes I agree with that, but of course if someone is clearly suffering because of what is in his mind, he should be treated and be healed.

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