Musings, boring, the entertaining posts are to follow.
16.06.2017 - 26.06.2017 16 °C
After spending the last few full days in Bogota my biggest takeaway is our perception that Colombia is not safe is not founded or true anymore (And, stop watching Narcos, it is not real, a highly dramatized "American" spin on what really happened). The country has made significant headway in the last 15 years to rectify the crime and violence that has historically plagued it. Keep in mind these are my thoughts and observations from being here for a mere 4 days but I would encourage anyone who has ever had inkling of wanting to visit this country to make the journey. I have never once felt unsafe and the people are wonderful, friendly and helpful. There are ample fun activities and the food is amazing.
No one will argue, this country used to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Even the locals tell terrifying stories of the crime and violence they have endured. One cited the topography of the country as a contributor to the violence. The three branches of the Andes crossing Colombia from the south to the north create a dramatic mix sceneries from high mountains, large highland plateaus, deep canyons to wide valleys, making it one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world (also the reason it can grow the diverse crops it does). The issue is these extreme differences make the distribution & access to social programs difficult. The isolation creates feelings of exclusion and fosters opportunities for people to profit from the drug and arms trade that occurs in these remote regions. As the turf war grew in the remote regions amongst the guerrillas the farmers were displaced to the larger cities where they had no basic amenities (food, shelter) and also turned to crime to survive.
Couple the social differences with the country's continued suspected corruption and you have a perfect storm. While the country is making great strides forward corruption still remains a concern. Citizens feel leaders in the government stay in power too long and serve their own interest firsts rather than those of the people. Public and private social programs (health and medical) continue to starved of resources as reflected by the recent 6 week teacher strike that just ended this week. There are several other public instances in the media reflecting biased actions of politicians but as social media makes news unfiltered and instant it is becoming harder for these occurrences to be ignored.
One of the biggest changes has been the recent peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC–EP) FARC. The largest and most organized of the guerrilla groups. The civil war with them has been one of the longest in the world, lasting over 15 years. Negotiations for peace began in September 2012 in Havana, Cuba and a final agreement to end the conflict was announced on August 24, 2016. However, a referendum to ratify the deal on October 2, 2016 was unsuccessful after 50.2% of voters voted against the agreement with 49.8% voting in favor. The main sticky points were that FARC wanted to remain a political party and sought immunity from its past war crimes.
The Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace deal on November 24, 2016 and sent it to Congress for ratification instead of conducting a second referendum. Both houses of Congress ratified the revised peace accord on November 29-30, 2016, thus marking an end to the conflict. FARC is responding and handing in their arms (it is estimated 60% compliance so far) but unfortunately that is leaving room for others to take their place in the arms and drug trade. So the problem is lessening but in no way disappearing.
One of the most interesting things I heard during the past few days was we were told that 15 years ago Medellín, Colombia (capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province) was the most dangerous city in the world. But instead of throwing more violence at the problem, the government took a novel approach to solving the problem they fought it with education. Built schools in the remote areas and taught the children. Delivering eduction and social programs significantly changed the next generation and is bringing a new era of peace. Perhaps the Eastern World should take note?
In addition to the peace talks, on January 30, 2017, Colombia implemented a New Code of Police and Coexistence (5 things to know about Colombia's new police code) aimed at enforcing low-level offenses and encouraging citizens to report small infractions. President Juan Manuel Santos characterized the changes as a modernization of the 1970 code that gives Colombian society an improved “manual for coexistence.”
Like any new code there are several concerns giving a police force of 180,000 more power, including the ability to enter one's home without a warrant. Such concerns are exacerbated by the fact that trust is low for the national police force in many communities. The evolution of the Code was deemed necessary due to the evident transformation of social realities, behavior and penalties for offenders that have changed so dramatically over a period of half a century. It remains to be seen how it works in reality.
Anyways, I will stop rambling, the country has been a pleasant surprise (more than pleasant it has been amazing) and just a quip, for everyone who thought we were crazy to come here it should be noted there has been far more violence in Europe this month.
Until next time,
Note to journal - Plan Colombia, the name of a United States foreign aid, military and diplomatic initiative aimed at combating Colombian drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups in Colombia. The goal was increase the price of cocaine to decrease how much went into USA . This program was in operation for 11 years and fostered corruption in military groups. One of the measures of success were how many dead bodies were found, interesting statistic. Homeless or random innocents were captured, dressed in enemies clothes and killed to be used as body count. It is estimated 20-25,000 people went missing during this period. The Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Colombia was Minister of Defence during this era. We were told (I have not verified this) that a similar Plan Mexico is in place today.