I have just completed a fortnight’s trip as an “enrichment guide” for a UK-based travel outfit in the company of citizens from the UK and the US, and as always, I was required to respond to some of the more pressing questions about life as an expat in Colombia. It’s an interesting situation and I find that ordinarily I have set answers which are oft-repeated and known by heart. But, as ten years have now passed, my attitude has changed in accordance with my deepening knowledge of Colombia and each time I am called upon to provide an answer, I find that my reply becomes more complex, miasmatic. Could I say that my interpretation is now bordering on noxious as I think on the issue too much?
Before I proceed, the question put to me, is asked by both foreigners and Colombians alike.
“¿Está bien amañado entonces en Colombia?”
“You must love it very much in Colombia?”
And it’s true. I love it here. But, more recently I have found myself impassively responding that I flit from day to day between peaks and troughs, “picos y bajos.”
And while foreigners or visitors to Colombia laugh and smile knowingly, Colombians stop what they are doing and wait for a response. So, let me explain a few things here. (Disclaimer: most if not all of what follows will be political, so look away now if you don’t have the stomach for it!)
A peace agreement is reached with the FARC and people are upset and the President has an approval rating of just 14 per cent. The mind boggles. We should all be in raptures.
- The peace agreement with the FARC may not be to everyone’s liking and the possible positive outcomes have been oversold by President Santos to a war-weary and emotionally exhausted Colombian people, but, surely this is something to celebrate despite the obvious negativisms? Read the accords in English here.
- The peace accord is one of the most complete in history…and will be one to which investigators turn when the question of involving the victims of the conflict in the negotiations is raised.
- That over 7000 weapons have been handed in to the UN and some 6900 guerrillas are prepared to begin the notoriously thorny and difficult step of reintegrating into civilian society is huge. According to CERAC, if the conflict had continued in the same vein during the time taken to reach an agreement and during the unilateral and then bilateral ceasefires, an estimated 2,500 further Colombians would have lost their lives. Think of all these figures, this is undeniably positive. No rebel group completely gives up their weapons and the FARC has to reveal the location of their hidden arms to the UN by Sept 1 of this year.
- That a President is surrounded by such poor PR and Press people that they cannot sell the easiest “good news” to the Colombian public is not only a virulent condemnation of the presidential HR department but also a reflection of what is now being referred to as “fake news” and the worrying trend of an all-time low when it comes to trust in the mainstream media. But, this is nothing new, just refer to Phillip Knightley’s comprehensive and required-reading: The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq.
- The symbolic ceremony of the final handover of weapons on 27/6/17 (remember this historic date) was screened on big screens in downtown Bogotá. A pitiful number of people showed up in celebration.
Colombians, I cannot help but think that in this circumstance you have only yourselves to blame for this feeling of despair and skepticism (it’s justified too).
There is hope though!
Colombians, I call on you to register to vote in the elections in 2018 and make your voice heard. You have to wrest the power through the urns in such a way that makes it impossible for the status quo to continue. If I hear another Colombian saying that their “vote doesn’t matter as nothing will ever change,” I am going to vomit. You have to vote to make the political antipathy and control untenable for the “caciques” and others involved in vote buying and voter control. And let’s not make 2018 a popularity contest nor vote upon family traditions, study who is, in your well-informed opinion, the best option for the country at this point in time. Watch the mainstream media but cross-reference the disinformation by investigating the writings in the alternative press. Remember that Caracol and RCN have vested interests in certain outcomes in the elections.
So, there are days when I rise full of great expectations for Colombia and the future and then these hopes are dashed after reading the news.
In no particular order
- Colombia’s top anti-corruption official has been arrested on US charges of money laundering.
- What has become of the investigations in to the Odebrecht scandal here in Colombia?
- the demand side policies of cocaine, such as criminalization, incarceration and stigmatization has not suppressed the use of illicit drugs. (Tune in to Ep 182 Colombia Calling with Luc LaPointe)
- The government also continues to pursue peace talks – albeit very unsuccessfully right now – with a smaller insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and faces groups of demobilized paramilitary fighters reorganizing into criminal gangs.
- Healthcare in Colombia is divided by contributed system (people that can afford healthcare by their own means) and the subsidized system (not subsidized at all)
- The Bogotá bombing, what does it mean, who is guilty and how much has the private press manipulated the news? (Colombia Calling Ep 190) Do we really believe that those captured are guilty?
- Incomes for recent graduates are far from in-line with the increasing cost of living in Colombia making it a progressively difficult place to afford to live, in particular in the major cities.
- An agreement has been signed with the teachers that is unlikely to be fulfilled, this is the same case with the potential and upcoming truckers strike.
- The population in Buenaventura and all along the Pacific coast will continue to be the most overlooked in all of Colombia and are unlikely to ever see or benefit from the incomes from the country’s main ports in their back yard.
- One of the front runners to win the 2018 presidential election is the grandson of a former president and will continue to represent the interests of the elite in Colombia.
- No metro will ever be built in Bogotá.
- Vast tracts Colombia’s unknown and unvisited territories will continue to be sold off to multinational firms for environmentally damaging agricultural or mining purposes.
- Community leaders and social activists will continue to be killed.
- The smoking gun to finally link President Uribe to death squads and paramilitary groups – like Trump and Russia one can’t help but feel – is so tantalizingly close. But, we’re not there yet, although this book by Julio Cesar Prieto comes pretty close. (But more about this in another article)
And yet, things are looking up in Colombia…. aren’t they? I love it here and will continue to ensure that my work as a journalist, tourism operator and academic is aimed at improving Colombia in any way possible. And when I get worked up and concerned about Colombia and the future of the country, I’ll defer to something my astute wife said to me after she had to suffer a particularly anguished disatribe:
“Richard, when has Colombia ever been normal?”