This was my second Colombian Christmas in the past four years. This time around I am a bit more up on Colombian history, culture and hopefully a little better even in Spanish language. This trip has given me more opportunity to explore Bogota, my wife’s home city, getting more acclimated to its very nice mass transit system, learning the various neighborhoods and sectors of this city of around 10 Million inhabitants. I have even been able to drive around the city a bit the last couple days and find it not that difficult to get around. Road and highway signs are pretty abundant and being surrounded by mountains on most sides, I find it easy to maintain perspective of where I am in Bogota.
After sharing some observations with friends today via email, I decided a few of my comments might be of interest to those who read this blog. Bogota is a unique blend of 400+ year old Colonial architecture, some Victorian European influences along with plenty of modern and functional edifices. The country’s demographics heavily lean to the youth and there is a vibrant upbeat energy as most of these 48 Million plus people strive to redefine their country against all the negative perception these decades of civil war and drug reputation has stuck them with. It continues to amaze me how powerful marketing and news media influences are in covering up or limiting the truth about whole countries such as Colombia. It is sad how many people in the world are afraid of visiting or doing business in Colombia because of these perceptions. Sure, there are evil forces lurking in various corners of this and other Latin countries, but I would argue they are no different than the cultural wars and barriers we are seeing growing more and more intense in first world Western countries. The past 5-10 years has seen scores of murders, fire-bombings and street riots between jihadist oriented Muslims and their host countries such as Great Britain, Holland, France and elsewhere. There have been numerous arrests of Muslim Americans within and outside the borders of the USA. There are hundreds of political and war prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere based on my home country’s global war against Muslim extremists. Mexico is actually the most dangerous drug-conflicted country in Latin America the past few years. The United States is the most drug addicted country and consumer in the world. Yet…few people hesitate to travel to the USA, Mexico or Europe on holiday or to do business in these countries. When you tell most people in those countries you are traveling or doing business in Colombia, you get either strange looks or exhortations to be very careful. Some people think you must be a lunatic to come here. It’s really too bad there is so much of that perception.
I think there is a better chance to resolve the civil unrests here in Colombia than there is in settling the cultural differences in the USA and European countries between Islam, Jewish and Christian influences or the various racial barriers. It seems to me the differences between rich and poor are easier to resolve than between religions and ethnicity. One cannot blame a relatively poor country like Colombia in the past for supplying the insatiable thirst in the first world for cocaine and other drugs. I cannot help but wonder if all the billions wasted on the failing war on “illicit” drug production and marketing were spent on more productive and peaceful pursuits or even educating Americans on the effects of their addictions if there wouldn’t be more to show for that investment besides the growing number of jail cells and court dockets full of users and suppliers alike. If the world was allowed the freedom to privately use whatever drugs they wanted for recreation or escape…and governments were allowed to regulate, tax and ensure qualities of those substances…I believe strongly there would be less criminal elements and black markets around these industries…and more revenue would be available to solve the social ills of poverty, addictions and unemployment. We would also have more money to positively invest in renewable energy, cleaner water and agricultural production of all kinds. Much of our world’s major problems in these areas are not because we don’t have resources to solve them, but we are focused on the wrong issues, efforts and wasted ambitions. As long as there is a demand, there will always be a supply. I digress a little, but all this sheds a tremendous light on the real problems in Colombia where the government has joined forces and happily accepted the financial and military support of the USA towards supposedly controlling the drug flow to mixed results and affect. I doubt we accomplished anything regarding the supply of illicit drugs accept for maybe redistributing from whence it enters the market.
So, in essence the Colombians have historically bore the brunt of the worlds hypocritical “political correctness” on the drug issue. I have a copy of last year’s UN report on worldwide drug production and usage and have previously written and linked to that report HERE. The reality is that Colombia is now a ways down the food chain both in supply and users of illegal drugs. Meanwhile, the facts are that Colombia is the 2nd or 3rd largest economy behind Brazil in South America…depending on which report you read or believe. The facts are that “In spite of the difficulties presented by serious internal armed conflict, Colombia's economy grew steadily in the latter part of the twentieth century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 8.2% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. Meanwhile the Colombian stock exchange climbed from 1,000 points at its creation in July 2001 to over 7,300 points by November 2008.”
So…for those who ignore Colombia as a travel or business destination are seriously missing out on one of the most vibrant markets and cultures in the region. There is a large Spanish/European side to this culture which has contributed to its modernity and balanced exploration of its many natural resources. Here is a broad, self sufficient country with balanced industries from manufacturing to financial services. While they have almost by necessity been a bit isolated and protectionist in business affairs internationally…it is amazing to see what they have accomplished even while being somewhat rejected by the international business and government communities.
I continue to believe that the USA and Canada’s recent reticence to ratify trade agreements with Colombia is ludicrous…and opens the door for other big trading partners such as China, Taiwan and Japan to fill the gap and take advantage of the rich resources this country offers. It is especially puzzling since the USA doesn’t flinch one bit from sending billions of dollars every year in addition to significant military resources to fight the “drug war”. How can we be so hypocritical?
It is truly a good Christmas in Bogota, and we continue to work towards participating in the growth of this significant and friendly country in Latin America.