BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, FEB. 4 -- Maria Luisa Mejia, a television reporter, stopped going for walks after her name turned up on a death list a few months ago.
Ernesto Samper, a ruling Liberal Party senator, travels with eight bodyguards but knows he is still vulnerable to anyone who really wants him dead.
Gloria Triana, an anthropologist, used to feel safe living next to a police station but now worries that she could get caught in the cross fire should leftist guerrillas decide to attack the station.
In ways big and small, Colombia's mounting violence has disrupted the lives of many people in the nation's capital and across the country, forcing them to alter former routines and endure a constant state of fear.
The number of killings per capita in Colombia is more than five times the U.S. rate, according to official statistics. Assassination is the principal cause of death for men aged 14 to 44.
Some who have received explicit death threats -- including journalists, a television actress, a surgeon, a musician and at least one Roman Catholic priest -- have simply fled the country rather than attempt to protect themselves against violence from increasingly blurred sources. Most people, though, have stayed to confront the danger, lacking either the money or foreign opportunities to run.
Citizens of a country with a long democratic tradition and large ruling establishment, Colombians often express amazement that the security situation has deteriorated to a point requiring them to ride in armored cars with bodyguards.
"I never thought I'd have to do this," said Enrique Santos Castillo, editor of the leading Bogota daily, El Tiempo, who now takes such precautions. "For us, this kind of pervasive violence used to seem a part of another world, like Guatemala or El Salvador. We had a violent era here over 30 years ago. But we never thought it would happen to us again."
Particularly unnerving for many are the multiple types of violence and the worry that an attack could come from varied sources.
"It's one thing when the violence is defined," said James Greene, an American mineralogist working in the emerald mining industry here. "But when you have guerrillas, traffickers, paramilitary groups, emerald dealers, jealous husbands and common criminals, no one is safe. Everyone is a potential target."
For U.S. Foreign Service officers, Bogota is often said to be the most threatening post in the world, after Beirut. U.S. diplomats are targeted by cocaine traffickers and leftist guerrillas. Since 1984, when drug barons announced they would kill five U.S. officials for every trafficker extradited to the United States, diplomats have not been allowed to bring school-age dependents.
Most of Bogota and about two-thirds of Colombia are generally judged by American security experts to be unsafe for U.S. officials to visit. Embassy personnel travel to and from work in armored vans followed by jeeps with machine gun-toting guards. Additional security measures are taken for the ambassador, ranking military officers and Drug Enforcement Agency members.
A recent article in the Foreign Service Journal by Caroline Meirs Osterling, a public affairs officer here, described other precautions. Living quarters for U.S. personnel, she said, are spread around the city rather than clustered to avoid making Americans one easy target. Only apartments well above street level are considered sufficiently secure. Each Foreign Service officer has a two-way radio at home tuned to the embassy's security network to summon roving armed patrols.
Similarly, many corporate executives, senior Colombian government officials, law enforcement officials and judges who are subject to kidnaping or assassination now live and work in protected cocoons. Listings in the local phone book for private security firms occupy 11 pages. Four companies in town are in the business of armor plating cars, at $30,000 to $40,000 per car, and report a backlog of up to four months.
For most residents of Bogota the main concern is street crime, which has risen along with other forms of violence. To improve protection in many neighborhoods, authorities last year began setting up police outposts called Immediate Action Centers.
Yet government resources are limited. When 34 politicians, journalists, human rights activists and others appealed for protection after their names appeared on a death list last August, authorities had little to offer. Police told them all available government bodyguards were already assigned to cover more than 600 others.
Several death lists have surfaced, thought to be issued by right-wing groups. One list targeted Mejia, who reports on security issues for a national news network, accusing her of belonging to the M19 guerrilla movement and projecting an anti-armed forces bias in her reporting, which she denies.
"I'm constantly afraid now," she explained, describing how the threat has affected her. "But I don't want to give up my work, and I cannot work with a bodyguard or even change my routine much.
"What I have done is to stop walking everywhere," she said. "Now I drive. I know they could still kill me in my car, but I feel safer."
Colombia's promoters say all the media attention given to violence in this country ignores the normality of most lives here. For the average resident, visiting businessman or tourist, Bogota is no more dangerous than any major American city, they say. Indeed, the Colombian capital continues to enjoy an active nightlife and ample cultural offerings.
Still, Bogota is a city where a major downtown hotel places a card in every room warning guests: "If you are approached by individuals pretending to be from the police or security forces, contact the front desk before answering their questions."