It’s impossible of course, but, the department of Antioquia seems so self-absorbed that it could foreseeably become Colombia’s version of Quebec. As the fight continues to the north in Canada all about a possible separation of Quebec from the rest of the country, one wonders that if one day there could be a similar political movement here within Colombia’s frontiers.
In Colombia’s search for a national identity – something painfully divisive and destined to run and run – and one that does not include a Caribbean Sombrero vueltiao as a national image,the struggle for a totally unifying national trait and something as Colombian as vallenato music and ajiaco, seems increasingly futile. Ask a paisa from Antioquia what his region is famous for and he will point without hesitation to the city of Medellin, their rural pueblitos, the Bandeja Paisa, amongst other events and items to identify their region. Ask a Bogotano the same question and you will get conflicting answers.
In an earlier blog I wrote of the tale of two cities and cited the contentious and real differences between the capital Bogota and Medellin the capital of Antioquia. This was a widely read and curiously popular piece and so, cynically building on this, I put this to you, were Antioquia to become more powerful and more influential than it already is, could it become the Colombian version of Canada’s Quebec?
Antioquia represents the errant family member in the crazy weave that is the Colombian tapestry, it’s a nation more than a department, its rambunctious style, obnoxious accentual strengths and spectacular knack for business keep it apart from the rest of the country…and this is how the paisas want it. They want to be seen as apart from the rest of Colombia, in particular Bogota, they want people to know as the first syllable is uttered that they are from Antioquia. Through their fashion sense, sports team, urban development and even political figures, they want to stand out. Visit Medellin as a Bogotano and immediately for fashion, accent and behavior you will be singled out as an outsider.
While proudly Colombian, a good paisa believes deep down that Colombia – in its entirety extending from the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, to the Andean mountains, the deserts and jungles – belongs to Antioquia. Just look at the quantity of Tienda el Paisa, Rincon Paisa, Restaurante Tipico Paisa and so on dotted all around the country and along the nation’s highways and byways. Quite the reverse of Antioquia making up part of Colombia. The region’s provincial newspapers such as El Colombiano and local TV channels such as Tele Antioquia produce fine examples of this self-absorption and thus go some way to erasing the notion of Colombia as a mental horizon. Indeed, in my hotel I have received complaints from Antioquenos slightly put out that our local cable package included only TeleCaribe and not Tele Antioquia. What did they expect; we are located in the Caribbean after all?
Paisas revel in their difference to and supposed superiority over Bogota. Their strength in industry and commerce, the social work in the communas, the metro and the metro cable are all displays of the force of Medellin on the national stage. But this in turn is a form of isolationism. Paisas clearly have their own language and culture which makes them citizens of a country within a country.
But as boisterous as the average paisa may seem, all of this isolationism both philosophical and geographical is nothing but a fragile façade. Every resident of Antioquia knows, whether they like it or not, that Bogota still exists. In the event of a disaster or other event requiring outside aid, the region of Antioquia knows that the capital along with its bureaucrats, politicians, funds and troubles, if called upon to aid Medellin and Antioquia, will come through with the goods.
Antioquia produced President Alvaro Uribe and there’s no doubting that his eight year tenure pulled the department up and Colombia with it. Then there’s the byronic Sergio Fajardo, presumably once again a presidential hopeful in a couple of years, now the governor of Antioquia, he was the overwhelmingly successful mayor of Medellin, harnessing a city in danger of becoming a feared Gotham of the Batman comics and then presiding over a city in growth and prosperity.
Bogota-born President Juan Manuel Santos is not naïve and while he may be seen by paisas as the impotent mafioso cousin from the capital’s well-heeled upper class when compared to Antioquia’s Alvaro Uribe, he is no fool and knows that to carefully manipulate Antioquia is to get the best from this strategic industrial and agricultural powerhouse.
Separate but different, together but independent, Antioquia remains key to Colombia and the nation in turn relies on this huge department. Strategic and powerful, could Antioquia become a Quebec issue for Colombia? Perhaps not, but, unless Bogota starts to show the way forward in policy and leadership (I’m pointing at you Mayor Petro!), there’ll be more than grunts of disrespect and ill-feeling towards the capital from the Aburra valley and beyond. Antioquia may not secede from Colombia, but she may well continue to distance herself commercially from Bogota and look more to neighboring countries in terms of trade and influence.
National unity is the key for Colombia.