Tuesday, September 25, 2007


There is a lot of talk around the web, among Colombian people, and within the expat community that Colombia is a lot safer today than it was 5 years ago. I have no doubt that that is true (although, I did hear someone once say that Colombians say that every 5 years, even if it’s not true). What is not true, however, is the claim that Colombia is “safe”.

I live a fairly privileged life here in Bogota. We live in the north, strata 5. We have more than enough to enjoy our lives, eat out on the weekends, go to parties, travel, and save money for our future. We are very fortunate in that regard. When I encounter people (rare occurrences) who look down their nose at me because of that, I dismiss them as immature and foolish ex-pats who actually think it’s “cool” to live in dangerous crapholes. They say it is more “authentic” or the “real” Colombia.

Real or not, the truth of the matter is that any and all foreigners down here are immediate targets. For the most part that means targets of petty crime although it could have worse implications. Either way, putting oneself at risk to have a more “authentic” experience (whatever that is), while certainly an option, strikes me as unnecessarily foolhardy. Let’s just remember that this is a country in which it is not safe to take a taxi on the street due to the risk of a “paseo millonario” in which the cab driver’s gun or knife toting buddies will take you for a ride around the city’s finest ATM’s while you withdraw all of your money and then leave you standing in your underwear in Parque Bolivar at 2 in the morning as a laugh.

And that’s considered a good turn of events.

This is not to say that Colombia is one giant jungle of danger as so many foreigners with zero knowledge of Colombia seem to think. But the reality of risk does have a very real impact on every day activities. For example, in the US or UK, there is never a second thought about going to happy hour after work. But here in Colombia, one has to arrange transportation in advance because walking out of a bar at night a little bit tipsy is like painting a bull’s-eye on your back and walking onto a firing range.

So, for all those self-righteous gringos living in estrato 2 (all 2 of you), forgive me if I don’t subject myself to your level of risk. Not only do I prefer to not live in a total craphole, I also prefer my body un-stabbed as well as my bank account un-drained.

At any rate, the above deals with some of the personal safety issues for foreigners here in Colombia. But I actually wanted to talk a bit about safety issues for Colombians. I watched the news last night and it was little more than a string of homicide reports. That’s nothing special for Bogotá or for any big city, but what was exception was the number of politically motivated assassinations. For some reason, it is considered “normal” to assassinate political candidates that you disagree with.

This is not a new phenomenon. I am reading a book of Colombian history and as early as 1826 politically motivated assassinations were the norm. It really causes one to wonder. Is it cultural? Why is it that political development in the US developed in a fairly peaceful manner? At what point does a culture just say enough and do away with violence as a means to settle internal dispute? And how can a violent, internal conflict ever be resolved if the “norm” is to assassinate political rivals?

All of these questions have been circulating my brain for the last week. It seems to me that these are the big questions – questions which are not being addressed by those in power or by the development programs under implementation. Instead, it’s economic growth and disaster assistance with a smidgeon of democracy promotion, education assistance, and other similar programs.

Last week I sat in on a very long and detailed presentation of the drug and paramilitary/guerrilla problem here in Colombia. The presenter was a Spanish gentleman who works for a very conservative think tank here in Bogotá. It was a very interesting presentation but it ultimately left me with more questions than answers. It also left me extremely pessimistic about the possibility of: a) ending the drug problem and b) peacefully ending the internal conflict.

(I also found his version of the drug problem to be little more than the government line. I.e. “we’re making progress,” “we can bring it under control,” ect. I found that part to not only be a bit dishonest, but also total horse poo poo. He rushed through it and didn’t take more than 1 or 2 questions as clearly he didn’t have answers. No one does.)

At any rate, what seems eminently clear is that only long-term cultural change is going to create the conditions for peace here in Colombia. The people and government have to collectively decide that it is not ok to kill off controversial political candidates. The attention to the drug problem should be de-emphasized with greater focus on political reconciliation between warring factions. And, the Holy Grail of economic development must be recognized as only a part of the solution – not the solution itself.

(Aside: The drug problem in Colombia is only important because it has become a source of financing for paramilitary and guerrilla forces. The coca question in relation to the US is largely irrelevant to Colombia except in terms of relations with the US. In other words, if coca wasn’t funding the insurgency and creating more conditions for violence, then the drug problem would truly be problem for the developed world. It should be noted that the US government has been selling this point and, given the difficulty with data collection, the level of FARC involvement in the coca trade is highly questionable. By “buying into” the claim that coca finances the FARC, the Colombian government has committed itself to the North American agenda when that may not be in its best interests. What I mean is, given the vast resources spent on combating a North American and European addiction here in Colombia, one has to ask, couldn’t those funds be used to further develop the country instead of pulling up or fumigating coca plants?

Of course, if one wants to start questioning Reagan’s War on Drugs, there are many other questions to ask. But from Colombia’s perspective, the more I learn and read and see, the more clear it becomes that they should just legalize coca production, tax it, and tell the US to deal with their own problems at home.)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what are you waiting to go back to the US? what do you really know about Colombia? absolutely NOTHING! i'm pretty sure nobody forced you to go, you are there because you want to! you live such SHELTERED and paranoic life that you still don't get Colombia AT ALL and its people but yet you're so cynical to write a post pointing out shit? you've lived in BOG for a couple of years and you think your an expert? don't make me laugh. What don't you stop someone on your way to work and tell them that their country- the one you're living in- is a shit hole and that you despise their culture? what about that? don't have the balls? so what are you waiting to leave? because if you are miserable and unhappy, you only bitch and moan, then maybe you should take a cab or drive west 26 and get on a plane!

7:34 PM  

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